June 22, 2017

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Audience watching a fireworks display.

by Bertha Henson

Who says Singapore has no talent? We’re making waves. Here are a few people we should celebrate from a reading of today’s MSM:

a) Film-maker Anthony Chen

Just 29, he’s the first South-east Asian to win the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Set in Singapore during the 1997 financial crisis, Ilo Ilo is about the Lim family and Teresa, their new domestic maid, a Filipina. It traces how their already problematic family ties evolve; and how cultures crash. Ilo Ilo is the name of the province in the Philippines.

If the G needs a poster boy on what a diploma holder can achieve, Mr Chen is it. He graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies. So unassuming was this Singaporean that he was actually leaving Cannes when he was told to stay for the closing ceremony to receive the award. His cast had already left for home. We’ll be able to catch the movie at the end of August at Golden Village cinemas, reported ST.

Now the question which aspiring filmmakers would probably like to know is what sort of help did Mr Chen get to make it to Cannes? Did the Singapore system kick in – whether in the form of financial, infrastructural or other aid – to help him onto the red carpet? Or did he have to do it all alone with just family and friends for support? He can’t not have been in the official gunsights given that an earlier film he produced earned a special mention in 2007.

Breakfast Network congratulates Mr Chen and his cast and crew. Thank you for putting Singapore on the filmmaking map!

 

b) Bishop Raphael Samuel of the Anglican Church

The 56-year old is the head of the church in the South American country of Bolivia. Yes, Bolivia. Go locate it on a map. He’s the first Asian to be consecrated Bishop in the Spanish-speaking Anglican world. What’s amazing was that this former Anglo-Chinese School boy, his wife and son, then just three, had relocated there in 1993. The couple spent six months learning Spanish and what followed was two decades of church work. They are the longest-serving foreign missionaries in Bolivia. His congregation is small, just 900 compared to the 30,000 or so Anglicans in Singapore. But his geographical span is three times bigger than Malaysia.

Breakfast Network congratulates the Bishop on his appointment and wishes him and his family well.

 

c) Daryl Neo, 28 and Charles Poon, 37

Former Singapore Exchange Regulators, they developed Handshakes, a system that can tell you all about the links, among other things, people in listed companies have with other people and entities. According to Business Times, they describe it as Disclosure 2.0. The duo collected data from 60,000 documents filed by Singapore companies since 1997 and made everything searchable. So it means that you can see which big shot is related to another big shot in the same company, or in a subsidiary and even whether they shared the same banker or auditor. That beats a lot of file work and research, which the duo had to do when they were working in the exchange.

Now if the productivity people wanted poster boy(s), the two men would be it. They’ve taken a massive load of people who want to know more about what they are investing in – and made everything simpler. Of course, it will cost – from $500 to a couple of thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the data sought.

For support, they had $50,000 in seed money from Spring Singapore. That’s good to know. With 10 employees here and another 10 doing data entry abroad, it will probably qualified for productivity incentives as well. Let’s hope the duo gets the support it needs.

Breakfast Network would like to shake hands with you. Congratulations and good luck.

Photo By Shawn Danker
The Ministry of Manpower building.

by Tan Pei En

Workers here could see even more conducive working conditions in future, going by the recent suggestions and initiatives made this week. In the news today is an ST report (“Firms that flout CPF rules may get heavier penalties” ST 24/05/2013) which reported that the Manpower Ministry and CPF Board are now looking into enforcing tougher penalties on companies who fail to meet CPF contribution requirements, such as paying employees their CPF late or at a reduced amount.

This news comes closely after remarks made by Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin earlier in the week, who said that the G was open to considering outlawing discriminatory practices at the workplace.

And with the recent spotlight cast on interns’ working conditions (link to previous BN posts here abt the story) , it can only be hoped that the interns may finally receive some sort of protection from the law too.

Perhaps the MOM may also consider holding discussion groups to find out what Singaporeans consider a desirable workplace environment. Singapore Conversation anyone?

No, not the kind of “complain sessions” where employers and employees play the finger-pointing game and blame each other, but the sort where people are encouraged to talk about what they think will create a workplace setting that makes working there enjoyable and satisfying.

Hey, it may even bring up productivity!

Photo By Shawn Danker
AIA Singapore.

by Daniel Yap

There has been plenty of buzz over the last week about the intern who was a victim of workplace abuse, and the other intern who put a stop to it.

In addition to our latest summary of the situation, it has emerged that the alleged abuser Alan is also the owner of the company, not just a supervisor. The family has demanded $100,000 in compensation. Meanwhile, the victim has received several job offers, some at a monthly salary of $3,000 – compared to the $500 he was said to be receiving at the time of the abuse.

What is most mystifying is that nobody had thought that anything was wrong with the fact that the victim had been an intern for three whole years. No contract, no paid leave, no benefits, just plenty of abuse.

Surely, allegedly abusive bosses like this Alan must have been laughing all the way to the bank, having found someone foolish/weak/desperate enough to take advantage of for so long. It is practically free labour, and with a little psychological domination, the boss has a willing “slave”, satisfied with being underpaid, under-appreciated and abused.

MOM is investigating the case, but one wonders what they can do since there was no contract in the first place. There are few hard and fast rules here in the realm of no contracts, but MOM may still decide it wants to kick someone’s butt to send a message. The physical abuse matter should rightly fall to the police.

So employers take note: What’s the right way to hire an intern? Companies can go about this in different ways. One way would be a Contract of Service (typical employment contract), offering the position on a temporary (limited time) basis. Under this method, the Employment Act would determine the minimums for leave, overtime, CPF and other work conditions. You can see the stipulations on the MOM website. You can still pay your intern whatever you want (yes, even one dollar a month) without breaking any laws.

Watch out for one thing – although there is no minimum wage in Singapore, low wage workers (under $4,500 for manual jobs and $2,000 for non-manual jobs) are covered by the Employment Act.

Alternatively, most employers choose to “hire” interns as “contractors”. This means that instead of a “Contract of Service”, they offer a “Contract for Service” (or no contract at all). This treats the intern (or any other “employee” under such a contract) as someone outside of the company. They are not entitled to CPF, leave or any benefits. They aren’t even paid a salary – the $500 ($600 is the minimum rate these days) is actually an allowance, much like what NSFs get in the army.

There is no limit to how badly you can pay an intern and for how long, and how much non-physical (non-illegal) abuse you can subject them to. If you manage to find some rube to engage with you in some kind of perverted Stockholm Syndrome scenario, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Interns beware! Singapore’s labour laws don’t really protect interns very much. Employers aren’t screened properly due to a lack of resources and that’s why sometimes companies like Encore eServices slip through the cracks. This is not to say that all small companies are bad places to intern at – good small employers exist and interns in small outfits have advantages too – they get to be more involved, or see a broader scope of the business, for instance.

Will MOM start to consider legislation to prevent future abuse of interns? With their apparent reluctance to legislate employment practices – opting instead for “moral suasion” – it seems unlikely.

Interns (and employees) will have to know their rights like the backs of their hands and rely on whistle-blower heroes like Yang Jiexiang, 23 – the intern who exposed the abuse – instead of waiting for the Government to act. If you can, might as well join NTUC as a member to gain access to some free legal representation and resources (even if you’re technically not employed). Oh, and discounts on groceries too.

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A lego replica of Singapore's Fullerton area in Legoland Malaysia.

by Bertha Henson

So the Malaysian opposition politicians went to the Singapore High Commission to remonstrate against the G’s supposedly harsh treatment of its nationals who mounted silent protests at Merlion Park on 8 and 11 May.

It’s to be expected. The protesters were clearly on the side of the opposition and it wouldn’t look good if some sort of display was not made on their behalf.

What’s interesting though was how the Malaysian politicians pitched their case. Said PKR’s Chua Jui Meng: “We recognise the need for Malaysians in Singapore to respect the law of Singapore. However, we call on the Singapore authorities to exercise proportionality and fairness in applying the law.”

“It is heavy handed to arrest them and cancel or review their work and visit passes simply for their quest for democracy, which is a universal struggle.”

Now what is the proportionality and fairness yardstick is he using here? Is it between Singapore and Malaysia laws?

According to ST, Mr Chua goes on to note that Malaysians comprise the largest foreign workforce in Singapore and contribute significantly to the country’s economic development. “The harshness of the Singapore authorities’ action completely runs counter to this spirit of cooperation.”

Singapore has revoked the work pass of one protester, as well as the social visit passes of two others. The remaining 18 will have their work passes reviewed, the Singapore police said. Apparently, one of them is serving out a scholarship bond and will have to pay out $100,000 to her employer if she can no longer work here.

It’s a bit galling to always hear Malaysians talk about Singapore’s heavy handedness or arrogance in the same breath that they invoke a spirit of co-operation and adherence to domestic laws. And how Malaysians contribute to the economy in such large numbers – and Singapore is therefore indebted to them? What’s surprising is that the phrase “not being sensitive” hasn’t been uttered.

Never mind that. Probably just political posturing. But it would actually have made better sense if the politicians talked about how police here said that their investigations on the activities of former Johor menteri besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman when he visited Singapore during the Malaysian GE did not amount to campaigning, as alleged in a police report. Some had wondered if this was indeed so or if the G here was merely giving Malaysia some face.

Frankly, it would not skin off Singapore’s nose to let the Malaysian protesters here off with a slap on the wrist. After all, they did not disturb public order and the “review” of their passes would probably have convinced them enough of Singapore’s tough stance on such activities. We should give these ordinary Malaysians some face too. After all, the Malaysian politicians will probably have their hands full now with their own G’s arrests of activists and protesters…

Photo By Shawn Danker
Go to Changi Prison.

by Bertha Henson

So a Singaporean odd job worker and a Vietnamese woman are now in the slammer – for getting married. Each will be behind bars for six months, instead of between four and six weeks, which had been provided for under old laws on “sham marriages’’.

Seems the price of turning up at the Registry of Marriages and saying “I do’’ is worth $5,000. There’s a middle man (or in this case, a Vietnamese woman) but nothing was said in the ST report today about what sort of cut she took or whether she’s been caught as well. Nothing was said about how the couple was caught either, which is just as well to keep aspiring “couplings’’ in the dark. One give-away though was that the Singaporean and the Vietnamese woman lived apart – she in budget hotels and he, in his Punggol flat.

Given tougher laws, the price is probably going to go up. The maximum jail term is 10 years with the limit for fines set at $10,000. It is now a specific offence. It used to be that such couples could be charged only with providing false information to the authorities – an offence that carried a jail term of up to a year, a fine of up to $4,000, or both. (Sheesh… It’s worth paying the fine if the money given was $5,000! And jail term is usually just four to six weeks!)

Okay, let’s face it, it isn’t the Singaporean who is in demand but Singapore as a place to live and make money. Getting married to a Singaporean just makes it easier for the foreigner to stay on. The State cited four such prosecutions in 2011, but 105 such cases last year. From January to March this year, there had been 49 prosecutions under the old laws. That’s a lot.

Perhaps, from now, it’s not going to be worth a Singaporean’s while to “abuse his citizenship privileges’’, as the State prosecutor described the crime.

Marriage is risky business.

Newly-crowned Spanish Copa del Rey champions Atletico Madrid played an exhibition match against a Singapore Selection side last night at the Jalan Besar Stadium, in support of Singapore businessman Peter Lim’s Scholarship fund to help promising young athletes from low-income families.

The main draw for most of the fans was a chance to catch Colombian ace Radamel Falcao, who has scored 34 goals for the Los Rojiblancos so far, in action. The hitman was only introduced in the 2nd half and had a quiet 20 mins (understandably so, as Atletico still have 2 games left to play in the Spanish La Liga).

Atletico Madrid ran out 2-0 winners. Raul Garcia opened the scoring in the 29th minute and substitute Diego Costa added the second goal close to the end of the game.

Using Chinese software can be tricky
Using Chinese software can be tricky

In November, a few hundred students will be sitting part of their Chinese Mother Tongue exams using a laptop – the first time computers are being used in a national examination, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

Instead of writing their answers on traditional gao zhi (Chinese foolscap), the 300 junior college students will have to type an e-mail or blog entry by using romanised hanyu pinyin, then selecting the right characters when prompted by the input software. This “functional writing” part of the test makes up 20 per cent of the whole exam.

Media reports said the exam is the A-level Mother Tongue “B” exam, introduced in 2003 to help students who aren’t so good in Chinese.

The thinking behind this new e-component is that it will make learning Chinese more current since no one really writes in script anymore – certainly not students who are poor in the language to begin with.

Or as MOE deputy-general of education Wong Siew Hoong put it to ST: These students were selected to have the e-exam because they “are the ones who will require a lot more authenticity in their learning”.

TODAY said such computer-based writing “has become the norm not only in the workplace but also in social communication”.

Surprisingly, the Chinese daily Zaobao did not have a conniption fit about the news – after all, the concern most traditional Chinese-speakers will have is that such a move may compromise the learning of Chinese characters at a time when already more and more Chinese Singaporeans are using English at home and at work.

The paper reported the story straight – though, expect its Forum pages to be flooded by similar concerns over the next few days.

This was an issue addressed by the director of assessment research at the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board yesterday.

Mr Yue Lip Sin said “recognising the characters is as important as knowing how to write them,” ST reported, adding: “What is important is whether they are able to communicate the idea and the feeling in the functional writing.”

by Pavan Mano

While the media spotlight continues to be trained firmly on Atletico Madrid’s Columbian striker Radamel Falcao and his potential transfer, a local sub-plot has been developing in the build-up to their match against a Singapore selection tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

TNP featured a story today on Singapore’s midfield maestro, Hariss Harun, saying that tonight’s match could be pivotal in securing him a stint at Atletico Madrid, possibly providing him a gateway into Europe. ST ran a similar story as well, highlighting the fact that the 22-year old met Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes last night at an evening soiree attended by players involved in tonight’s exhibition game. Mendes is renowned in footballing circles for his myriad of contacts and ST’s article mentioned that he could be instrumental in bringing Harris to Europe.

For his part, the young Lions XII and Singapore vice-captain made no secret of his desire to ply his trade on the continent, remarking that it would be “a dream come true if (he could) play professionally in Europe one day.”

“I will be honoured to play for a club of Atletico’s stature,” Hariss added.

Any potential move, however, will have to be delayed at least until 9 August – Hariss is due to complete his National Service then, highlighting the need for a policy (change) on how exceptional sportsmen and their national service commitments should be treated. This might well be Hariss’ best, and perhaps final, opportunity to make it in Europe and he needs to grab it before he gets too old, a view echoed by veteran striker Aleksandar Duric.

Hariss is not the first, nor will he be the last sportsman to be affected by national service commitments. TNP highlighted two days ago (Metz thrilled by Adam, TNP, 20 May 2013) that Adam Swandi stands a good chance of making the grade at FC Metz of France. Swandi is only 17 – he has yet to serve NS – and this question is bound to emerge again sooner or later.

For now, though, it looks as if all the relevant parties concerned are willing to take a wait-and-see approach, but they might well be confronted with the problem sooner than expected if Hariss puts on a strong showing tonight.

Photo By Shawn Danker
Cavenagh Bridge

by Rachelle Toh

Singapore is the second country in Asia to adopt Google Business Photos, an indoor version of Google’s Street View project which provides a 360-degree view of various places.

Since January, technology firm Smap Agency has been certified to create the virtual maps. Currently, maps of about 400 businesses and heritage sites in Singapore have been put up.

These virtual tours are meant to change the way people shop in real life. For example, diners can peek into F&B outlets to check out their ambiance before deciding where to go for meals.

But what about other types of businesses? Shoppers for consumer goods – from fashion to electronic devices – may find little use for these tours. Especially when you probably can’t even see the products, much less buy them.

Wouldn’t a virtual tour be more relevant to heritage sites than businesses in general anyway?

ST reported that virtual tours of some heritage sites such as the Tiong Bahru air raid shelters and Thieves’ Market in Sungei Road are already available. Others include the Army Market in Beach Road and even the dragon playground in Toa Payoh. Hopefully, tours will soon be produced for all of Singapore’s heritage sites.

More than merely looking around our shopping malls (which will always be around), virtual tours of our heritage sites would help to preserve them.

They may not be as good as the real deal, but it would make them more accessible to everyone – especially the disappearing ones.

Photo By Shawn Danker
Singapore State Courts building.

by Yen Feng

Going by what the prosecution’s third witness had to say in the City Harvest trial yesterday, there seemed to be little doubt “the church” had significant control over Xtron Productions – the company that managed Sun Ho’s music career and one of several firms currently implicated in the multi-million graft case.

In fact it appeared Mr Koh Siow Ngea had very limited knowledge of what was going on at all in the company – though he has been its director since 2008.

For example, it was “the church” that decided Xtron would invest and issue bonds – not him, he told the court yesterday, according to media reports.

Mr Koh also said it was “the church” that appointed Xtron directors (including him), and that it was also “the church” that decided Xtron would buy a property meant to be rented back to the church for ministry work.

Put simply, the prosecution is trying to show that Mr Koh as director of Xtron was more or less a figurehead in this whole affair – that the company had little meaningful fiduciary duty except to further the interests of the church, as directed by the church leaders. It should be noted that Mr Koh was formerly a board member of the church and is also the brother-in-law of one of the accused, Mr Chew Eng Han (also a former board member and one of Kong’s most trusted aides).

Xtron was set up in 2003 – the same year the church was very publicly accused by a member of using church funds to finance Sun Ho’s career. Before Mr Koh became its director in 2008, past directors include Mr Chew, Mr John Lam (another former church board member), and Mr Wahju Hanafi. Two of Mr Hanafi’s companies are also implicated in the case.

Mr Koh is the prosecution’s third witness, after Ms Angie Koh and Ms Lai Baoting, who both used to handle church accounts, including those relating to Xtron.

What will showing all these connections prove? And will it be enough for the prosecution to make its case?

There’s one more day before the first leg of the trial is expected to end tomorrow. Stay tuned.