January 21, 2017

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by Suhaile Md

MY CHINESE friend once told me that a practising Muslim will support ISIS. He hates ISIS with a passion. I consider myself a practising Muslim. I quietly wondered if he hated me.

If I really know my own religion, he continued, I would either support ISIS, or convert. It’s the western education that prevented me from becoming like them. There’s a reason why Muslims don’t get into sensitive roles in the army, or civil service, he said.

I did not know how to respond to that. It hit a sore point.

Muslim loyalty to Singapore has been in question for a long time. For years after National Service (NS) was instituted in 1967, Muslims were not called up for conscription. The policy was eventually reversed. But the feeling of being untrustworthy has remained among some people here.

When I attended my brother’s passing out parade at the Civil Defence Academy in 2015, all I saw was a sea of brown faces. I remember the Chinese uncle sitting with his family in front of me, looking around and noting: “Wah, we are a minority here.” Singapore is 74.3 per cent Chinese.

I guess I was lucky to have served in the Army instead. But while serving, the feeling that I was not trusted because of my religion intensified at times. Sometimes my NS job required me to drive to other military camps that had no halal food catered in the cookhouse because there weren’t any Muslims posted to that unit. In the cookhouse at my camp, the Muslim queue was about as long as the non-Muslim queue, even though less than 15 per cent of Singaporeans are Muslim.

Why? Security reasons, I heard. 

I met national servicemen in the army who were Chinese nationals just a year or two before enlistment. They could not speak a word of English – I always needed a translator. I always wondered if they understood the pledge, the national anthem, or what they were defending? Yet they serve in the army when many of my Muslims friends who grew up here can’t.

Someone once told me Muslims shouldn’t complain. Go online and you’ll see similar sentiments: Look at other countries, they don’t treat their minorities as well as Singapore does, so be grateful.

So I should just shut up about how I feel here, in my own home? Swallow my words? Do they hate my voice? Such comments confound me, frustrate me. I am not from those countries, how is it even relevant here? 

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I am not ISIS

In junior college, my class saw a documentary on violence against women in Pakistan. In a particular scene, a man used Islam to justify burning his wife. I was the only Muslim in the room. A few classmates glanced at me. I don’t think they could help it. Still, it was enough to get me tense.

But I understood their curiosity, and concern even. After all, supposedly non-violent-me based my life on the same Quran (holy book) as the violent man. So I marched into class the next day, notes filled with quotes and arguments, ready to defend myself. I told my classmates context matters. A violent man will find any justification. Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Not much has changed in the years since. Every time there’s a terror attack somewhere, it’s expected that as a Muslim, I take a moral stand against ISIS or its like. 

A tall order, given that there have been at least 140 terrorist attacks by ISIS, or inspired by it, in 29 countries in the 30 months since the group declared its caliphate in June 2014. Most recently, one of its followers shot up a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve.

On average, that’s just over an attack a week. And it does not include other brutal groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It’s hard to apologise so frequently, publicly, for something I have no hand in and do not believe in.

There were times I got fed up and remained silent, especially on social media. ISIS is evil. It burns people alive and blows out their brains. It should be obvious that like everyone else, I am just as disgusted by these. Why do I have to continually prove my humanity by repeatedly condemning the same acts over and over again? Every time I disassociate myself from them, I am clumped together again the next time they attack, guilty by association. It gets tiring.

Still that does not mean I do not own the problem of extremism (read more here). Many Muslims do so too (here’s a list) because our faith demands that we speak out against oppression, inhumanity and injustice.

Taking a moral stance against extremism also means we speak up against the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Which is why we find it hard to quietly accept that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be warmly welcomed in Singapore next month. Or when Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has yet to condemn the atrocities being committed in her country, enjoyed a friendly tour here recently. 

When I speak out on such issues, I’ve had non-Muslim acquaintances dismiss it saying it’s just politics, just business. Funnily enough, these are the same people who ask me why Muslims don’t speak out against violence. As if my conscience can be turned on or off at their convenience.

Sometimes it feels as if Muslim voices only matter when it suits an agenda. Sometimes, it even feels like Muslim suffering overseas does not matter at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it, there are economic and security considerations Singapore needs to make. I understand why the G does not officially speak up on these issues, why it has an official policy of non-interference, while quietly allowing non-governmental donations to help Palestinian and Rohingya victims. At times the G donates a small sum too. There are pragmatic, political considerations.

But where does that leave its citizens, who feel slighted? The pragmatic and the political can leave a bitter aftertaste. Extremists capitalise on this, blurring complexities, obliterating nuance, drawing thick lines in the sand between Muslims and the rest of the world.

This divide is made stronger every time someone asks me if I’m a Muslim first or a Singaporean first. The question stops short of asking outright: Where does my loyalty lie?

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first or a brother. I can’t imagine life outside either role. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first, or a brother. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

Likewise, I don’t know where the Singaporean part of me ends and where the Muslim part begins. Besides, I thought we are Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion.

So why the need to squeeze me into two categories – Singaporean and Muslim? It’s suffocating. I am Muslim Singaporean, Singaporean Muslim. I am both, at once. Don’t break me into two, please.

Thankfully, I have non-Muslim friends who get it.

Like Young-hwi, who in my absence, of his own accord, made sure the restaurant that the group booked was halal. Or the former classmate, Jianwei, who apologised to me for particular nasty racist comments on Facebook. The comments weren’t even directed at me personally and the commenters were online trolls in no way related to him. My friend had no obligation. Yet he apologised, to let me know that my concerns mattered to him, that he cared.

I wish more people around the world stand up for Muslims like my friends did. But the popular support and rise of anti-Islamic right wing figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands scare me. Most troubling was the recent successful presidential election of Donald Trump in the United States, in spite of his anti-Muslim prejudice.

At the end of the day though, do I think the world hates me? No, but sometimes it feels that way.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Vanessa Wu and Glenn Ong

BY THE end of this year, the number of social enterprise hawker centres would have tripled from 4 to 13, which suggests that the model is working and there is sufficient demand.

So, what can hawker food lovers expect at these social enterprise hawker centres? If you are thinking that the food there is cheaper compared to regular hawker centres, it is not necessarily so.

We visited both social enterprise hawker centres managed by NTUC Foodfare: Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre (BIHC) and Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre (BPHC), and found that their management models are not quite the same.

BPHC has fixed price caps on certain dishes at each stall while BIHC follows a general guideline of using the market rate of individual dishes as a price ceiling. In addition, BPHC opens from 6.30am to 10.30pm daily and cooked food stalls are required to operate a minimum of six days a week and 12 hours a day.

Conversely, stalls at BIHC can open as early as 1am in the morning and as late as 12 noon. There are also stalls that operate for 10 hours a day at BIHC. Also, while some stalls at BIHC have shifted over from the old Block 207 hawker centre, every stall at the newly built BPHC are new tenants.

We wanted to know the reasons behind the different management models of the two hawker centres and we contacted the National Environment Agency (NEA) for answers. NEA, however, has been unable to respond to our queries sent two weeks ago.

We did find this on NEA’s website: That “socially-conscious operators” are engaged with “widening the diversity of affordable food options” and “enhancing the vibrancy of our hawker centres”. But that’s not saying very much.

What did the hawkers themselves have to say? Read on.

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Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre, run by NTUC Foodfare

Prices at BIHC are not very much cheaper, we realised. For instance, two vegetables and one meat dish at mixed rice stall Ali Shan costs $3.10, while a cup of iced Milo from drink stall Tea Cafe will set you back $1.40 – prices you would find at regular hawker centres.

Though there are stalls that priced their food below regular prices – such as Jit Sing Satay and Gim Chew Fried Hokkien Noodle – these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Below is a comparison with another hawker centre in the vicinity, Bedok North Street 3, Block 511 Market and Food Centre:

DishBedok Interchange Hawker Centre (NTUC Foodfare)Block 511 Market and Food Centre
Chicken rice$3
Pin Xiang
$2.50
Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice
Hokkien noodles$3.50
Gim Chew Fried Hokkien Noodle
$4
Foo Xin Kee
Minced pork noodles$4
Handmade Fishball Meat Ball Noodles
$4
Minced Pork Noodle
Chicken chop$6.50
Bedok Western Food
$6
Don & Grill
Satay$0.60
Jit Sing Satay
$0.50 (chicken and pork), $0.60 (mutton)
City Satay

$0.70
Soon Lee Heng
Sugarcane juice$1.30
Jianxing Fruit Juice
$1.50
Hong Kong Mei Mei

However, the fact that prices aren’t significantly lower doesn’t seem to have deterred people. When TMG visited at around 3.30pm on a weekday, the hawker centre was still very busy and had very few unoccupied tables. BIHC has a maximum seating capacity of 1,000 people.

Stallholders we spoke to said that all price increases have to be approved by NTUC. Mr Lim Ju Min, 42, who works at He Li Economical Beehoon, said in Mandarin: “If we want to increase prices, we have to submit a food list to NTUC for approval.”

Mr Lim said that the food list contains the cost of individual ingredients. He added that in the two years he has been at the social enterprise hawker centre, he has not increased prices.

“If we want to increase prices, we have to submit a food list to NTUC for approval.”

hokkien mee

From left to right: Jit Sing Satay and Gim Chew Fried Hokkien Noodle

Another hawker, Mr Allan Ng, 44, who is a third-generation owner of Gim Chew Fried Hokkien Noodle, said in Mandarin that “prices can be set at the market rate, but not above”. He gave the example that a plate of noodles that costs $4.00 in other hawker centres cannot be priced higher in the Foodfare centre. Mr Ng said that the cost of his ingredients has risen by 20 per cent over the past two years, but he has only increased the price once – from $3.00 in 2014 to $3.50 last year.

 

nasi lemak

Ming Hui Nasi Lemak

The owner of Ming Hui Nasi Lemak, Ms Li Sufeng, 47, has increased the price of her nasi lemak set from $2.00 to $2.20 when she shifted from Blk 207 to BIHC. Individual items like luncheon meat and chicken wing have also increased in price by 10 cents. “The price increase of individual items has to be recorded separately in the application,” said Ms Li in Mandarin.

 

carrot cake

Song Zhou Fried Carrot Cake

Furthermore, Mr Kim Leng Chen, 57, who runs Song Zhou Fried Carrot Cake, has also increased prices from $2.50 to $3.00, one year after moving to BIHC. He shared that with a management office just around the corner, staff from NTUC Foodfare are able to conduct regular checks on food prices and cleanliness. He has been seeing NTUC staff walking about the premises almost daily.

 

Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, run by NTUC Foodfare

Things are a little different over at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre (BPHC), where price caps are set for selected food items. For example, the chicken rice at Sakura Congee and Chicken Rice costs $2.80, while a bowl of yong tau foo soup with six ingredients from Beauty World Hakka Handmade Yong Tau Foo costs only $2.70.

Mr Aw Chin Yang, 29, supervisor of BP Braised Meat Rice, told TMG: “Every stall must have an item which is designated as an affordable and healthy option.” For the past year, however, business has been “undesirable and unstable”, said Mr Aw in Mandarin.

“Every stall must have an item which is designated as an affordable and healthy option.”

When asked about how the price caps are enforced, Mr Calvin Lew, 43, who works at Xin Ban Mian, said in Mandarin: “NTUC conducts daily inspections. They will check on hygiene and prices.”

Yet, not everyone is having a tough time running a stall at BPHC. Mr Tay Key Hua, 66, owner of Father & Son Carrot Cake, said his business has grown by about 10 per cent between last month (Dec 2016) and this month. Mr Tay said in Mandarin: “Hawkers who set up shop here must be able to stomach the prospect of selling their food at lower prices.”

A plate of fried kway teow from his stall costs $2.70, while his fried Hokkien noodles starts from $2.80.

When asked about the rent at BPHC, Mr Tay said that his rent, inclusive of GST, costs $2,980 per month. Utilities set him back between $1,200 and $1,500 a month. He said: “I am lucky because I bidded when the rent was lower. It is not surprising to see some forking out $6,000 to $7,000 a month for rent if they really wanted a stall.”

Mr Tay said he signed a three-year agreement with NTUC, which means his rent will remain fixed until the contract expires.

“It’s not surprising to see some forking out $6,000 to $7,000 a month for rent…”

We asked if he obtains his supplies from NTUC Foodfare and whether that reduces his costs. Mr Tay said that he gets his ingredients from a mix of suppliers. He buys oil, salt and beehoon from NTUC, though he said in Mandarin that it’s to “maintain the relationship” and not because the prices are significantly lower.

As for items that NTUC cannot provide – such as the extra large eggs needed for his carrot cake – he buys them from external suppliers.

The hawkers we spoke to said that in the one year they have been at BPHC, they have not raised their prices.

 

What about others?

We also went to Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, which is operated by the social enterprise subsidiary of Fei Siong Food Management. Located at Hougang, each stall has at least one item that is priced at $2.80 and below.

 

bcm

Teochew Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle

For example, a plate of chicken rice at Ah Khoon Authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice costs $3.00, but it offers shredded chicken porridge and chicken macaroni at $2.80 each. At Teochew Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle, the cost of a bowl of mushroom minced meat noodle starts from $2.80, while everything else on the menu – such as the mini pot noodles and the teochew handmade fish dumpling noodle – costs $3.80.

 

chicken rice

Ah Khoon Authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice

Similar to BIHC, hawkers at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre have to submit an application to the management should they wish to raise their prices. Mr Derrick Lee, 32, owner of Ah Khoon Authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice, said that they first have to fill up a form and the management will update the self-payment machine at the stall after giving the approval. The whole process takes about three days.

In all, there will be nine more social enterprise hawker centres from this year on, bringing the total up to 13. Of the total, NTUC will be managing nine. Two other social enterprise hawker centres – at Ci Yuan Community Club and Our Tampines Hub – are run by subsidiaries of Fei Siong Food Management and Kopitiam respectively. Call for tenders have been put up for the other two social enterprise hawker centres at Jurong West Street 61 and opposite Yishun Park.

 

Featured image Maxwell Food Center, Singapore by Flickr user Nate Robert(CC BY 2.0)

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by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Lim Qiu Ping, Vanessa Wu, Glenn Ong

SELF-CHECKOUT machines at supermarkets are supposed to cut down queuing time for the customers. But there are people who would choose to pay at the cashier. We ask them why and here’s what they said:

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Mr Dhiya Yamin, 23, unemployed

“I find the machine a little bit complicated. If I press wrongly, it gets complicated especially for a first timer. And we don’t really know how to use it. Sometimes there isn’t anyone on standby to help. That’s why I prefer to go to the human cashier.”

Madam Hartini Jamaludin, 40, executive with NEA

“I prefer the human cashier because it’s much easier. The self-checkout machine is for people who are more IT savvy. It’s best to use cash for payment method and having a human cashier at least creates employment.”

Mr Shaful Akram, 18, higher Nitec student

“I choose to use the human cashier instead of the self-checkout machine because it’s become a habit. And on certain days, I just forget to bring my card.”

Ms Nur Syafiqah Musa, 18, Junior College student

“I feel that it’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t know how to use the self-checkout machine and it would take some time for me to get used to it.”

Ms Maggalena Kalita, 35, full-time mother

“When we buy too many groceries and have our kids along with us, it’s easier to go to the human cashier. On other days when I’m alone and just buying a few items, I would use the self-checkout machine.”

Mr Royston Liang, 20, polytechnic student

“I go to the human cashier out of habit. Other than that, sometimes I don’t see the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Naimah Masuri, 27, marcomm executive

“It’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t really use the self-checkout machine even if I’m just buying one item.”

Madam Nora Ibrahim, 43, business owner

“I prefer personal touch. Even if I’m just buying one stuff, I prefer cash than my card getting swiped in a machine.”

Ms Ghazzali Ramos, 32, Filipino tourist

“Because there is no one queuing.”

Ms Nur Aqilla, 15, Secondary school student

“Because it’s more convenient and faster.”

Ms Nurul Ain, 25, housewife

“Based on my experience, when you pay at the self-checkout machine, certain things cannot be scanned, like [those] on offer, or things that I want to void. Meaning that, after the total [cost counted], I cannot afford another item or I took [too many], I still have to call one of the staff to assist, because they need to insert the key to void or cancel the item.

If I go to the cashier straight, everything can be done there with the cashier, although there is sometimes a long queue and is a bit troublesome. But I prefer the cashier; at least I can settle everything there without any need to call any staff.”

 

Mrs Gracy Patti, 32, nurse

“There’s nobody at the cashier. Otherwise I would like to pay at the self-checkout machines because that is very easy [to use].”

Mr Freddy Yip, 70, technician

Speaking in Mandarin: “It is easier to pay at the cashier. It is more convenient; don’t have to scan the items one by one by myself.”

Mr Pang Tee Meng, 70, retired engineer

“The space is available. If the queue is too long, I will use the self-checkout machines.”

 

Madam Law Yoke Ching, 49, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “It’s a habit. I’ve always pay this way.

Using the machine is convenient if I buy one or two item. If I buy too many items, like 20 to 30 items, it takes too long so I would use the cashier.

There is pressure if there is a long queue behind [at the machines]. Everyone is looking at you.”

Madam Zulaiha Zainal, 43, part-time cleaner

“Because I got cash only in my hand. I don’t have Nets.”

Mrs Padma Raja, 42, housewife

“Because I have a trolley full of things, so I prefer to pay at the cashier. I’m not allowed to pay at the self-checkout. Only a basket full of things can be paid there.”

 

Mr Jason Goh, 52, graphic designer

“It is more convenient. You just put your items there; the cashier calculates for you. You don’t have to do the scanning; then you just pay the money.

Maybe you have to queue a bit longer, lah.

But sometimes you, let’s say, self-checkout. Maybe sometimes you get stuck; probably the [scanning] procedure is wrong.”

Mrs Yaw Hui Ching, 28, credit officer

“Because I want to use the vouchers.”

Madam Siti Patimah, 45, healthcare assistant

“If there is a long queue [at the cashier], I’ll use the machine. If there’s one, two people at the cashier, I’ll use the cashier.”

 

Madam Lim Bao Jiao, 70, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “Because I don’t know how to use [the self-checkout machine].”

Miss Choo Wan Luoh, 18, Junior College student

“Because it’s much faster. And it’s easier. We don’t have to check the price ourselves.”

Mr John Chan, 76, retiree

“Because when I see whichever side is available, then I go. For convenience’s sake. When the counter is empty, then I pay there.”

Madam Wong Yek Liang, 55 factory worker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I use the vouchers. Like $2 deduction if I spend $5. Like the $10 or $20 vouchers. I don’t really know how to use the machines. If I buy a little, I’ll use the self-checkout. If I buy a lot, I use the cashier.”

Miss Goh Si Kei, 48, warehouse assistant

Speaking in Mandarin: “Using machine is more troublesome. There are two types of machine. I don’t know to scan the member card or Nets card on which type. I don’t know which icon to press.”

Ms Anuja Wararas, 34, teacher

“It’s a habit. I guess I prefer human touch than the machine. Also, it’s faster with the human cashier and you can just check out how many people there are in the queue.”

Mr Sufyan Razali, 20, ITE student

“I don’t own a card. But if I do own one, I would use the machine because it’s more convenient.”

Ms Noele Ng, 23, research assistant

“I go to the human cashier because there aren’t [many] people in the queue and it’s faster for people to scan my items for me.”

Madam Iris Tahn, 62, administrator

“I seldom use the self-checkout machine. I also don’t always buy groceries. The self-checkout machine has a lot of people. If I use the machine I need to train how to use it. There aren’t a lot of people at the human cashier.”

Mr Jeff Pastwick, 34, US Navy

“I don’t like the machine. It always gives me issues such as not scanning the items properly or can’t read my card.”

Ms Christine Teo, 23, university student

“The human cashier doesn’t have a queue at the moment. But I usually go to the self-checkout machine. I only go to the human cashier depending on how short the queue is.”

Madam Jessica Yeo, 46, homemaker

“For cashier, I can pay cash, they will pack for me and it is easier. For the self-checkout machine, I have to use Nets, pack things myself.”

Ms Hazel Loh, 33, optometrist

“Usually I will use the self-checkout machine but today I’m trying to use up my LinkPoints. I find the self-checkout faster. I will use the cashier when I have vouchers to use up as well.”

Madam Esther Lee, 61, housewife

“It is easier for me. I may key wrongly and there are many cards to insert. When I use the self-checkout machine, I insert the cards in the wrong direction.”

Madam Irene Lee, 60, counsellor

“It is fast and quick as the queue is short today. I have tried the self-checkout before but I am unsure of the process. Simply lazy, out of habit and refuse to change.”

Madam Evelyn Chua, 65, retiree

“It is more simple. Just pay and walk out. Don’t have to press it myself. Today, the queue is short. If the queue is long, I will go there.”

Ms Singdha Ayarwal, 29, homemaker

“I have too many stuff that need to be properly packed and arranged today. So I prefer this line. If the queues are long I will use the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Milly Sin, 42, homemaker

“The self-checkouts are not set up in a user friendly way. Not enough space for goods and in the packing area. The discounted items barcodes often do not match up. I have been to Europe and Australia as well and the set up is better there. They can consider fitting the self-checkout machines with weighing scales. The technology is already there, they just have to incorporate it in.”

Mr Wandi Hashim, 33, restaurant manager

“We only carry cash. I think the self-checkout machine is convenient and fast but I am with my mum today and we want to pay cash.”

Ms Jaya Nthi, 37, private tutor

“I forgot that there is a self-checkout. I use it at Woodlands Cold Storage. I am comfortable with the cashier. When I scan my items at the self-checkout, it doesn’t quite catch. Some discounted items require assistance and I have to wait. There are 10 self-checkout counters and there are 10 people in front of me. I have to think of it that way.

There are also too many instructions on the screen at one go as there are many cards being used here.”

Miss Michelle Kang, 22, student

“I use both but the queue [for the cashier] seems short today. If one is not accustomed to the machine, it can get overwhelming. When it was first introduced, my mum struggled with it.”

Madam Cao Wan Lin, 38, homemaker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I feel that the self-checkout machine is not easy to use. It can be time wasting when the assistance of the supermarket staff is needed. Customers needs to put all of their purchases in the bagging area before packing them. I think that packing your purchases as they are scanned, like they do at the human cashiers, is more efficient.

Additionally, I am unsure of how to use my LinkPoints at the self-checkout machine as I am not strong in English. I can ask the cashier to check my points balance and decide whether to use my rebates on the spot. Hence if the queues at the cashiers are not too long, I am willing to queue to make payment. However, my nine-year old son loves to use the self-checkout machines. When he is at the supermarket with me, I always use it. He likes to play with the machine as he finds it very interesting.”

Ms Crystal Hong Wei, 25, youth worker

“The queue for the self-checkout is long. I am only buying two bottles of water, weird to use Nets. I didn’t know I can use cash at the machine. I would have gone there if I knew there was cash.”

Mr Anthony Man, 40, business development manager

“While I’m queuing, I can send messages and use my phone. It is more convenient and humans are creatures of habit. They can consider having discounts or more points at the self-checkout. Maybe that will attract more people to queue there.”

Ms Charmaine Loh, 29, IT professional

“Right now the queue appears shorter [at the cashier]. I weighed my options and decided to queue here. Sometimes technology screws up and it may end up taking longer than expected.”

Mr Archie Rodil, 36, software engineer

“Right now, I am too lazy to do it myself. I am feeling a bit tired from work. On weekends, I will gladly use the self-checkout. I can read my phone while waiting in the [cashier] queue since it moves slower.”

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Ms Mary Joy Yladia, 32. interior designer

“I am just used to paying with the cashier. I tried the self-checkout a few times but I just come back to the cashier. It is more convenient and I don’t have to worry about checking the price. I just put everything there.”

Miss Jasmine Wong, 25, media professional

“I didn’t thought of that. Usually I will go to the self-checkout at Chinatown NTUC but today I just stood at the cashier. I didn’t see the self-checkout and went straight to the cashier.”

Miss Ashley How, 14, student

“It is more convenient at the cashier. At the self-checkout, you have to scan each item. They have improved the system but when you do something wrong, it will still stop completely.”

Mr Miko Gino, 23, student

“The self-checkout is more tedious. If you don’t have your credit card, it is easier to use the cashier. If you are carrying many things, it is hard to do the scanning at the self-checkout. I was talking to my friend and were not in a rush, so we chose to use the cashier although we have one item each.”

Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

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by Wan Ting Koh

HOW much will it cost you to drive in and out of Singapore through Tuas or Woodlands Checkpoints? Do you know what exactly you’re paying for?

The answer: It depends. Are you driving a foreign-registered car or Singapore-registered car? Are you entering between 5pm and 2am when there are no Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) charges?

According to our calculations, if you’re driving a Singapore-registered car into Malaysia, you’ll need to cough out up to $13.30 just to get across the border. And this is just one-way. This was calculated by adding the RM20 (S$6.37) road charge imposed by Malaysia, and tolls from both Singapore and Malaysia checkpoints.

If you’re entering Singapore through a foreign-registered vehicle from Feb 15 onwards, you’ll have to pay these:

1. Toll charges at both the Malaysia and Singapore checkpoints

2. VEP charge ($35)

3. A Reciprocal Road Charge (RRC) ($6.40)

And according to our calculations, this could cost up to $46.30 for the foreign-registered vehicle travelling just one-way.

The RRC is the newest charge to be applied to foreign-registered vehicles and is meant to match the RM20 road charge that is levied on Singapore-registered cars entering Malaysia through Johor Bahru. Malaysia started charging the RM20 fee on Nov 1 last year.

The VEP charge – currently only levied by Singapore – has been in place since August 1, 2014, and only applies to foreign-registered cars and motorcycles entering Singapore. Foreign-registered cars are charged $35 per day while motorcycles are charged a $4 per day. This includes each day they are kept or used in Singapore.

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Motorists are given 10 days per year where they can enter Singapore VEP-free. There are no charges on the weekends and Singapore public holidays. Vehicles entering between 5pm to 2am on weekdays are also exempt from the VEP fees. Though if you stay beyond an exempted day, you’ll have to pay the daily rate if you have used up your 10 calendar days.

Owners with foreign-registered cars who do not have an In-Vehicle Unit installed will also have to pay a fixed rate of $5 daily when they use ERP-priced roads during ERP operating hours. This will be deducted through the vehicle’s Autopass Card when owners depart from Singapore.

Toll charges apply to both Singapore-registered and foreign-registered vehicles entering and exiting from either Tuas or Woodlands Checkpoint.

Here is a table of Singapore’s toll charges, taken from the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) website.

Screenshot of toll charges taken from LTA's website.
Screenshot of toll charges taken from LTA’s website.

 

Malaysia’s toll charges are as follows:

VehicleSingapore to JohorJohor to Singapore
Private carsRM9.70RM6.80
Small lorriesRM14.70 RM10.20
Heavy lorriesRM19.70 RM13.60
Taxis RM4.80 RM3.40
BusesRM7.80 RM5.50

Motorcyclists are exempted from this toll.

As for Singapore-registered vehicles entering Malaysia, the same table of toll charges apply, together with the RM20 road charge. Malaysia is supposed to have its own version of the VEP in place. Malaysia’s VEP requires Singapore-registered cars to register with Malaysia’s Road Transport Department before entering Malaysia.

But a check with Malaysia’s Road Transport Department website showed that registration has been suspended until further notice, so cars may still enter Malaysia without paying the VEP charge.

Now, here’s why you have to pay and pay – on both sides:

 

1. Reciprocal Road Charge

Malaysia said in October last year that it would start collecting a RM20 road charge from motorists entering through both the Causeway and Second Link from November the same year. Calls for Malaysia to levy a charge on Singaporean cars entering the country had been gaining traction after Singapore raised the VEP from $20 to $35 in 2014.

And that’s how the RRC came about.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan repeated in the January 9 sitting of Parliament that the G had a “long-standing policy of matching any levy, tolls or fees charged by Malaysia for using the road links between Singapore and Malaysia”.

He added: “This is to ensure that Malaysia takes into consideration our response whenever they raise their tolls or introduce a new levy.”

Here are what others have said about the RRC.

Malaysian opposition lawmaker Wong Shu Qi last Friday expressed her opposition to the road charge. She said: “A toll war on both sides of the Causeway essentially creates a toll wall alienating people, families and businesses in Johor and Singapore.”

In a statement, head of Johor Youth Wing of the United Malays National Organisation Hahasrin Hashim described the charge as a “gesture of provocation”. “We unanimously oppose the move to impose a Reciprocal Road Charge, as it affects Malaysians,” he said. He added that Malaysia had not responded to Singapore having a VEP imposed for 44 years.

Said Mr Hahasrin: “The move (RRC) has prompted the (Malaysian) federal government to engage in a dialogue with the Singapore Government to end this ‘victim’ stance adopted by Singapore.”

 

 

2. Vehicle Entry Permit charge

Singapore first introduced the VEP charge in 1973 to balance the cost of owning and using foreign-registered vehicles on Singapore roads with that of Singapore-registered vehicles, since Singapore-registered vehicles have significantly different costs such as the Certificate of Entitlement and vehicle taxes.

However when LTA announced that it was increasing VEP fees from $20 to $35 and the GVP fees from $10 to $40 for foreign-registered vehicles coming into Singapore, in 2014, Malaysia retaliated by saying that it would have its own VEP on non Malaysian-registered cars entering Malaysia via Johor Bahru. The initial fee according to reports was up to RM50. Malaysia aimed to implement the system by end-2014. Well, that has not worked out.

In August 2015, Malaysia said that non Malaysian-registered vehicles entering Malaysia through Johor Bahru would have to be registered for a radio frequency identification tag which costs RM10 and lasts for five years. The Malaysian G said that this was to “improve border controlling and monitoring”.

Till now, cars can still enter JB without paying Malaysia’s VEP fee.

Here are what others have said about the VEP:

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said in The Star article that Malaysia’s VEP will be different from Singapore’s and is not meant to be “reciprocal action” for Singapore’s own VEP. He added that Malaysia was not discriminating against Singapore-registered cars as the same road charges would be implemented at the borders with Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei.

 

3. Toll charges

Singapore first imposed toll charges on the Causeway and Second Link in March 1998. Then, cars, vans and small lorries were charged $1 for crossing the Causeway to Malaysia. For the Second Link, cars were charged $2.50 each way, while vans and small lorries were charged $6. Motorcycles only had to pay 50 cents for using the Second Link and could use the Causeway for free.

Tolls were collected through toll coupons. These were replaced by CashCards for Singapore-registered vehicles and Autopass Cards for foreign-registered vehicles from April 1, 2000. Tolls were paid at toll booths on Malaysia’s end.

Now, drivers pay tolls by inserting a NETS CashCard or a CEPAS compliant stored value card into the card reader installed at the immigration booths. On Malaysia’s end, tolls will be charged via Touch ‘n Go electronic payment card.

Then-Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan said that the toll collection was in line with Singapore’s road pricing policies to prevent and relieve traffic congestion. He said that the inter-government agreement on the construction of the new 1.9 km bridge at the Second Link, which opened early in 1998, allowed both countries to impose a toll on vehicles using it.

“Malaysia has announced its intention to do so,” he said. “We will do likewise.” He added: “To ensure that the collection of tolls at the second link will not divert traffic to the Causeway causing it to be congested, we will also collect tolls for the Causeway.”

Tolls were increased periodically since then. In July 2014, Malaysia announced its decision to raise toll charges for all vehicles, save motorcycles, effective from August 1 the same year.

From then, private cars had to pay RM16.50 in Malaysian tolls for a round trip, up from RM2.90.

 

Featured image Singapore – Johor Causeway (IMG_8582) by Wikicommons user Sengkang. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Suhaile Md

MOST Singaporeans (69 per cent) do, said a report released on Sunday (Jan 15) . Which is more than can be said about Americans (47 per cent), the British (36 per cent), Australians (37 per cent), and Malaysians (37 per cent).

Of the 28 nations surveyed in the report, three out of four governments were not trusted by their people. Actually, only citizens of four other countries besides Singapore had faith in their political leaders: Indonesia, India, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China, where 71 to 76 per cent of citizens believed in the government.

While it’s commendable that the G inspires so much trust compared to its counterparts in the rest of the world, this year’s (2017) figure is a 5 per cent drop from the 74 per cent trust it enjoyed last year, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. In 2015, 70 per cent trusted the G, and in 2014, 75 per cent kept faith. By the way, the People’s Action Party won 69.86 per cent of the vote share in the last general election in 2015.

The Trust Barometer was introduced in 2001 by Edelman, a global public relations company. Initially it measured trust in a handful of European countries and the United States but expanded over the years and eventually included Singapore from 2011 onwards. Surveys are conducted online, asking 1,150 adult citizens per country about the level of trust they had in the various institutions in their own country.

Note that the surveys were done between October and November of the preceding year to gauge the trust level in the new year. For example, the survey for trust levels in 2017 was conducted around October of 2016.

The dip in trust is not unique to Singapore. Last year, China scored 79 per cent and UAE came in at 80 per cent. So they dropped by 3 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. Citizen’s trust was even higher for them in 2015: China had 82 per cent trust and UAE had 90 per cent.

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In all, 10 countries bucked the trend of declining trust. The largest gains were in Indonesia and India, which saw an increase of 13 per cent and 10 per cent respectively from last year. 

The trust in the G was not the only institution measured. Three others were considered as well: Businesses in general, non-governmental organisations (NGO) and the media. Singaporeans don’t trust these as much as they do the G.

Compared to last year, trust in businesses this year went down 2 per cent, to 58 per cent. In NGOs, it was down by 1 per cent, to  61 per cent. And the media had the lowest level of trust at 54 per cent, which is a 6 per cent drop from 2016. In fact, Singaporean’s trust in the media has not been this low since the barometer included Singapore in 2011. “Media” refers to both online and offline media.

Singaporeans have a 60 per cent trust level in the system, that is the four institutions in sum. Again, it’s one of only five countries with this level of confidence. India, Indonesia, China, and UAE have 72 per cent, 69 per cent, 67 per cent and 60 per cent trust levels respectively. Two out of three countries’ citizens distrust the systems of their nation.

What do the results mean for the future?

According to Edelman, if trust in the system erodes, it leaves citizens “vulnerable to fears” of job loss, erosion of social values, immigrants damaging local culture and so on. But with no trust in the system to address these issues in the first place, the fears increase, which in turn erode more trust. A vicious cycle ensues. It leaves citizens with a sense that elites gain at their expense, that hard work is not rewarded any more and that leaders are unable to fix things. There will then be a desire for a populist, “forceful reformer” to bring change.

About the survey

Survey participants were asked to respond on a nine-point scale, how much they trusted a particular institution “to do what is right”. On the scale, one meant “do not trust them at all” and nine meant “trust them a great deal”. Unfortunately, it’s unclear exactly how many questions were asked, and what specific institutions within each of the four categories were referenced.

All surveys were conducted online. Respondents are at least 18 years old. There were 1,150 respondents per country. Quotas were set according to age, gender and region.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Lim Qiu Ping

FATAL road accidents make news. So, it’s no surprise when video captures of them attract attention. But what does it say of a community if the talk that follows smacks more of generalisations and blame games than sympathy and consolation?

Add to this, a mainstream media outlet that put in details of the deceased that, while padding the sense of tragedy, turned out to be untrue.

So much drama spun from a recent death of a woman cyclist. The story becomes not only about the mourning family but a public at large who made it their business to discharge opinions of what is wrong with the world and what should or should not be done.

Indeed, death affects us all:

 

An MSM that added to the sorrow

Ms Chua Hanyi had to object against the mis-reportage. She is the daughter of Ms Wong Lai Cheng, 47, whose bicycle was struck by a 45-seater bus at Pioneer Road North on the evening of Jan 12. Paramedics had declared her mother dead at the scene.

She corrected Shin Min Daily News, the Chinese daily, via a Facebook post put up on Jan 15 at 3:24pm, for claiming that her father had “cried out distraughtly that [her] mother was battling cancer”. Her mother was a “normal healthy individual,” she clarified.

According to the post, Ms Chua and her father had been waiting for Ms Wong to return home for dinner. The latter did not appear as expected and unable to contact her, both worried father and daughter decided to head down to her workplace at Nanyang Technological University. Along the way, they encountered the accident scene.

Shin Min’s embellishment to the narrative was inserted around here, presumably. Finding the paper “negligent” of its mistake despite having contacted its staff for a retraction, Ms Chua took matters into her own hands through social media.

Even The Straits Times’s (ST) Jan 14 story of the accident was affected by the error. By now, an amendment has been made, with a correction note found at the bottom of the page.

This instance of careless reporting is the latest controversy to have emerged since the accident happened last Thursday (Jan 12).

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The videos behind the storm

The bus was driven by a 29-year-old Indian national, who is currently out on bail after his arrest for allegedly causing death by a negligent act. After knocking down Ms Wong, the vehicle went on to mow down a small tree, cut across a three-lane road, ram into the fence on the divider and hit a white BMW before coming to a stop.

Within hours, the first video of the accident, taken from an in-car camera, was made available on Facebook. It was posted on the Beh Chia Lor Facebook page at 9:27pm and credited to Tony Ng. It has gained at least 299,000 views, around 4,700 shares and 517 comments. By the following morning at 8:15am, ST had a different video posted on their Facebook page, credited to Yi Qing Chong. To date, it has garnered at least 436,000 views, near 5,200 shares and 760 comments.

Both clips showed the harrowing sequence of collisions, but from two different angles. ST found it necessary to put up a warning in its post and video regarding the graphic footage.

 

Because they are foreigners

As a non-Singaporean driver was involved, the brickbats soon began. Expressions of pity and well-wishing were buried beneath castigation of reckless driving and anecdotes of dangerously speeding vehicles. Fingers point at drivers who are foreigners, purported to have bad driving habits, on top of being unfamiliar with Singapore’s roads.

Facebook user, Douglas Lim, typed in the comments under the Beh Chia Lor post: “What is happening is that more and more foreign workers are working as drivers, they are not used to our roads systems that’s why more and more of these types of freak accidents happening.”
.

 

No jumping the gun, please

There was caution against speculations. Take Facebook user Lim Dong Hyun for example, who attempted to reason with the more excited commentators on Beh Chia Lor’s post. No one knows the driver’s side of the story, he pointed out.

Lim had posted his comment on Jan 13 at 12:43am. Investigation into the accident had only just begun. The ST article, which reported that the driver said his brake had failed him, was published on Jan 14. It was reported that he said so as he apologised to the driver of the BMW, known as Mr Salim in the story.

In absence of evidence, how far can – or should – accusations go?

 

A medical condition has become a joke

Nonetheless, lack of data did not temper pot shots that the guilt of irresponsible drivers would be excused by touting medical depression. This was in reference to recent cases where drivers charged for their dangerous driving have pulled the psychological card to explain their rash behaviour on the road. First it was the 53-year-old driver, Lim Chai Heng, who killed one and left four injured on Dec 19 as he drove against traffic on the Ayer Rajah Expressway. And within a month later, it was the 30-year-old driver, Brandon Ng; arrested for pulling the same stunt in the early hours of Jan 5, though no casualty occurred.

 

Are so many Singaporeans truly heartless?

But the greatest outrage and debate came from commentators who began reproaching occupants of passing vehicles for not stopping to lend a hand.

Facebook user, Chong Yi Qing, the one who sent ST the video of the accident taken from her father’s car, had to justify her eye-witness position. It was not callousness that had drivers leaving, she explained. Rather, it was shock and an accompanying loss for what to do. There was also the question of what could drivers accomplish in the middle of traffic without ending up obstructing professional help from tending to the victim.

“Honestly, unless you are a paramedic,” she argued, “the best thing you can do, is to call the ambulance (which is obviously done).”

Screenshot of The Straits Times' Facebook post.
Screenshot of comments from The Straits Times’ Facebook post.

 

Such online clamour might show a facet of Singapore’s society that is blunt and opinionated. But the bristling could be read as a reaction to the overwhelming pity towards the victim’s family.

Poignantly, a Facebook user wrote in his comment under Shin Min’s post about the accident: “Sad!! 2 weeks more CNY.”

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

IT IS not what the Court of Appeal said about the Protection of Harassment Act that is important, but what the G is going to do.

The Court of Appeal said the G cannot be defined as a person under the Act, that is, it is not an entity which could feel emotionally or psychologically distressed by falsehoods. It also held that The Online Citizen (TOC) need not notify its readers about the falsehoods which it had published regarding Dr Ting Meng Choong’s allegations that Mindef was out to do him in.

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Now, this was a two-to-one judgement with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon holding the dissenting opinion. The other two judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang said that a reading of Parliamentary reports when the Bill was going through Parliament in 2014, showed that Law Minister K Shanmugam was focused on giving “people” a “low-tier remedy” against harassment. Mindef is not “people” and has plenty of resources to make its side of the story heard, they said.

Here comes the Law ministry itself.

It said that the G’s policy was to “allow natural persons, as well as the Government and corporations” to use the Act. (So it seems the two judges mis-read Mr Shanmugam? Or did he mis-speak?)

It noted the courts had agreed that TOC had indeed published falsehoods such as Dr Ting’s accusation that Mindef had deliberately infringed his patent on a medical device and was waging a “war of attrition” by dragging out a trial to wear him out financially.

Although TOC had published Mindef’s response in full and linked it to the Dr Ting article, Mindef went to court to get TOC to make clear that the article contained false statements of fact, so readers would know immediately on reading.

The case went from District Court to High Court to the apex Court of Appeal with the majority ruling that only “natural person can rely on the provision to get those who have published falsehoods to also publish corrections and the true facts”.

This is an interesting case which touches on who can use the law to press publishers into making corrections, even if the erroneous or misleading story doesn’t distress any one person emotionally or psychologically.

The two judges had read Mr Shanmugam’s answers in Parliament in one way, while CJ Sundaresh Menon read it in the opposite way. For example, what to make of Mr Shanmugam’s answer to Workers’ Party Pritam Singh’s question on whether the “persons” referred to in Bill could be corporate entities?  Mr Shanmugam’s swift response was to refer to the Interpretation Act which, by the way, would be a yes.

The two judges said his answer was sandwiched between other responses and his speech was mainly about redress for victims. It was, they said, a “generic answer”. The CJ, however, said that in the absence of clarity, it was the Interpretation Act that judges must turn to for answers.

Likewise, is the existence of falsehood enough to justify the courts taking action? The two judges said it would not be “just and equitable” and came down on the side of TOC which they said had tried to give a balanced picture by publishing its response and providing a link

“Additionally, Mindef was anything but a helpless victim. It is a government agency possessed of significant resources and access to media channels. In the present case, Mindef was able to put across its side of the story through traditional media as well as on its Facebook page.”

CJ Menon, however, thought that TOC’s actions were “insufficient” and “inadequate” to draw attention to draw attention to the falsehood and the true facts in the case. In his view, getting TOC to merely notify readers that the article had false statements was a “low-level restriction”.

Now, the Law ministry didn’t describe the article as “fake news”, which it said “has become a major problem for many societies” and destructive of the institutions of democracy.

“The Government notes the dissenting judgment of the learned Chief Justice, and the reasons the Chief Justice has given for his views. The Government will study the judgment, and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods.”

Oh dear. What’s next?

 

 

Featured image … And Justice for All by Flickr user alphis tayCC BY-SA 2.0

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Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

Malaysian motorcyclists

EVERYBODY is taking aim at somebody these days.

Who’s up first? Malaysian motorcyclists. They have been targeted in recent comments on biker safety here.

Data, which Khoo Teck Puat Hospital shared with The Sunday Times, show that overall, 42 per cent of seriously injured riders it saw between 2011 and 2015 were Malaysians. Malaysian work permit holders, who come in daily from Johor, made up the majority of this group.

Riding speeds has been identified as an issue as many riders might go faster to make up for time lost in jams.

Mr Bernard Tay, chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said: “If you anticipate a jam, start your journey early.

“Malaysian riders need to understand that the terrain is different because Singapore is a city and not a small town.”

(But one Malaysian worker said he already wakes up at 4.30am daily to skip the heavy traffic…)

And Mr Ong Kim Hua, president of the Singapore Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club, takes aim at the riders’ basic training and riding culture.

The 50-year-old said: “These are not young Malaysian riders. The need to be first in line, the first to reach the checkpoints, the first to get home is a culture that needs to be replaced with safety in mind. But bad riding habits become entrenched if you do not address them early.”

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Najib… again

Speaking of Malaysians, ex-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamed has taken aim at Prime Minister Najib Razak for allowing “foreigners” to own, build on and develop large tracts of land that would be occupied by them.

While not naming specific countries during his speech at the launch of his political party, Dr Mahathir has spoken and blogged before about his concern that Mr Najib is allowing mainland Chinese companies to buy huge areas of land, particularly in Johor.

Dr Mahathir said: “Singapore was our territory but not now. If we think a little bit, this is happening again.

“Our heritage is being sold, our grandchildren won’t have anything in the future.”


 

Trump… again

And another world leader on the someone’s target board? No surprise here – Donald Trump, and this time, he’s got himself right in China’s crosshairs.

China’s foreign ministry has come out to state on its website that the “One China” principle was non-negotiable. It urged “relevant parties” in the United States to acknowledge the sensitivity of issues surrounding Taiwan.

These comments were a direct response to remarks by the US President-elect – he had said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that there was room for negotiations regarding the “One China” policy.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has had stopovers in US cities in the last week, as part of her week-long trip to Central America. She had also sparked a diplomatic row when she rang Trump to congratulate him after his Nov 8 victory.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Wan Ting Koh

MORE signs showing where you can use your e-bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs) will soon dot road and path-sides, but what compensation can you really get if you are hit by these devices?

This was a question asked by Members of Parliament (MPs) during yesterday’s second reading of the Active Mobility Bill. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that with the Bill, there would be clearer rules governing the use of transport devices, including the classification of paths for pedestrian use and shared use.

Related: Word of the Day: Car-lite

In case you didn’t know, there are four different kinds of paths which will be demarcated soon. First, there is the footpath where you can ride your bicycles and PMDs. E-bikes are banned from this type of path. Then there is the cycling and shared path, where bicycles, e-bikes and PMDs are allowed. There is the pedestrian-only path. And finally, roads, where only bicycles and e-bikes are allowed.

The penalty for devices that go where they shouldn’t: a maximum fine of $1,000, or a three-months jail term, or both, for first-time offenders. This applies to PMD riding on pedestrian-only paths and e-bikes that go on footpaths. The same penalty goes for speeding on public paths.

For PMDs that go on the roads, however, users will be fined a maximum of $2,000, or a three-month jail term, or both, for first-time offenders.

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The heavy penalties come on the back of several high-profile accidents involving PMDs and e-bikes in the recent months. In September last year, 53-year-old Madam Ang Liu Kiow went into a coma after being hit by an e-scooter. She underwent two brain operations.

More than 700 cyclists and PMD users were caught for reckless riding since May last year, while Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said last March that the number of e-bike accidents increased from six in 2013 to 27 in 2015.

NMP Randolph Tan pointed out that too many signs might have its own problems.

Said Assoc Prof Tan: “If incidents increase and arguments about right of way become more prevalent, will we be seeing a call for more directional signs on pedestrians pathways?… A proliferation of signages will only spawn a new set of challenges. Right of way where pathways intersect with driveways could also lead to increase chances of disputes and accidents.”

What will also be more visible apart from signs: registration plates for e-bikes. Mrs Teo said that e-bikes will have to be registered to an owner, especially since these devices are more prone to illegal modification.

However MPs seemed to be more concerned about what recourse pedestrians could get if they are involved in accidents with these devices.

Some pointed out that PMD users, who aren’t required to be registered, won’t be identifiable in cases of hit-and-run accident.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Zainal Sapari renewed the call for mandatory third-party insurance, which was, last year, rejected by Mrs Teo as “too onerous and costly” for the vast majority of PMD users who were responsible.

She said in the Oct 10 session of Parliament last year that pedestrians injured in accidents involving these devices can get compensation through civil lawsuits or private settlements.

However Mr Sitoh disagreed yesterday, saying that civil lawsuits would be expensive and that victims in hit-and-run accidents with PMDs would have no recourse if the users could not be identified. He added that the effort and cost to get insurance “should not be an impediment” to implementing mandatory insurance.

The same concern about unidentifiable PMD users was echoed by other MPs, such as Ms Joan Pereira, who suggested that devices be “sold with packaged personal accident insurance” She also asked that the insurance be “tagged to the equipment and kept updated as long as they are in use”. This is so victims can be assured of compensation, she added.

To these suggestions, Mrs Teo replied that while third-party insurance was encouraged, it was not mandatory due to the “broad range of users” who use the devices, including those who use them only occasionally, or those who are less well-off.

“Insurance comes at some cost, and it is not an insignificant amount… it is not clear who should be targeted for mandatory insurance,” said Mrs Teo. She added that where cyclists and PMD users are at fault, they may be prosecuted and the court will consider compensation.

Currently, only NTUC income offers third-party insurance for users of PMDs, e-bikes and bicycles, among other devices.

 

Other issues raised by MPs:

Apart from signs and third-party insurance, MPs gave other suggestions in Parliament, including having PMD users sit for theory tests and having them don mandatory safety gear. Mr Yong, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal proposed that PMD users take a basic safety course.

Mr Ang also added that while one can travel with foldable bicycles and PMDs with greater ease, there remained a lack of parking and storage spaces in public places and buildings. He was also an advocate for protective gear to be made compulsory for PMD users.

Other MPs, such as Ms Chan and Mr Dennis Tan said that familiarity with road etiquette should be inculcated when riders first start riding, with particular attention given to the young and those still schooling.

Foreign workers using bicycles were also a topic with some of the MPs, with Mr Pritam Singh saying that a key challenge would be to “educate a large and transient foreign worker community” of cycling norms. Mr Tan added that the huge influx of foreign workers in the 2000s resulted in a huge increase in the number of people using bicycles. “Many also followed the cycling culture: ignored the road safety rules because of lax enforcement,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Henry Kwek and Dr Teo Ho Pin suggested means of educating the public and for enforcing the new rules. Dr Teo said a 24-hour hotline for complaints could be set up, for instance, on top of installing CCTVs. Mr Kwek suggested that advertisements of desired behaviours could be shown in cinemas and websites such as SGAG and Mothership.

 

Additional reporting by Lim Qiu Ping.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

EMPLOYEES who turn 60 can no longer have their wages cut because of their age. The re-employment age will also be up from 65 to 67, with effect from July 1 this year. These amendments to the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA) were passed in Parliament yesterday (Jan 9). The retirement age still stands at 62.

Prior to the amendments yesterday, employers were allowed, by law, to reduce up to 10 per cent of their employees’ wages when they turned 60. So now, workers will continue earning the same after their 60th birthday. However CPF contributions, which drop from 13 per cent to 9 per cent for employers, and 13 per cent to 7.5 per cent for employees, upon hitting 60, will continue. No changes have been announced on that front.

When workers turn 62, they can either choose to retire, or take up an offer of re-employment. The RRA obliges employers to offer re-employment to citizens and permanent residents. Yet, it may not be in the same role with the same wage. Also, workers have to be medically fit, serve the company for at least three years before turning 62, and have performed well enough, as judged by their employer.

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Why not just increase the retirement age then?

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.” For re-employment though, “the concept is not necessarily the same job, not necessarily the same pay,” said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament yesterday.

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.”

So, it seems the removal of wage cuts when a worker reaches 60 is about “same job, same pay” being secured for at least two more years, with changes in a worker’s income only expected after 62. About 12 per cent of Singapore’s labour force was 60 or older in 2015, which is more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006, reported The Business Times today (Jan 10).

About 12 per cent of the labour force was 60 or older in 2015, more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006.

Also, CPF monthly payouts only kick in when Singaporeans turn 65. Increasing re-employment age to 67 provides older workers two more years of employment, hence reducing or even delaying their reliance on CPF payouts accordingly. On that note, current CPF contributions drop again at 65. Employers’ contribution decreases from 9 per cent to 7.5 per cent, while employee contribution drops from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent.

 

Finding re-employment elsewhere

Another change: A company can find re-employment opportunities for its worker in another company, which is agreeable, and handover the obligation to that company. That is, the new company will be responsible for the re-employment of the worker until he’s 67 years old. This was not allowed prior to the amendments yesterday.

However, if the worker in question does not want to take up the offer to work in another company, his current employer must still find a role for him in-house. If there’s no opening available, the employee must be offered an Employment Assistance Payment (EAP). The one-off payment is to help with the loss of income, as former employees look for jobs on their own.

In response to the amendment in Parliament, the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation updated the joint guideline that recommends a payment range for the EAP. It’s recommended that the EAP be equal to three and a half months’ pay, with a minimum sum set at $5,500, and limited to $13,000. This comes into effect on July 1 this year. Presently, it’s set at three months’ pay, with the range between $4,500 and $10,000.

 

Incentives and help for employers

Businesses get some help too. Currently, employers who hire Singaporeans older than 55, and who earn less than $4,000 a month, will have up to 8 per cent of the monthly wage covered by the G under the Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme. This scheme will end in 2019.

If a company voluntarily employs workers above 65, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset.

If a company voluntarily employs workers aged above 65, an additional 3 per cent is offset. That is, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset under the SEC scheme. The additional 3 per cent offset expires on June 30 this year, but the G is considering an extension, said Mr Lim. Details will be out later.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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