March 23, 2017

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by Philipp Aldrup

Mr Chia Yeng Keng (age 85) was born on Pulau Ubin in the 1920s. Since more than 40 years ago, he and his wife Mdm Chow New Phang (age 80) have been living in that house, in which they ran a small provision shop in times when the granite quarries were still active. Up to 6000 people lived on the island back then.

Today there are around 100 residents left; it’s getting lonesome in the remote areas, so the Chias commute between the island and Singapore City, where they spend some time in their son’s HDB flat in the Serangoon district. There, they get to meet friends and family and use the amenities of a modern apartment.

Every 10 days, the Chias travel through time – retracing Singapore’s changes of the last decades in just a couple of hours, from the old village lifestyle to modern life in an urban built environment.

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Philipp is a German who has been based in Singapore since 2005. With his camera he creates images of places that possess a disquieting beauty filled with an ethereal sense of timelessness.

The word “sorry’’ has appeared. Such an easy thing to say in the light of the distress a bungled notice to Pulau Ubin residents caused. The 22 residents served a HDB “clearance’’ notice should rest easier, and so too those who think that Pulau Ubin is going to be Disneyland and are taking up cudgels to defend this last bastion of kampong-ism.

The Singapore Land Authority has decided to come out in the open today to sort out the confusion. Going by what it says, it seemed like a small matter of trying to stick to rules – but it was botched by bad bureaucracy.

Small matter you say?

Seems like the HDB botched it up first by sending a notice with an unfortunate header:  “Clearance scheme: Clearance of structures previously acquired for development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin”.

From what SLA let fall earlier today, the header is a throwback to a 1993 land acquisition exercise by the State. It wanted the land back from landowners to build what it had then planned for – an Adventure park. So landlords gave the land, took the compensation and left. Trouble is, some of them had tenants who were paying them rent – and some of these tenants are still staying put in their kampungs on what is now State land. Some 22 of them.

As for that Adventure Park, it was never really built – at least not on the scale of popular imagination. Over the next 20 years, the Outward Bound School (maybe this is the Adventure Park?) , bicycle tracks and other recreational spots sprouted up. This “development’’ has been completed and nothing else is going to happen on Ubin apparently.

So those 22 tenants can stay on – or go if they want.

Seems like if the tenants stay, the G thinks they should be paying rent, of about $10 or so a month in the first year, and at most $200 a month in year six when the rents are supposed to be “market rates’’. Doesn’t sound too bad.  As tenants, they would have been paying rent to the original landowners pre-1993.

If they go, they get a re-settlement package of about $10,000 or so and get help to secure a place on the mainland. The phrase “re-settlement benefits’’ is pretty unfortunate. It conjures up hundreds of thousands of dollars – which is why $10,000 look paltry. But really, it is more an ex-gratia payment – tenants aren’t entitled to re-settlement benefits, according to SLA. Again, why didn’t someone clarify things earlier?

As for that so-called Ubin Census, it seems that some people moved in after 1993 when it was already State land. They are not descendants of the earliest kampong folk, like the Chias. (link to picture spread) So the money must go to the right people, the SLA reckoned, or it would mean that some people are getting an un-deserved windfall.

The G is working pretty by the book it seems. That book, however, doesn’t seem to say anything about how to communicate with people. Or how G agencies should talk to each other…

Of course, anyone can choose to believe or not believe what the SLA said. Maybe it is backtracking in the face of dissent and the HDB was right in the first place about clearing the land. Or maybe it was a truly innocent lapse in communication. In a time of mistrust of G’s intentions, some people might be inclined to think the former. The proof will come when someone checks on those residents again in a few months.

For now, Pulau Ubin looks safe from the bulldozer.

A rapidly ageing society isn’t all bad – for businesses, it’s a big potential market to make lots of money.

That’s the message from Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing when he spoke yesterday at the annual Ageing Asia Investment Forum.

He said: “Many people have used the words ‘silver tsunami’ as if this is a disaster that’s going to happen… An ageing population is not a crisis, if we prepare well.

“Whoever masters the circumstances well will conquer the market,” the minister was quoted in ST.

The story was also reported in TODAY and Zaobao, and the Chinese-language paper was ahead with more facts from the forum than the rest.

For example, how big exactly is this market?

ST didn’t say; TODAY reported $3.7 trillion, but it was only ZB who gave the figure for the Singapore market: $46.3 billion.

ZB also went deeper into the report by the Singapore-based consultancy Ageing Asia, which ranked Singapore as the third largest potential market for baby boomers, behind Hong Kong and Australia.

It added that in Singapore, the average savings for households with occupants over 60 years old in 2012 was $36,000, and that this sum was expected to rise to $42,000 by 2017.

The minister also took the opportunity to encourage more community work to aid the elderly.

Rather than count only on the Government to provide assistance, Singapore should also “leverage on the strengths of the private and people sectors” – such as “mobilising local resources… to develop local solutions best suited for the community,” reported ST.

Super, super vague.

Thanks, TODAY, for speaking with the chairman of the People’s Association Active Ageing Council, Dr Tan Yong Seng, who suggested companies could, for example, design housing that’s “ageless” – so that ramps and non-slip tiles don’t have to be added later on.

This could also mean a re-design of common applications, such as a bottle cap or a door handle. “Be it housing, be it healthcare, be it service, food and beverages, whatever it is, think ageless,” Dr Tan told TODAY.

That’s a tall order – but a $46.3 billion incentive should get some wheels clicking.

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by Bertha Henson

MP Janil Puthucheary should be pleased with himself – his proposal for free train rides have come true. And it’s going to cost us $10million. Sigh.

Now the question is: how do we measure the outcome? Transport Minister Lui projected that free rides could move another 10 to 20 per cent of commuters away from the peak period. This translates to between 10,000 and 20,000 train users. One assumes then that if this is achieved in a year’s time, then the free rides programme will be terminated? And commuters will have to start paying again? Or will it be continued because it is successful?

SIM University transport expert Park Byung Joon was reported in TODAY saying: “Since it is spending taxpayers’ money, the Government must have an option to stop (it) if the scheme is not achieving intended objectives.”

We have been quite liberal with taxpayers’ money, whether to subsidise wage raises or to achieve other social, economic outcomes. Even if there is an end point or time-frame, it’s usually tough to stop what’s being handed out free. People get used to it. That GST rebate, for example, looks like one of those things. Remember the worry that employers will get too used to the Wage Credit Scheme which is meant to be temporary measure?

Here’s what TODAY reported:

On whether the trial is a judicious use of taxpayers’ money, Mr Lui noted that, in general, public transport is largely funded by the same source because of the massive investments on infrastructure.

He pointed out that schemes that are funded by the operators — such as concessionary travel for certain groups — are cross-subsidised by other commuters. Adding that the free travel trial “may well be extended”, Mr Lui reiterated that the Government “will fund this scheme entirely so that commuters can be assured that whatever it is that they do or not do, it is not going to affect their fares”.

The thing is,  TODAY reported that SMRT has set aside $10 million (same amount as the G) since October 2011 to incentivise commuters to change their travel patterns. As of February, about 40 per cent of the money has been used and an SMRT officer said the rest will now go into “supporting” the free ride scheme.  So Government money will work where company money cannot? The SMRT must think it makes commercial sense to spread out the load, and here is the G giving it a helping hand!

Well, if the free rides work to get commuters out of bed early and ease the train load, well and good. But we had better think hard about having to subsidise this forever. The benefits had better outweigh the cost, in more ways than just spreading out commuter traffic.

Anyway, those polled by ST seem to prefer their sleep more than getting what’s free. ST reported that transport analyst Graham Currie, who studied the effectiveness of a similar free travel scheme in Melbourne was not surprised.

He was reported saying that the incentives reduced peak- hour traffic in the Australian state by only 2 per cent. The report didn’t say how much the state gave out in incentives, but Mr Currie said the effort was “worthwhile” as the state could hold off on investing A$100 million (S$128 million) to improve the train system.

To get commuters out of bed earlier, however, might require other changes and even if successful, might lead to other effects that haven’t been factored in.

Starting work early, for example, shouldn’t mean ending at the same time as usual (or should we be looking at easing evening peak hours?) It is good that the G will lead the way in changing working culture here to foster an “early start, early end’’ .

SIM’s Dr Park also noted the move  could possibly lead to more crowded feeder buses — with workers and students trying to get on the buses during the same time belt. It will be tragic if people sacrificed their sleep only to find that they can’t get to the train station on time!

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SG Gives, an online donation portal, received $8.5 million in donations last year – this, ST said, was a record amount. Given SG Gives was set up only in 2010, I’m not sure how record-breaking the figure is… it probably would’ve been more record-breaking if the figure had actually gone down I think.

Goes on to explain that the jump is because more people are going online to donate – is this based on just the figures from SG Gives, or is there more info to support this? Have online donations overall gone up? Or off-line donations come down? No idea.

What a shame, because this story could have given some real insight into how technology is changing donation patterns of Singaporeans – these days, you can even donate from your mobile. Instead we get a PR piece about how wonderful this portal is…