June 26, 2017

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IT IS July 9, Thursday – one day away from the weekend (yippee) and who knows how many days to when we figure out what caused the massive MRT breakdown on Tuesday (boo). We know that there was a power trip – but what caused the power trip in the first place?

Three possible reasons: worn cables, a water leak, and a glitch in a power substation switch. Now, these are hardly the type of problems unknown to the authorities, and appear to have been neglected (again) despite millions being poured into upgrading the NS and EW lines since the last major breakdown in 2011.

Things are not looking up for SMRT, whose top guys have said their sorrys and have promised to look into the matter – even as the Transport Minister yesterday downplayed the need for another costly and time-consuming Committee of Inquiry. Commuters will still want answers, of course, or they may well take their frustration into the voting booth in the upcoming election.

The chips were down, too – across the board – in the stock exchange yesterday. Asian indexes plunged after a panic selling of Chinese stocks sparked a trading halt by more than 1,300 firms in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Jitters about the Greek crisis spilt over to the United States, too – where an unrelated computer glitch led to orders being cancelled at the New York Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index slid 55.94 points or 1.67 per cent – its largest in a single day this year. Speaking of glitches, if you’re still having trouble logging into G services with your SingPass, it’s because of the new authentification system being put in place. Urgent transactions can be completed at SingPass counters. Here’s where to find them.

Down, down, down for COE prices as well – though, this has been more or less expected on the back of the new carbon tax that came into effect on July 1. The only COE price to go up was for motorcycles. If you’re in the market for a new car – industry watchers say COE prices may still go down, so… maybe stick to the MRT for now? We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.

 

 

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It’s going to be a slow morning commute for most of us with the North-South and East-West lines running at reduced speeds after the massive rail meltdown last night. Read our report for the details.

 

Their biggest shareholder, however, had much better news. Temasek Holdings announced a 19% rise in its net portfolio value over the previous year to S$266 billion. It divested a record S$19 billion to take advantage of positive market sentiments and invested S$30 billion during the year. It is focusing more on investments beyond banking and finance, such as tech, consumer and life sciences.

Although Temasek has done well financially, online gamblers may throw away their money more freely now that Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club have applied for exemptions from online betting curbs. The laws against online betting came into force on Feb 2, and the applicants hope to have the exemptions by June 2016, in time for the Euro 2016 football championships.

And in the same vein of the curious marriage of sports and money, Floyd Mayweather has been stripped of the WBA boxing title he won against Manny Pacquiao because he failed to pay a US$200,000 (S$271,000) fee by the deadline last Friday. Mayweather has said before that he would be happy to vacate his titles to give younger boxers a chance to win them. It seems that he still gets to keep the US$220 million (S$298 million) from the commercial payouts arising from the fight.

 

 

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Citizen timepiece shows 8:30

IT’S Tuesday morning and things seem to be more exciting outside of Singapore.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has unexpectedly quit his post after successfully securing a big fat Greek “no” referendum vote against the their debtors’ bailout terms. His replacement is Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and the reshuffle seems to be part of PM Alexis Tsipras’ plan. Prof Varoufakis (whose bargaining made him unpopular with other European finance ministers) felt that his premier could reach an agreement with the Eurogroup more easily with him away from the table. He left with this parting shot on his blog: “I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride. We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office.”

Fortunately for Singapore, TODAY reported the MAS saying that the nation’s direct exposure to Greece is “negligible”. Just watch for the knock-on effects.

The pressure is also on for Malaysian PM Najib Razak in the wake of the Wall Street Journal report alleging transfers from 1MDB companies to his personal accounts. Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 and a university student group have threatened public protests if the matter is not investigated and reported fully.

That, along with the tense situation in Greece, has caused the Ringgit to slide to a 16-year low at 2.8189 against the Singapore dollar. We assume all of us in Singapore are just thinking of shopping in JB now, or a cheap weekend getaway.

If you do want to get away, please remember that the Philippines announced that it has had its second case of MERS, a Middle Eastern man who had come to Manila from Dubai. The news reignites MERS fears in the region even as Thailand’s first MERS patient made a full recovery late last week and no other infections were announced in the Kingdom.

In Singapore, the marriage and parenthood package that is meant to incentivise Singaporeans to have more babies is seeing diminishing returns, according to an Institute of Policy Studies poll. Overall, only 40 per cent of respondents said the package would have an impact on their decision to have children, down from 59 per cent in 2009, signalling that it is not just about the money. Wasn’t that obvious?

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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8:30 Clock face

IT’S Monday July 6 – and the Greeks have said “no”.

“No”, as in we don’t want to do as the European Union says and have our taxes go up and wages cut so that we can get another loan from international creditors. The trouble is, if the creditors don’t blink and Greece is booted out of the euro, then what? The Greeks are gambling that the big, fat Greek divorce won’t happen.

Embattled Malaysian premier Najib Razak has said “probably”.

He’s consulting lawyers on whether to sue the Wall Street Journal which alleged that he took funds from state coffers. Besides Ambank, money was said to have been funneled into a Swiss bank in Singapore, Falcon Private Bank. We doubt that many have heard of it.

Here’s what it says about itself: Falcon Private Bank is a Swiss private banking boutique with 50 years of expertise in wealth management. We provide first-class financial services to private clients and wealthy families from our headquarters in Zurich, and our branches and representative offices in Geneva, London, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 

Since 2009, Falcon Private Bank is owned by International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), one of the world’s leading sovereign wealth funds from Abu Dhabi. IPIC was founded in 1984 by the government of Abu Dhabi to invest in the energy and related sectors across the globe.

Its office is in Centennial Towers at Temasek Avenue. Like AmBank, it hasn’t said anything about its client – not even whether the premier is one of its clients.

At home, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong goes “Hallelujah”?

He seems to be on an SG50 round of religious groups. He was at a Catholic thanksgiving mass at the Indoor Stadium on Saturday, joined the Protestants yesterday at the Sports Hub and will be breaking fast with Muslims at a Bedok mosque today as well as attend a concert co-organised by the Taoist Federation and the New Creation Church. Time for the Hindus to extend him an invitation?

The bus services have improved, said the Land Transport Authority, with more services and less crowded conditions. Everything’s smoother now except for 16 bus services, which were not named. Are you on board one of them by any chance?

In case you’re interested, the court is due to say today whether Amos Yee should be treated at the Institute of Mental Health or go direct to a Reformative Training Centre.

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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THE best thing you could do this Sunday morning is take a stroll in the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site – The Singapore Botanic Gardens. The 156-year old gardens was voted in and becomes Singapore’s first such site, and is one of only three gardens in the world on this UNESCO list. The team behind the bid (and indeed all the garden’s staff) reaped the produce of a five-year campaign. The only worry now is how to manage the surge in crowd that is sure to come with the gardens’ new-found fame.

One more site that has seen crowding problems recently is Kampong Glam, which has some 50-60 beggars, mostly foreign, descending on it during the Ramadan season. It is estimated that each of these beggars can collect some $150 a day by going from shop to shop or by begging on the street. Disabled beggars make even more.

Something else left begging (for answers, that is) is the WSJ report saying that US$700 million had gone into Mr Najib’s accounts from three 1MDB-linked companies. Malaysian authorities have raided the three companies and are investigating. Mr Najib defended himself by saying that he never received anything for “personal gain” but stopped short of denying the report and has yet to sue the WSJ, which is standing by its article. If all this is false or misleading, Mr Najib should sue, since the news has already taken a significant effect on his party and on his political standing.

And it is just the political standing of the parties in Singapore that ST has gone in-depth on today, with no less than four pages dedicated to analysis and predictions for the much-expected general elections. A hint at an election coming really soon, it seems. Dr Ng Eng Hen described the PAP’s relationship with the electorate as that of an old married couple that takes each other for granted. Hrmph. The party’s most visible presence in opposition-held Aljunied is comprised of new faces, and Dr Ng indicated that the PAP would not risk someone with ministerial potential on such a risky GRC.

On the other hand, it seems that opposition parties aren’t bothering to avoid multi-cornered fights. Punggol East was won by WP despite four candidates fighting over it, but does this apply everywhere else?

Former WP Secretary Danny Loh died from a fall in Japan at age 55. He was also the Managing Director of FM Solutions and Services, and managed the WP Town Council. Our condolences to the family.

 

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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IT’S Saturday, July 4 2015 and did you smell something in the air early this morning? Going by the PSI readings, we’re likely to have to breathe in more dust today.

http://www.haze.gov.sg/haze-updates/psi-readings-over-the-last-24-hours
A higher overall 60 to 70 reading for Singapore at 7am – Screencap taken from NEA website.

In case you didn’t know, the court hearing to decide the amount of damages blogger Roy Ngerng must pay the Prime Minister for defaming him ended yesterday. We sat through the three-day hearing and, in a nutshell, it was all about Mr Ngerng saying that he never intended to defame PM Lee Hsien Loong but was sorry nevertheless, and the PM’s lawyer Mr Davinder Singh arguing that Mr Ngerng was deliberate and malicious in defaming Mr Lee – and was not at all sorry. Some interesting information on where Mr Ngerng got his funding, including from foreign organisations, was disclosed.

That case over, you can now turn your attention to another Prime Minister who has to defend himself against accusations that he took money. Malaysian PM Najib Razak is incensed at a Wall Street Journal report which claimed that some US$700 million (S$940) (S$940 million) were moved between government agencies, banks and companies before ending up in Mr Najib’s accounts. WSJ cited leaked documents from the Auditor-General’s office investigating 1MDB, a fund that is chaired by Mr Najib, for its report. Mr Najib is claiming “political sabotage” spearheaded by, you guessed it, former premier Mahathir Mohamad. If the allegations are false, it’s time for Mr Najib to do what PM Lee did – and sue?

Then there are questions about who can be a Prime Minister raised at a forum to discuss Singapore’s future. An Indian Prime Minister? Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was asked point-blank if he would take the job. He said no, he’s not interested. Anyway, there are already people in the fray and entering the fray who will provide leadership, he said.

“Let me put it this way. We all have our preferences and I was always, in sports, playing centre-half than centre forward. I enjoy playing half-back and making the long passes, but I am not the striker. Unless I am forced to be, and I don’t think I will be forced to it because we’ve got choices. We won’t always get it the way we expect it to be, but we think very hard about succession in Singapore.”   

Back to the ground level stuff that really matters to us. A track fault delayed train services on the North-South line for about one and a half hours yesterday. Our commiserations to those who got to school or work late and yes, we know what you’re thinking: “What? Again?”

 

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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Yippee, it’s Friday – the end of the week and the last day of Mr Ngerng’s ongoing case with the PM over how much he owes Mr Lee for defaming him.

Gosh, it got brutal – sorry, is brutal too harsh? – yesterday, going by MSM reports. Mr Ngerng got on the stand and was called all sorts of names by the PM’s lawyer Davinder Singh, even as he tried to paint himself as an ordinary blogger who didn’t really know what he was doing, including when he used the word “misappropriation” to describe the G’s handling of CPF funds.

After today, the judge will decide how much Mr Ngerng owes the PM in damages. The PM is going for a “substantial” sum, but whatever the number, the message is clear, as it’s always been: You defame me, I’ll go after you.

It’s what the PM said in so many words in an exchange with CNN host Fareed Zakaria during yesterday’s SG50+ Conference. When asked if he should really be going after bloggers, he told Zakaria: “You can say and discuss anything you like, but you can’t defame anyone you like.”

“If you can’t redress defamation, then how can I clear my name when somebody defames me?”

It’s not only defamation on our leaders’ minds when it comes to talking smack about other people. In an interview with TNP, Law Minister K Shanmugam said the G would take a strong stance against people who denigrate other faiths.

He said: “When someone insults religion in Singapore, the people expect the G to take a firm stance… If society as a whole says it’s okay to insult Christianity (and other religions), then the laws will change. But if we think it’s important we keep those rules, then we should.”

He was, of course, referring to the other blogger Amos Yee, who’s been found guilty of insulting Christianity and currently undergoing psychiatric assessment.

Lots to think about, but if you prefer to enjoy your weekend without Roy or Amos on your minds, maybe take a nice walk in the Botanic Gardens.

By then, it could already be a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 

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Today is Thursday, July 2 and we are saying goodbye to Mr N Ganesan, who died yesterday morning after a serious 2011 stroke. Known by his friends as “Gani”, the former lawyer and Deputy Public Prosecutor was best known for his time as chairman of the FAS from 1974 to 1981 and for creating the Kallang Roar. Yesterday, tributes from the sporting community poured in as the news of his death spread. The funeral service will be held at 5pm on Saturday at Mandai Crematorium.

We offer our condolences to his family and loved ones.

Mr Ganesan was responsible for many exciting matches on the field, but the match everyone was watching yesterday was the one in court – between PM Lee and blogger Roy Ngerng. The case now is how much Mr Ngerng will pay Mr Lee in damages after Mr Ngerng lost his defamation case last year. If you’re just catching up, see our highlights of the exchange, a time-line of what’s happened so far, and why we think Mr Ngerng is still spoiling for a fight despite saying sorry… how many times? We’ve lost count. Be sure to catch our lunchtime report on the case this afternoon. The case continues today and ends tomorrow.

Outside of the courtroom, the other big news in today’s MSM are property prices, which are still going down – though not as much as before. Flash estimates show HDB resale prices slid 0.4 per cent for the eight consecutive quarter, and private homes prices are down 0.9 per cent for the seventh consecutive quarter. Consultants said the market has yet to bottom out. But that hasn’t stopped everyone from wondering if cooling measures could be reviewed by year-end.

Speaking of cooling measures, Hollywood A-listers Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have called it quits after being married for 10 years. Twitter went nuts.

 

 

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It’s Wednesday morning and the the most graphic images you’ll see today might be of the military air crash in Medan, Indonesia that killed over 100. Only TODAY reported that Greece has submitted a last-minute proposal for its debt woes, and ST is sporting a new look.

But the focus is firmly on local issues, with PM Lee calling out the challenges of economy (over 10 years), population (over 25 years) and identity (over 50 years). Singapore has to “find a way to continue growing” its economy, “get out TFR up to 1.5” and to “maintain this sense of nationhood and strengthen this identity and common purpose”, said PM Lee. He assured the audience at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture Series that good leadership and policies were in place but that it was up to Singaporeans to do their part, especially on issues of population and identity. So… we are to support policies and have more babies? Sounds familiar.

While you’re pondering babies and policies, your GST vouchers should be arriving in the snail mail starting from today. Going out to some 1.6 million Singaporeans aged 21 and up, the letter will outline the Medisave, U-Save and cash components that Singaporeans are eligible for. There is a permanent increase of $50 for the cash payout if your home’s annual value is less than $21,000. Seniors will also be eligible for a cash bonus of between $150 to $600.

You may soon be able to cycle seamlessly from Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to the CBD, if URA’s call for consultations to overcome seven physical obstacles is answered. This includes a 14m-high overhead bridge across the 8-lane PIE – quite a climb. Unfortunately, nobody mentioned anything about overcoming sweatiness and a lack of shower facilities.

So if you prefer premium air-conditioned travel, taxi problems still abound. Only Comfort met LTA’s taxi availability standards, and SMRT and Prime attracted fines of $45,000 and $44,000 respectively.

Hope you get to work on time – our economy needs you.

 

 

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It’s Tuesday, June 30 and we hope you’ve got over your first-day-of-school blues. Well, the children of Tanjong Katong Primary who lost seven school mates and two teachers in the wake of the Sabah quake are trying to, with principal Caroline Wu rallying the school to “bounce back”. Our best wishes to them.

On a more upbeat note, Singapore and Australia are aiming to be more than just friends, but “family”, a description used by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was here for a visit. The two countries are getting more than mate-y with a comprehensive strategic partnership signed yesterday. Basically, it means both sides are throwing open its doors wider to each other, whether for business, investment or for people to move in and out for work or play.

Singapore is now also part of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, one of 50 countries to have signed on the dotted line yesterday. The United States and Japan, worrying about China’s increasing clout in the region, were notable absentees.

Following the explosion in Taiwan which may have been sparked by a cigarette butt in contact with coloured powder thrown into the air, questions are being asked about the safety of the Sentosa Colour Run that will take place on Aug 22 and 23. Organisers point out that they have held more than 500 global events with zero fire incidents. Their coloured powder is made of “food grade corn starch and is 100 per cent natural and safe”, is not the same as the one used in Taiwan and has successfully passed European Union standards for flammability. SCDF says it doesn’t regulate corn starch (!) but warns that fine particles dispersed in the air could cause a flash fire when in contact with a heat source. In other words, it’s up to you whether you want to take part or not.

Here’s what Ms Siti Nadzirah Samsudin, a research assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies of the National University of Singapore wrote in TODAY about the LGBT debate here which will doubtless fire up following the nod given to gay marriage in the US.

The lack of diversity in the debate is worrying for two reasons. First, the religion-versus-rights-only debate does not lead to mutual understanding. This is illustrated through a 2014 study done by researchers from Nanyang Technological University. They analysed nearly 10,500 comments left on two different online petitions in 2007 that called for a repeal or retention of Section 377A, the law that criminalises male homosexual sex.

They found that the “retain” side argued almost exclusively from a religious perspective. The “repeal” side, however, focused on the rights perspective. Neither side engaged one another or invoked other perspectives.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Government justifies its LGBT policies based on public opinion. At a Singapore Perspective Conference 2013 organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said “the conservative roots in society” is the reason that the “status quo will remain”. The question, then, is on what basis are the uninformed middle ground, whose views influence state policies, forming their opinions on LGBT issues?

 

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