June 28, 2017

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SELAMAT Hari Raya Puasa! As usual, the annual Muslim festival is celebrated with plenty of pomp and vibrant decorations all over Singapore. There’s been the colourful Geylang Serai Bazaar, a giant light-up featuring Malay heritage icons and even jazzed-up trains. Two Hari Raya themed trains were launched last Thursday (Jun 22) to celebrate. This is the first time that trains are decorated for the occasion, with designs including ketupat decals on the windows. Some carriages are decorated to look like a fully-furnished living room; complete with carpet, couch and curtain decals.

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But in other parts of the world, it’s not just all celebration. We look at how muslims around the world would be spending Eid this year:

1. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: holiday extended by a week

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Sreejithk2000.

Government employees in Saudi Arabia will be receiving a longer vacation than they had initially expected after the Saudi government extended the Eid holiday by a week on Wednesday (Jun 21). Previously, employees had the final ten days of Ramadan off work and some time away for Eid as well. Their break began on June 16 and will end on July 8.

However, employees in the private sector questioned the extra time off from work given only to government employees. One Twitter user felt that those in the private sector were “not counted as citizens of this country”.

2. Doha, Qatar: Families face tough decision on whether to leave amid blockade

Image by Flickr user Larry Johnson. CC BY 2.0.

To leave or to stay: This is the question that has been haunting at least 6,500 families with mixed citizenships, as reported by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee. The Qatar blockade announced on Jun 5 cut off air, land, and sea links with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt. The first three also told their citizens to leave Qatar by last Monday (Jun 19).

A Qatari single mother, whose ex-husband was a Bahraini, faced the prospect of being separated from her children. After getting divorced in 1999, she had since brought her three children up in Qatar. But her children’s Bahraini citizenship required them to leave the country immediately.

The timing of this crisis could not be more tragic with the Eid holiday fast approaching – a time when families traditionally reunite. “The social fabric of [the region] is being torn apart for political reasons and we will not allow ourselves to be a party to this injustice,” government spokesman from Saudi Arabia Sheik Saif bin Ahmed al Thani said last Monday.

3. Xinjiang, China: Annual gathering of Uighur Muslims closely watched by authorities

Image by Flickr user Carrie Kellenberger. CC BY 2.0.

Living as a Muslim in China can be controversial, given ethnic clashes in recent years. But that has not stopped the country’s 20 million Muslims from having vibrant celebrations of Eid-al-Fitr every year, albeit under the cautionary eye of the local authorities, which introduced fresh regulations clamping down on the community this year.

Of the country’s 56 ethnicities, over ten are majority Muslim – notably, the Uighur and Hui people, from the Xinjiang and Ningxia provinces respectively. In both provinces, Eid-al-Fitr is a public holiday for all residents, and the roads are toll-free on that day.The largest Eid gathering happens in the Uighur city of Kashgar, where the Turkic-speaking Uighurs gather at the Id Kah Mosque for prayers, followed by music and dancing on the streets.

The Chinese government forbids officials from taking part in the celebrations, given the state’s official stance on secularism. Earlier in April, the central government also banned wearing a veil and sporting an “abnormal” beard, a move which was widely criticised as targeting Muslims.

4. Cilvegozu, Turkey: Syrian refugees head home on foot

Image by Flickr user Fabio Sola Penna. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Syrian refugees in Turkey are heading back home this Hari Raya after the capital of Turkey, Ankara, gave them the right to return a month after the Eid festival. Many are thrilled at being given the opportunity to visit their homeland. But some have decided to leave Turkey for good because of the difficulties in finding jobs there. They believe that employment opportunities are better in Syria.

Although Syrians have been given work permits since 2016, they are still unable to make a living out of the scarce employment opportunities which often deprive them of employee rights such as being able to take a leave of absence.

Turkey currently hosts around 3.5 million refugees – the largest number of refugees worldwide. At least 3000 of them have crossed Turkish borders into Syria by foot on Thursday (Jun 15). Anyone who wishes to return to Turkey will be treated as new arrival and go through the normal immigration process.

Featured image from Flickr user Jnzl’s Photos. CC BY 2.0

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by Deanna Nabilah and Sharanya Pillai

IN A recent salvo against the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Yang insisted that the last Will of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew is “final and legally-binding”, because it had been granted probate in Oct 6, 2015. Since then the word “probate” has dominated the news, being frequently used by the younger Mr Lee and his sister as a defence of the need to demolish 38 Oxley Road.

But is it impossible to challenge the probate in court? Lawyers TMG spoke to noted that it is possible to mount a challenge, just that there would be significant challenges.

1. What exactly is a grant of probate?

Wills are meant to be relatively straightforward documents, laying out the division of assets of the deceased. But not everything always goes to plan. This is where probate – a court process establishing the validity of a will – comes in handy.

According to lawyer Alyssa Mundo, who focuses on family law at Yeo & Associates, a will may not be fully recognised if it is not properly executed as per the Wills Act – for instance, if “there wasn’t any witness to the will” or the will was not carried out proper. Applying for a grant of probate in such cases would then require the will to be “proved” as valid and accepted as reflective of the deceased’s final wishes.

Corporate litigation lawyer Ronald Wong, from Covenant Chambers, explained that there are two different ways to prove a will in probate applications. The “common form” is a “straightforward application”, while the “solemn form” involves calling on witnesses to testify that the will represents the intentions of the deceased testator, and that the testator had the capacity to make a will.

The latter is an option for Executors of a will who foresee that the validity of the will might be questioned or challenged in future, he noted. If a will is proved by solemn form, this means that it becomes harder to challenge the grant of probate. It is not clear which form of probate was granted for Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

2. Under what circumstances can probate be challenged?

The grant of probate can be revoked or amended if there are “sufficient causes”, according to the Probate and Administrative Act. However, Ms Mundo said that even that would be hard to prove because the “part on ‘sufficient causes’ is not defined in the act [Probate and Administration Act]”. The court also has discretion in such cases.

She added that the courts have, through previous cases, regarded “sufficient causes” as “undue and improper administration in total disregard of the interests of the beneficiaries.” The test is an objective one, which means that the court will evaluate if a reasonable person in the Executor’s position may have acted a certain way.

Some possible grounds for challenging probate include arguing that the will was forged, that the deceased lacked “mental capacity”, or that someone had exercised “undue influence on [the] deceased [such] that he or she was not really operating out of their free will at that time”, Mr Wong noted.

The Wills Act provides a guideline that probate can be challenged up to six months after it is granted. But lawyers interviewed by The Straits Times noted that one can still challenge a probate beyond that time frame, if “special reasons” are provided. (Jun 17) The final decision however, still depends on the discretion of the court.

3. Could conflicts of interest be an issue in this case?

Lawyers TMG spoke to declined to comment on the specifics of the Lee siblings’ dispute. But when asked if getting a relative to draft a will may present a conflict of interest, Mr Wong said that may not necessarily invalidate the will.

“[Beneficiaries] and certain immediate family members of the beneficiaries under the will are not supposed to be witnesses to the will,” he said. “But there is no necessary impairment of the deceased’s intention or will-making power as it were, just because the person drafting the will was a family member of a beneficiary, or there is some so-called potential interest in it.”

“However, a beneficiary or immediate family member of a beneficiary drafting the will may raise suspicious circumstances which make it harder for the party proving the will.”

Ultimately, challenging a probate still “goes back to the question of whether the will reflect the deceased person’s intention, and whether he was under any undue influence, or duress or whatever that impairs that intention”, Mr Wong added.

Much of the Lees’ public spat now centres on who drafted the final will. In his Facebook note, the PM raised suspicions about how the final will was drafted by Stamford Law, as Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s firm was then known. Mr Lee Hsien Yang then shot back neither his wife nor his company were involved in drafting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

It remains to be seen how this conflict of interest element of the case might play out, as the saga continues to unfold.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  12. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  13. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)“We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image from Google user Nick Youngson. CC BY-SA 3.0 

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by Suhaile Md

THE public denunciation yesterday (June 14) of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong by his siblings Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang shocked Singapore, the ripples of which reached far beyond its shores.

The story was picked up by international news wire agencies, Reuters, AP, and AFP, with three different angles. Reuters angled on fear with the headline: Singapore prime minister’s siblings say they feel threatened, have lost confidence in him. AP went with family feud: Siblings accuse Singapore PM of using his power against them. And AFP focused on the accusations of power abuse: Siblings accuse Singapore PM of abusing power in family row. The articles were a straight retelling of what transpired, with the added context that in Singapore, such public criticism of the Prime Minister is “rare”.

By and large these three angles were repeated the world over.

In the United States (US), The Washington Post ran the AP report with the same headline. Time magazine went with the Reuters report with a modified headline, “Singapore Leader’s Younger Siblings Say They Are Concerned About ‘Big Brother'”. Its US counterparts CNBC, CNN, and The New York Times (NYT) all wrote their own stories, angling on family feud: “In rare feud, Singapore PM Lee under attack by his siblings” (CNBC),  “Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong publicly denounced by siblings” (CNN), and “In Singapore, Prime Minister’s Siblings Are Taking Private Feud Public” (NYT).

There was not much difference across the Atlantic. The United Kingdom’s BBC and Guardian went with “Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong family feud erupts again”, “Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong denounced by siblings” respectively. The Times ran “Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong is behaving like Big Brother, say siblings”. The Orwellian phrase was used by the younger Lee siblings in their public statement, playing off the fact that PM Lee is their elder brother and that they felt threatened by him. Financial Times (FT) covered two angles in one shot with the headline: “Singapore’s first family feud over ‘big brother’”. FT was also the first to get a comment from Mr Lee Hsien Yang after news broke.

The same angles were rehashed by Singapore’s neighbours.

Up north, Malaysiakini headlined “Singapore PM’s siblings publicly denounce him”. The Star Online directly quoted the statement by the younger Lees for its headline: “We fear the use of the organs of state against us”. Malay Mail Online reprinted the Reuters article with the same headline. Indonesia’s Jakarta Globe did the same as Malay Mail Online. The New Straits Times ran the AFP story, keeping the AFP headline as well. Thailand’s The Nation also ran the AFP report. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald wrote their own story: “Siblings of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong say they fear for their safety”.

Further afield, Japan’s Nikkei Review called it a “bitter” feud although it’s headline, “Singapore prime minister in open feud with siblings”, is more factual. The Hong Kong Free Press focused on the feud also, “Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong criticised by siblings in strongly-worded statement”. Its counterpart, the South China Morning Post wrote a more thorough piece, adding context on the disputed Oxley road house where the Lee’s grew up in, as well as the popularity of PM Lee as evidenced by his strong mandate in the 2015 elections. China’s Global Times reprinted the Reuters article with the same headline.

There was one other angle outside of the three above – about Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s decision to leave Singapore.

Malaysia’s Malay Mail Online: “Lee Kuan Yew’s son to leave Singapore amid family home conflict”. The Malaysian Insight was slightly more dramatic with, “Hsien Loong’s brother feels need to flee Singapore as Lee siblings’ feud deepens”.  International media like Quartz and Bloomberg had similar angles as well: “The brother of Singapore’s prime minister may enter self-exile, all because of a house” and “Singapore Premier Lee’s Brother to Leave City Amid Family Feud”, respectively. For the record, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are still in Singapore, although yes, they plan to leave the country.

The reports so far have dealt with facts, getting readers up to speed on what is happening. Columns, commentaries, and opinions will no doubt appear in the coming days.

That’s the news from foreign sites. Here’s our series of articles on the famiLEE feud, starting with the most recent:

    1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
    2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
    3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
    4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
    5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
    6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
    7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
    8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
    9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
    10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
    11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
    12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
    13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
    14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
    15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
    16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
    17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
    18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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TRUE Fitness and True Spa outlets in Malaysia were shuttered abruptly today, following the company’s sudden closures of True Fitness and True Yoga outlets in Thailand yesterday (June 9). 

The company’s announcement to customers in Malaysia said that the business is “no longer financially viable due to evolving market conditions”.

True Fitness Malaysia said on the website that it has purchased memberships and personal training sessions for its members to redeem from Chi Fitness, a different fitness centre that has yoga, pilates and muay thai classes.

Affected customers can only redeem their fitness sessions after July 3. True Fitness Malaysia said that “The validity of these redemptions would be for 24 months from July 3, or until all membership months and personal training sessions have been utilised.”

A spokesman from True Group told the Straits Times that it’s still business as usual for True Fitness Singapore. 

Many have taken to social media to air their grievances. 

 

This is not the first time that an international fitness chain has ceased its operations abruptly.

On July 20, last year, California Fitness announced that all its Singapore branches would be closed. Just a week before, it had closed all 12 outlets across Hong Kong. The company faced severe backlash as it did not have enough money to refund customers.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Health Gauge. CC BY 2.0

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the result of the vote in her constituency at the count centre for the general election in Maidenhead, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

by Sharanya Pillai

DISMAY for Theresa May, as the UK general elections returned a hung parliament today (June 9). The UK Prime Minister’s Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority after May’s decision for a snap election backfired disastrously. Calls now abound for her resignation.

While the Tories won the most seats, the party is still short of the 326 seats needed for the majority, having lost 26 seats to the opposition Labour Party and five to the Liberal Democrats. Seven frontbencher Tories are out, including Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer, who authored the widely-criticised Tory manifesto.

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The opposition Labour Party meanwhile has had a field day, gaining 31 seats as of 0700 GMT (3pm Singapore time) and nearly wiping out the Tories in London. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on May to step down, and pundits are taking bets on whether May will make way for the left-wing political outsider to become PM.

In a hung Parliament, the incumbent PM continues to stay in office while it is decided who will form the next government. May has until June 13 to form a majority coalition to keep herself in power or resign. In 2010, the Tories and Lib Dems formed a coalition government after the elections failed to deliver a clear winner.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry gesture at a counting centre. Image by Reuters.

Amid increased political uncertainty, the British pound fell sharply. There are also increased fears over whether the UK will see Brexit through. Former UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage has voiced alarm that the process is “in jeopardy”. The Ukip, once a leading voice in the push for Brexit, lost all its parliamentary seats in the election.

With chaos over the unexpected result, there’s a strong sense of deja vu. Like former PM David Cameron’s stunning Brexit loss, the election defeat was largely of May’s own making. The PM called for snap elections three years earlier than required, because opinion polls indicated that she outranked Corbyn. After Trump’s unexpected victory in the US elections, it seems like pre-election polls have once again blindsided politicians.

Now, May’s own party is turning against her. Anna Soubry, a senior Tory Member of Parliament, called May’s campaign “dreadful” and said that the PM should “reconsider her position”. Meanwhile, May has refused to resign, reiterating her pledge to bring “stability for the nation”.

 

Featured image by Reuters.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump vote at PS 59 in New York, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2SKR2

REUTERS

 

Featured image, videos and text by REUTERS.

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PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.
PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.

by Daniel Yap

DEGREES from private education institutions (PEIs) are inferior to those conferred by “local” universities. At least that’s what a recent Graduate Employability Survey commissioned by the Council for Private Education (CPE) seemed to suggest: PEI grads had lower employment numbers and lower median salaries compared to NTU, NUS and SMU grads.

But the survey has provoked protests and probing questions. What the survey didn’t take into account and didn’t mention is as important as what it headlined.

For example, no other figures were announced, meaning that there was very little context. CPE said that it did have a breakdown of figures for the nine schools it surveyed, but would leave it up to the schools to announce them. Will they ever see the light of day?

Even if those numbers eventually get published, what remains missing is the very simple question of how prospective students should approach the decision to further their studies.

Is it just for the attraction of a higher salary? Is it to simply have that cert on the wall so that you don’t lose face? Or did you really want to learn something and challenge yourself? Or embark on a career that contributes to society?

Then maybe median graduate salary is not the best measure (it is certainly not the only one). Not all PEI students are holding a fresh A-level certificate or diploma, and not everyone is doing it for a fatter pay package. About half of the students at PSB Academy, for example, are studying part-time while working. CPE’s survey only covered full-time students.

PSB Academy was not one of the institutions covered by the CPE survey, which was released last week.

Its own graduate and employment survey last year found that about nine in 10 students found employment within six months of graduation, while six in 10 students enjoyed pay increments and/or improved prospects in their careers.

“Students need to be equipped with industry-ready skill-sets to thrive in our future economy,” said Marcus Loh, who is Vice President, Corporate Communications at the PSB Academy. He also said that the reputation of the institution and university, depth and relevance of the course and “practical, not just theoretical experience” that they can transfer to their jobs are key criteria for deciding whether and where to pursue a degree.

Mr Ravi Mehndiratta, who is Assistant Director of Sales & Front Office Operations at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in Singaporesaid that industry recognition, robust curriculum, programme management and faculty are the most important factors when considering private education. The school also values industrial attachments for real-world learning.

In other words, if you don’t know exactly what you will be learning, and how it will develop your skills, then there’s a high chance you will not be benefiting fully from your course.

If you have a diploma from a good polytechnic course, then you have to look for further education that really upgrades your skills and knowledge, not one that, at great expense, simply upgrades your “last attained educational level”. You may end up wasting time and money, as two years in your industry may be more relevant and valuable, as long as your employer values your skills (and not merely your paper qualification).

As employers are forced to reckon with productivity challenges, the future seems to lie with skills-based learning, which is an area that PEIs can add value in. One good example is the professional development pathway offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Modular, skills-based frameworks like these allow students to get a focused education on industry skills that they can choose depending on their personal development needs (and the needs of their employers).

Prospective students would enrol in an ACCA accredited school such as LSBF in Singapore and take the certificates or papers they need (and are qualified for). These would be recognised by other educational institutions and employers. Could similar frameworks be developed for other professions and be updated frequently enough to match technological change?

Prospective students need more data and they need better data. Judging what CPE’s “better employment outcomes” really means needs deeper metrics than mere salary levels and employment figures, especially in the move towards recognising skills.

Sometimes, employers, the biases they hold and the red tape they have to deal with, are as much a part of the problem to a lack of recognition for skills-based learning as students and educational institutions are, so employment-side metrics will never be sufficient.

But until we can sort out how best to measure how well students have learnt skills, it is ultimately up to the learner to prove that he or she possesses them – industry-specific skills that make a candidate a productive part of a team, as well as soft skills like negotiating with and convincing employers to give you a job or a bigger pay check.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success

5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?

 

Featured image courtesy of PSB Academy. PSB’s new city campus at Marina Square will host more than 6,000 students.

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ZIKA is here. We’d rather not say “finally”, since we’ve been warned about it so many times that it seemed like a bad mantra. That exotic word by the way, refers to a disease spread by that dratted Aedes mosquito, the type which also spreads dengue.

We’ve been warned that we’re vulnerable because we have so many people going through Singapore. In May, Singapore reported its first imported case, a 48-year-old who travelled to Sao Paulo. It had seemed like something so far away, in Brazil, where pregnant women could pass the infection to the foetus who would be born with birth defects.

But Singapore’s latest Zika patient, a 47-year-old female Malaysian who resides at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent and works in Singapore, hasn’t travelled to Zika-affected areas recently. This means she was probably infected in Singapore which makes her the first case of local transmission.

MOH is also screening others living and working in the area who have symptoms of fever and rash. At this point, two members in a family who live in the Aljunied Crescent area and an individual who works there, had preliminarily tested positive based on their urine samples.

Don’t start panicking.

According to MOH: “Zika is generally a mild disease. It may cause a viral fever similar to dengue or chikungunya, with fever, skin rashes, body aches, and headache. But many people infected with the Zika virus infection do not even develop symptoms.” But pregnant women who live or work in the vicinity and who have a fever or rash should see a doctor.

The Malaysian, who developed fever, rash and conjunctivitis on August 25, is recovering well.

As for precautions, we should just do what we’ve always known we should do – wipe out the mosquito population. That might just rid us of the dengue fever scourge as well. Dengue has claimed seven lives so far. By the way, the Malaysian isn’t living in an active dengue cluster but there are two other clusters nearby.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Reliability (WOTD)
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Tan Chu Chze

TRAIN breakdowns break our trust in the system. The Ministry of Transport knows this, and is on the move. Yesterday’s (April 12) parliamentary debates saw progress in addressing the problem of trains breaking down too much… or in G-speak, ‘rail reliability’.

That said, ‘reliability’ is actually not a very straightforward idea. Worse still it is not something easily achieved. Sure, we are familiar with the word and use it often. But, it actually brings together a whole lot of different ideas.

In fact, that is the original concept of ‘reliability’. In its early use, the root ‘rely’ meant ‘to gather or assemble’. ‘Reliability’ is thus the product of assembling parts and things together. What things exactly? Let’s break it down.

The dictionary defines ‘reliability’ as being “consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted”. Here we can already see two ideas being fixed together: consistent performance, and trustworthiness. We think of these two notions as somewhat the same – if not flip sides of one idea – when really they are not.

Consistent performance is easily measurable. Following this we can derive a specific definition for ‘reliability’: that is, having stable and consistent results. Or in other words, a predictable outcome. If for the past 20 years your train to work arrives at your station at exactly 7am every morning, then your train system is reliable. It consistently produces the same result all the time.

The same applies for a train system that always fails. If you have never experienced your train arriving to your station on time, then your train system is (technically speaking) still reliable. It also consistently produces the same result – just that this result may not be the one you want.

This is where the other part of ‘reliability’s meaning comes to play. For a more complete sense of ‘reliability’, there must be some feeling of trust in relation to the predictable results.

This aspect, though, is not so easy to measure. How do you quantify a person’s confidence in a result or outcome? How do you capture an entire society’s faith in something like a train system’s performance? Or what happens when your train has an occasional but major breakdown?

Herein lies the difficulty with phrases like ‘rail reliability’: it is a term easily mistaken for measuring one aspect of ‘reliability’ when it was designed for the other. Take a close look at how it is defined by the Land Transport Authority (LTA):

‘Rail reliability’ is measured by “the average distance travelled by trains during the time between rail delays” – excluding delays less than five minutes long and delays caused by “external factors”.

Yeah it’s a bit dense right? Basically ‘rail reliability’ is a measure of how far trains travel before having a significant delay. According to the current statistics, we can expect about one delay every 133,000km travelled by all the trains in the system. Another way of looking at it is that you can commute on all the MRT lines end-to-end about 870 times before you will experience one longer-than-five-minutes-non-externally-caused delay.

The Straits Times was on the mark in noting that these measurements do not translate to a sense of trust among commuters. Despite the improvements in rail reliability numbers, there seems to be a regression in rail reliability feelings

And how do these sentiments fare vis-a-vis further improvements toward rail reliability? And only the measurable kind? Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan just announced yesterday a new target average of 200,000km before a delay, plans for of new technologies to be implemented, and even a Rail Academy to train engineers. Clearly, the ministry is doing its part to improve rail reliability. And you can trust that these promises will be kept especially by a minister who has proven himself reliable.

The question is: will all this effort calm the beast of a disgruntled patronage? Will we be able to rely on these measures to put together the bits and pieces of ‘rail reliability’?

Perhaps the “good and consistent” results we are looking for will take more patience than we have right now. Besides, the Ministry’s current measures can only be proven later in the journey. The best we can do is trust that they point in the right direction.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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8:30am alarm
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RETAIL needs a bit of therapy. Two more fashion brands are calling it quits. By the end of the year, British brand New Look and French menswear chain Celio will close shop, said its distributor Jay Gee Melwani Group.

The decision follows the recent announcement of another retail giant Al-Futtaim Group to shutter at least 10 of its loss-making shops here. Al-Futtaim did not say which brands it would close but its portfolio includes Marks & Spencer (M&S), Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Ted Baker. Last year, the group shut down the M&S outlet at Centrepoint, John Little at Marina Square and Tiong Bahru Plaza, and several Royal Sporting House shops.

Tangs is still hanging on. It hopes a revamp of its website, with a new feature that lets customers to shop using their measurements and an avatar, will win back customers. Called Metail, the feature will be offered to only women for some brands. This new feature will be introduced next month.

Amid the retail shake-up, 77th Street founder Elim Chew is hoping to go the distance with a new logistics venture. The streetwear fashion brand founder has created FastFast, a service that lets drivers act as couriers. 77th Street, which had 16 stores here at its peak, is down to two outlets – one at Bugis Junction, and another in Ang Mo Kio Hub.

One retail company that’s making a comeback is Japanese skincare brand Fancl. After closing down its 13 shops and exiting Singapore in 2014, it has teamed up with a Singapore company to open about 25 counters and shops here. One of its first counters opened in Isetan Scotts last Friday.

Let’s finish off by browsing through some of the highlights from yesterday’s Budget debate.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat defended the Budget yesterday (April 6) asking Singaporeans not to think about personal gain but the greater good in the long run. Asking businesses in particular to draw on the “spirit of enterprise”, he reiterated the challenges ahead to grow the sluggish economy through innovation and increased productivity while caring for the vulnerable in society.

Increased surveillance is a necessary counterterrorism measure, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, responding to questions from the House about possible data abuse in allowing the Home Team to access Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) data and public transport cameras. The possibility of abuse should not automatically mean “we don’t collect the data or use it in the first place,” he said.

Police numbers will also be ramped up, and more automated and self-service screening measures are to be installed at major checkpoints, including Changi Airport.

So, at least spending is up for the Ministry of Home Affairs this year – its total expenditure is expected to increase by 10.1 per cent, to $5.34 billion.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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