June 25, 2017

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“WHEN they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty.” A humorous but depressing statement by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th American president, describing the high and disappointing levels of corruption present in the American Senate.

Politicians are holders of public office. In a democracy, politicians are elected into the Government to represent the people and make legislative or executive decisions for the welfare of the country. Taking this into consideration, it is only normal to expect politicians to be individuals worthy of respect for their capabilities, moral compass and sincerity in serving the country.

However, despite the expectations placed on these politicians, corruption remains a persistent problem around the world. Unfortunately, according to Transparency International, no country achieved a score close to perfect in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.

In fact, over two-thirds of the 176 countries and territories in this year’s index fall below the midpoint of Transparency International’s scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The global average score is a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country’s public sector.

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Despite the dismal global situation, Singapore was ranked the top 7th country in the world in terms of the Corruption Perceptions Index. The relatively higher ranking Singapore enjoys compared to the rest of the world could be attributed to the G’s zealous commitment to remain a corruption-free society through the institutionalisation of anti-corruption tools such as the Prevention of Corruption Act and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

Albeit increased efforts to curb corruption amongst the higher echelons of public sector leadership such as President Xi Jin Ping’s anti-corruption campaign in the People’s Republic of China, we still observe a handful of high profile corruption cases. As politicians are often put in the spotlight and placed on the pedestal, their mistakes become glaringly obvious and intolerable to the public. Often times, their mistakes can potentially threaten their entire political career.

Here are some of the politicians around the world who have gotten into serious trouble due to corruption, bribery, and abuse of power.
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1. Seoul, South Korea – President Park Geun-hye arrested on Friday (Mar 31)

Image from Wikimedia Commons. 

Park Geun-hye, former President of South Korea who was in office since 2013 was impeached on 10 March. South Korea’s top court has ruled to end Ms Park’s presidency over a corruption scandal. This is the first time a South Korean President has been expelled before the end of his or her term.

The 65-year-old former President was accused to have conspired with a friend and former presidential aide Choi Soon-sil to have asked for a 77.4 billion won (SGD$96.3 million) donation from 16 major businesses, including Samsung, to support her policy initiatives via two foundations. The companies, when investigated, claimed that they could not refuse as they feared business disadvantages in the form of government tax investigations. Her friend Choi Soon-sil was also accused of accepting bribes from the heir of Samsung group Lee Jae-Young.

She was arrested on Friday (Mar 31) on charges relating to abuse of power and bribery.

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2. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Fourth case against former Argentine President 

Image from Wikimedia Commons. 

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was indicted on Dec 27 last year in a corruption case. Federal judge Julian Ercolini approved the charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration. Ms Cristina denied them and defended that she was a victim of persecution. In May, she was indicted for manipulating currency exchanges, that allegedly caused economic damage to the government.

In recent news, she again defended herself from corruption allegations, claiming that she was a victim of “judicial persecution” and a media “witch hunt”. This is the fourth case to reach Cristina since she left office in December two years ago. Euronews reported: The charges relate to allegations of illegal enrichment using a family real estate company called Los Sauces, located in the southern Santa Cruz province. The judge has been given 10 days to either put Ms Cristina on trial or dismiss the case.

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3. Washington D.C, U.S.A – Michael Flynn resigns within one month as National Security Adviser

Image by Flickr user Jim Mattis.

Retired United States (US) Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn resigned on February 13 this year as National Security Adviser when it came to light that he provided wrong information to Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

A week before President Trump’s inauguration, he said that he had given “incomplete information” about a phone call with the ambassador pertaining American sanctions against Russia. Initially, he denied that he had any meaningful conversation with him and Vice President Mike Pence mentioned this in a TV interview. The White House then received a warning from the Justice Department that Mr Michael was not honest about his phone calls with the ambassador.

In his resignation letter, the former National Security Adviser said: “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador, I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

In the latest news, the retired lieutenant general requested for immunity to testify on the alleged Russian election meddling, according to his lawyer Robert Kelner. The lawyer said that his client “has a story to tell”, but needs to guard against “unfair prosecution”. President trump has shown his support for Michael Flynn’s request.
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4. Paris, France – French Presidential Candidate’s wife, Penelope Fillon, charged for embezzlement of public funds

Image by Agence France-Presse photographer Eric Feferberg.

On 28 March, French presidential candidate Francois Fillon’s wife, Penelope Fillon, was charged with being paid the best part of €1 million for doing nothing as parliamentary assistant to her husband and his successor as MP between 1986 and 2013.  Penelope also faces separate charges of concealed misuse of funds for being paid €100,000 by a literary magazine owned by her husband’s wealthy friend.

Penelope Fillon, a British-born, was extremely public averse until she was embroiled in the political scandal involving the misappropriation of public funds, which is also dubbed as ‘PenelopeGate’.  The entire ‘PenlopeGate’ scandal has effectively poisoned her husband’s political career, causing Francois Fillon, previously a front-runner of the presidential elections, to sink in polls. He is now trailing in third place behind Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Despite being involved in the messy political scandal, Francois Fillon has not broken under pressure and insists on running to become France’s next president. Additionally, there are concerns that tensions might arise if Francois Fillon becomes the president as he will enjoy total immunity from prosecutions while the country’s potential First Lady might undergo further questioning and stand trial during his tenure.
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Featured image from TMG file.
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Black clock showing 8.30

SOMETHING is rotten in the estate of Ang Mo Kio. A general manager and secretary of the neighbourhood’s town council has been put on forced leave and is now under investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Mr Victor Wong works for CPG Facilities Management, the managing agent of the town council, which is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. No details were given of the case, but the town council’s chairman Ang Hin Kee told The Straits Times (ST) yesterday (Dec 29) that a complaint was made against Mr Wong in September. Mr Wong was removed from his duties last month.

As to nature of the complaint, Mr Ang, who is also a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said it had to do with “the way he handles contracts and dealings in the town council”, reported ST.

The complaint “arose out of his dealings which relates to probable behaviour needing investigation done by CPIB”, he said. “Needless to say, the town council ourselves will render all assistance needed to ensure zero tolerance for corruption.”

“We will render all assistance needed to ensure zero tolerance for corruption.”

What exactly are we talking about here?

Clues from Mr Ang’s brief interview with ST point to contracts being handled by Mr Wong and potential conflicts of interests which were possibly undeclared.

Mr Ang declined to give any more details of the investigation, but said that town council staff are constantly reminded to declare any interests concerning tenders being awarded by the council, said ST.

He also said that staff from the managing agent were also reminded that “if there are declarations to be made, if there are interests to declare, the people involved (must) make those declarations”.

Meanwhile, an acting general manager, Mr Lim Kian Chiong, has been asked to replace Mr Wong, who could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mr Lim is also an employee of CPG.

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In other news, two Indonesians have been deported to Batam after they were found to be planning to go to Syria via Singapore, possibly to join Islamic State (IS) militants there.

This is the second such incident this year – in February, four male Indonesians were also deported for similar reasons.

Confirming the report in The Jakarta Post, the Republic’s Ministry of Home Affairs said it had alerted Indonesian authorities before the man and woman, both 40 years old, were deported.

“MHA confirms that two Indonesians were deported to Indonesia after it was established that one of them intended to travel to Syria via Singapore with the assistance of the second individual.”

Speaking of sudden departures, about 120 employees from a car distribution company will be let go in the first weeks of 2017 in one of the largest downsizing exercises in the local motor industry, reported ST.

The employees are from Borneo Motors, a Toyota agent; and Champion Motors, a Suzuki agent. Both are subsidiaries of the parent company Inchcape. The retrenchments represent about 12 to 14 per cent of Inchcape’s overall staff strength in Singapore.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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THE City Harvest Church (CHC) hoo-ha has been the talk of the town. For misappropriating millions of church funds to promote Sun Ho’s pop music career, six CHC leaders appealed against their convictions and sentences. A five-day hearing has ended and judgment awaits. Is corruption as rife in other countries? Use the map below to see which other countries have been plagued with corruption cases. Then, check out our selection of quotes pertaining to other world news.


 

China looks to space for the perfect wine 

“Chinese scientists hope that growing wine in space will trigger mutations in the vines that may make them more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.”

— DecanterChina.com, a bilingual website about the local wine industry

China has sent a selection of vines such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir to outer space. It wants to trigger vine mutations that can handle the harsh climate in some of China’s emerging vineyard regions. Freezing temperatures and unfavourable soil are some of the most serious obstacles faced by China’s wine producers. China consumes more red wine than any other country, and has more vineyards than France.

 

State of emergency declared as unrest over police shooting continue 

“We have been a model of community policing. We have actually trained other police forces. This is not who we are as Charlotteans and I’m hoping we can move past these protests very quickly, move into more peaceful protests and back into dialogue.”

— Jennifer Robert, mayor of Charlotte

Protests broke out in North Carolina after yet another fatal shooting of a black man in the United States. Violence erupted for a second night during protests over the killing of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday (Sept 20). The initially peaceful protest descended into chaos after the demonstration was interrupted by gunfire that injured a man in the crowd. Shootings of African American men have been the subject of nationwide protests over the past two years. Just recently, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot multiple times after pulling out a BB gun.

 

President Duterte raises middle finger to the EU 

“I read the condemnation of the EU against me. I will tell them: ‘F—you. You’re doing it in atonement for your sins.”

— President Duterte lashing out at the EU

Philippines’ President Duterte has once again lashed out. He took offence at a directive issue last week by the EU to its delegation in Manila. The directive called for the delegation to closely monitor the President’s “rule of lawlessness” declared on Sept 2 after the bombing of his hometown, Davao City. Mr Duterte criticised the EU’s “gall” to condemn his actions given the alleged crimes committed by Europe in the past. He singled out France and the United Kingdom’s participation in attacking Middle Eastern countries in recent years. Mr Duterte was reported to have raised his middle finger as he spoke to local officials in Davao.

 

Five hundred million Yahoo users attacked 

“Yahoo is likely to come under intense scrutiny from regulators, the media and public and rightly so. Corporations can’t shy away from data breaches and they must hold their hands up and show that they are committed to resolving the problem.”

— Nikki Parker, vice-president at security company Covata

Hackers have reportedly stolen information from about 500 million users in 2014. The breach included personal information such as names and emails, but did not include any credit card data. News about a possible major attack on a technology firm only emerged in August this year – a hacker known as “Peace” was apparently attempting to sell information on 200 million Yahoo accounts. Yahoo has recommended that all users who have not changed their passwords since 2014 to do so. The FBI has confirmed that it is currently investigating the attack.

 

Investigation into child slavery in Myanmar 

“I have a scar from where an iron was stamped on my leg and a scar on my head as well.”

— One of the girls who was kept prisoner, now 16

The Burmese President has ordered an investigation into the case of two girls who claimed that they were kept prisoner and tortured for five years while working in a tailor shop. The girls were sent to Yangon to work by their parents – it’s a common decision for many poor Burmese families. What started as paid work for the girls soon turned into modern day slavery. The girls were denied contact with their parents, unable to leave and were denied any pay. The girls’ families had asked the Burmese police for help but was turned away. It was only when journalist Swe Win became involved that things started to move. The Burmese public saw the lack of help from the authorities as further prove of a judicial system that discriminated against the poor and vulnerable.

 

Near-total ban on abortion pushed in Poland

“Parliament doesn’t want to talk about women’s rights, dignity, a decent life, sex education or birth control, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll give up.”

— Barbara Nowacka, Save Women activist

Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party is pushing for a bill that would ensure a near-total ban on abortion. The Bill would only allow termination if the mother’s life was at risk, and increase the maximum jail sentence for practitioners from two years to five. The Polish influential Catholic church has given its seal of approval. The backslide on women’s rights has inspired several large pro-choice marches. The current abortion law bans all termination unless there was rape or incest, if the foetus was deformed, or if the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother. Although the PiS are in favour of banning abortion, their leaders know that most Poles support the existing legislation.

 

President Obama vetoes 9/11 victims bill 

“If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable.”

— Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who co-sponsored the bill

US President Barrack Obama has vetoed a bill that would’ve allowed families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government. If the bill was passed, family members could sue any member of the Saudi Arabia government they thought was responsible in any element of the attack. President Obama said that he felt “deep sympathy” for the families, but that the law would be “detrimental to US national interests”. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has warned that if the bill was passed, it could cause his government to withdraw US investments.

 

Compiled by Khairunisya Hanafi and Li Shan Teo. 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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Photo of clock face with hands pointed to half past eight.

SINGAPORE seized S$240 million in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB)-linked assets as the noose tightened around the embattled Malaysian state investment firm. Hours before, United States prosecutors announced that they had filed a suit to seize about US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) of assets, which they say were laundered after being taken out of 1MDB. About half the amount seized in Singapore belonged to Malaysian businessman Mr Low Taek Jho and his family.

The US lawsuit named Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s stepson Mr Riza Aziz and Mr Low, who have been longtime friends. PM Najib himself is not named in the lawsuit, which refers instead to a “Malaysian Official 1” who is accused of having received hundreds of millions of dollars misappropriated from 1MDB. News outlets such as the Wall Street Journal say that PM Najib is “Malaysian Official 1” – who is referred to 32 times in the lawsuit.

Malaysian officials insist that no criminal activity has happened because the US suit is a civil suit. The Malaysian Attorney General had earlier concluded investigations into 1MDB and found no wrongdoing.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has rapped five banks for having weak anti-money laundering controls relating to the 1MDB scandal: DBS, UBS, Standard Chartered Bank, Falcon Private Bank Singapore and Raffles Money Change. MAS said that it will take strong action against the errant banks.

Hopefully this doesn’t put a dent in progress of the newly-signed high speed rail memorandum of understanding (MOU), between Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore’s restaurants have been awarded 37 stars from the Michelin Guide, which awarded two hawker stalls with one star each. Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle on Crawford Lane and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Chinatown Food Complex are the best value for money eats on the list.

The biggest winner is chef Joel Robuchon – already the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world. His two restaurants picked up five stars: Two for L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and three for Joel Robuchon Restaurant, also at RWS. Joel Robuchon Restaurant is the only restaurant in Singapore which has been awarded with three stars.

Expect longer waits if you want a taste of a Michelin star restaurant now.

 

Featured image by Sean Danker.

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Hospital Tale

by Ryan Ong

HOSPITAL tale is a cleaned-up version of what I posted on Facebook recently. I daresay a few professionals – in any industry – will see something familiar in here. Make of it what you will:

Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

CONDEMNED – that must be how Adrian Goh Guan Kiong, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officer, is feeling. The 38-year-old was sentenced to six months’ jail yesterday under the Protection from Harassment Act for unlawfully stalking his 25-year-old girlfriend.

That’s not the worst he did. He sent her nude pictures to her colleagues through her own phone via Whatsapp, a messaging service. He then faked an email account and wrote to her boss, telling him that she was sleeping with her colleagues at the office.

He even wrote a letter to the woman’s father, pretending to be a representative from the family’s church. In the letter, he said it had come to the church’s attention that she was going overseas to have sex with multiple partners, and asked her father to counsel her.

Apparently he did all that because he didn’t like that she was friendly with her male colleagues. He’s married, by the way. Three kids.

What a small, jealous, petty man. The story is in all the papers but TODAY has the most details if you want the full story.

More details are also emerging from the blasts that ripped through Turkey’s main airport on Tuesday (June 28), killing 41 and injuring at least 200 people; they were conducted by three suicide attackers.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early indications point to the Islamic State as the perpetrators but the terrorist group has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack began when two gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at a security checkpoint outside of the Ataturk airport. They then blew themselves up. A third attacker set off explosives in the parking lot.

No Singaporeans were hurt in the attack.

MHA said yesterday that it was stepping up security at checkpoints and key transport nodes across the island. Singapore’s leaders including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam strongly condemned the killings and called for unity in the global fight against terrorism.

No details yet for the shocking arrest of Penang’s Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng yesterday but he is expected to be charged with two counts of corruption in the Malaysian state’s Sessions Court this morning.

Mr Lim, 55, was taken by the country’s anti-corruption commission after accusations from Umno leaders that he had benefited from buying a bungalow from businesswoman Phang Li Koon, who has business ties with the state government. Ms Phang has also been arrested.

Speaking of premature goodbyes, we say farewell to Funan Centre, a faithful companion to Singapore’s tech geeks for 30 years. It will close its doors midnight today to undergo a three-year renovation, after years of taking a beating from consumers moving online to shop for their tech toys.

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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Black watch showing 8.30.

LET’S talk about defence and deception. First, defence: Expect to see more boots on the ground as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) increases its presence in civilian surroundings. Patrols will be expanded beyond the nation’s military outposts to include MRT stations, malls, and other high-rise buildings.

The move is part of the Republic’s push to ramp up counterterrorism measures since terrorist attacks in Paris, Jakarta, and Brussels – though, it also makes you wonder what the police are going to do… Read more about the new measures to ready Singapore’s men in green to tackle terrorism on homeground here.

The role of the SAF was discussed in the Budget debate yesterday (April 7), as were new incentives for NSmen, including a $100 voucher for getting married or having children. So you could say, yes, it’s official – starting a family is part of national service…

What to expect in today’s debate: education and employment.

Now onto deception. Despite a rise in the number of complaints to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) last year, the number of cases pursued by the anti-corruption agency dipped slightly from 136 in 2014 to 132 last year.

Not sure how significant this slight fall is – but it was enough for the MSM to trumpet a “new low” in corruption cases here. The Straits Times forgot to mention the agency’s total caseload – including cases registered in the course of investigations and uncompleted cases – actually hit a three-year high of 678 last year.

The figures were released yesterday, coinciding with the opening of a new exhibition called “Declassified: Corruption Matters” at the National Library. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who officiated the opening gave CPIB the thumbs up, saying: “Everyone knows that when the CPIB calls you up to lim kopi (drink coffee), it is not a casual invitation.”

He wasn’t kidding – the agency had a conviction rate of 97 per cent last year and this has remained above 95 per cent for the past three years. Of the 120 people prosecuted for corruption last year, 90 per cent were from the private sector, mainly in construction, marine services, and procurement sectors, reported TODAY.

That makes 12 people prosecuted last year from the public sector – anyone remembers who they were?

Meanwhile, back in court… Yang Kaiheng, 27, who is facing sedition charges as the co-founder of The Real Singapore website, yesterday admitted to lying in court when cornered by the prosecution about when he met his wife, Ai Takagi. Now entering the eighth day of the trial, Yang will re-take the stand today.

Read our coverage of the trial yesterday here.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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WHO wants to be an NMP? With one day to go before nominations close, several people have tossed their names into the hat: Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun, 43, is backed by the Nature Society; opposition politician Eric Tan, 61, wants to focus on active ageing; arts personality Felicia Low, 39, will focus on arts; and business owner Mohamed Nawaz, 36, wants to spotlight education, youth and entrepreneurship. These and several other nominations submitted by proxy are in addition to unionist K. Thanaletchimi, 50, who was nominated last week. A panel of MPs will decide on who become NMPs.

The Catholic Church in Singapore is up in arms about Madonna’s upcoming first concert in Singapore, citing “grave concerns” about her performance. Madge has a habit of sprinkling her performances with Catholic references and putting on sexualised displays that would send altar boys running for cover. The Archdiocese contacted “various ministries and statutory boards” and were told that content that offends religious sensitivities would not be allowed on stage in Singapore. The M18 rating (for sexual content) given to the Material Girl’s ‘Rebel Heart’ show this Sunday already included a no-go for religious-themed songs like ‘Holy Water’.

Can you spot threats and react appropriately to terrorist incidents? With shopping centres and schools becoming terrorist targets, DPM Teo Chee Hean has said that MHA and other security agencies will take action to “significantly increase” the awareness of the security capability of Singaporeans. He said that owners of coffee shops and shopping malls should also know how to react to a terrorist attack on their premises and be aware of how to protect their customers. No other details of the plan were revealed.

Whitley Neighbourhood Police Post will be repurposed to become a reporting centre for corruption. The change comes so that graft complaints can “be made more discreetly and in a more accessible manner”, according to TODAY. The centre will also house a CPIB heritage gallery. Previously, complaints could be made at the CPIB’s Lengkok Bahru office, by phone at its 24-hour hotline (1800-3760000) or online at www.cpib.gov.sg.

 

 

Featured image by Kong Chong Yew.

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Najib 1MDB Timeline
Infographic by Sean Chong

by Sean Chong

IT SEEMS almost impossible for PM Najib to extricate himself from the 1MDB controversy. As the debacle continues to unravel, we chronicle the developments of the scandal through a game of snakes and ladders.

Click to enlarge

Najib 1MDB Timeline

 

Additional reporting by Lionel Ong.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

PARLIAMENT enters its third day of debating the President’s address today. Expect MPs to speak up on matters including national security following the recent terrorist attacks, and the wave of new dengue cases this year. Last week, there were 622 reported cases.

Want a re-cap of yesterday’s Parliamentary debates? Read our summary here.

Manufacturing fell by 5.2 per cent last year – its worst showing in 14 years. The slump is the first annual contraction since the global financial crisis in 2009 and highlights the deepening recession in the sector, experts said.

More trouble on the tracks: An SMRT employee has been disciplined for not checking that the doors of a Light Rail Train (LRT) carriage were locked before it moved off. That was why the doors of the Bukit Panjang LRT train flung open between stations last Friday. SMRT also apologised for the train’s intercom system, which was not working during the incident.

Speaking of apologies, a content marketing agency took out an advertisement in today’s edition of The Straits Times to apologise for “unauthorised distribution” of articles belonging to Singapore Press Holdings. The ad, which appears on Page 3 of the paper’s Home section, looks remarkably similar to the one taken out by The Real Singapore earlier this month.

No further details were given – a search online showed that the agency, SyndiGate, is based in Amman and distributes content from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, prime minister Najib Razak has been cleared of corruption by the country’s Attorney-General. The court determined that the funds in his personal bank account – the nearly $1 billion that led to calls for his resignation – were a personal donation from the Saudi royal family.

 

Featured image by Chong Yew. 

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