In attempts to make their universities more attractive to prospective students, many are now looking into revamping their programs, as well as offering accelerated programs leading to a Master’s degree within 4 years. This was revealed recently by NTU provost Bertil Andersson. NUS and SMU have also announced dual-track programs as well as increasing enrolment places respectively. Indeed, changes are beginning to kick in in an attempt to attract and retain students who may also be considering an overseas education.

However, it is not only the universities which are feeling the heat. Polytechnics such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic is planning to tie up with Chapman University to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts for creative producing. Nanyang Polytechnic, while not reported in the article, is also typing up with another university to offer a degree program in marketing.

While it might seem that every tertiary institution (polytechnics are considered tertiary institutions that primarily offer diploma programs) are rushing in to offer better and revamped programs, not every student is expected to take on these new programs. Eventually it will be up to the student’s interest and financial ability to embark on these programs. A friend of mine had a diploma in arts but instead of pursuing a degree in fine arts in New York, he has decided to stay on to gain more experience and exposure instead of moving on too quickly.

Indeed, a degree is not always required for someone to be successful. In some fields, skills may be preferred over a piece of paper. However, in a paper-chasing society like Singapore, many may prefer to go after a piece of paper rather than follow their "non-paper-requiring" passion. Of course, friends and parents will always play a role. However, at the tender age of 19 (19 for girls; 21 for most guys because of National Service), it may some times be difficult to decide what one wants to do in the future.

SINGAPORE’S three universities are planning major changes to their programmes to make themselves more attractive to students.

The plans include expanded overseas exchange programmes, revamped post-graduate degrees and an interdisciplinary approach to subjects like engineering.

The proposed changes were announced yesterday during the release of a preliminary report on the expansion of the university sector. The aim is to give university places to 30 per cent of each year’s cohort by 2015, up from 25 per cent now.

Officials highlighted a National University of Singapore plan to start a two-track engineering programme in 2011. Its courses will be designed to equip students with breadth of knowledge so that they can work in the science and engineering industries. The school also wants to equip engineering students with fundamentals in design and management.

Next year, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is scheduled to launch an accelerated engineering programme leading to a master’s degree in four years. The programme aims to produce engineers who will become industrial and business leaders.

NTU provost Bertil Andersson, who sat on the committee that drew up the report, said an interdisciplinary approach in engineering will help students find work in other fields. ‘We still need classical engineers who can build a boat and an aeroplane, but many engineers no longer go into businesses which they used to do.’

Also announced was a Singapore Management University plan to raise the number of places for new undergraduates to 2,100 by 2015, up from 1,600 now.

The committee also recommended that more niche degree programmes be offered through tie-ups between polytechnics and specialised institutions.

The polytechnics plan to forge 10 such links by 2010, with places for about 460 students, or double the current intake. The aim is to create 700 places by 2015.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic announced on Monday that it is tying up with Chapman University to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in creative producing. The school is also pursuing another degree tie-up in advertising and marketing communications.

Senior Minister of State for Education and Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew said: ‘These tie-ups allow our polytechnic graduates to go on and pursue higher education here in Singapore at fees that are affordable because they are highly subsidised.’

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_251330.html

Article extracted on 25th June 2008

Mrs Lee Kuan Yew continues to be in critical condition following her previous stroke on 12th May 2008. She was reportedly making headway in recovery on 1st June 2008 when she suffered another stroke while in hospital yesterday. It was a massive haemorrhage. Let’s all pray for her recovery.

MRS Lee Kuan Yew suffered another stroke while in hospital yesterday.

A brief statement from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s office last night said it was a massive haemorrhage.

‘She is currently critically ill, with guarded prognosis for recovery,’ the statement said.

Mrs Lee, 87, suffered a stroke on May 12 and was taken to the National Neuroscience Institute for an urgent brain scan, which revealed bleeding in the right side of the brain.

She was subsequently admitted to the Neurointensive Care Unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The haemorrhage stabilised after two days of close monitoring and treatment, and she was transferred to the general ward on May 14.

But she remained in serious condition, and underwent surgery three days later.

On June 1, the Minister Mentor’s Office said in a statement that she was making slow but steady progress since her surgery.

Mrs Lee suffered a stroke in 2003 when she and Mr Lee were in London on a European tour. The bleeding was also in the right side of the brain.

She recovered soon after and was well enough to continue accompanying Mr Lee on official trips.

chinlian@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_251270.html

Article extracted on 25th June 2008

It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? That with the Mas Selamat and the 2 escape attempts at the courts, security is still so relaxed at the airport – with a father flying overseas with his son’s passport and realising it only at his destination. The failed fingerprint verification at the checkpoint probably didn’t ring any alarm bells because computer systems are known to give false negatives at times anyway – meaning, there’s always a chance that an error may occur.

Of course, with the blunder now exposed, security checks are now stepped now. However, the action seems to be reactive rather than proactive. No one really knows how many lapses there are each day that goes un-noticed. In the case of the father flying off with his son’s passport, the repercussions of not knowing that he has his son’s passport and remaining in the country of destination may prove to be more devastating than the cost of an air ticket.

With the increase in the number of auxiliary police at the airport now, let’s all hope that they won’t pass the cost back to the passengers.

Yesterday’s report:

IN HIS hurry to catch a flight at Changi Airport’s Budget Terminal yesterday morning, retiree Ang Heng Soon, 61, grabbed the wrong passport and left home.

He took his 39-year-old son’s passport. They had left their passports on the dining table, because the son was also flying from Changi Airport.

The father’s mistake, and how he cleared all security checks at the airport and flew to Vietnam, led to a long day for both.

Even with the wrong passport, Mr Ang first checked in at the Tiger Airways counter for his flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where he was headed for a six-day holiday.

He next got past the security check by Certis Cisco officers at the entrance to the restricted passenger area.

Then he ran into problems, failing repeatedly to scan his fingerprint at the immigration Automated Clearance System.

Noticing his difficulty, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer directed him to a lane for manual clearance.

There, an officer cleared him to leave Singapore, and he boarded his plane.

Mr Ang told The Straits Times he realised his mistake only during the flight.

As soon as he arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City airport at 8.15am, he owned up to immigration authorities there and they put him on the same plane back to Singapore.

Around that time at Changi Airport’s Terminal 1, his son Vincent, an electronics company sales and marketing executive, also discovered the mix-up.

He was waiting to check in for his flight to Hong Kong when he realised that he had his father’s passport.

He cancelled his flight and went to Tiger Airways’ office in the Budget Terminal, where he learnt that his father was heading back.

Father and son were reunited at close to noon. Both made fresh arrangements and flew off to their respective destinations later in the day, correct passports in hand.

By then, it was too late for Mr Vincent Ang to make it to his business meeting in Hong Kong.

Speaking to The Straits Times before catching his flight, he said: ‘The question is, how did this happen? From a security point of view, this is pretty shocking.’

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority confirmed that Mr Ang had cleared all the checks at the airport despite showing his son’s passport.

In a statement late last night, it said that the immigration officer who looked at his passport and did the ‘face-to-face verification’ let him through because he bore a resemblance to the photo in the passport.

‘The officer should not have relied only on this but should have checked Mr Ang’s boarding pass with his passport,’ a spokesman said.

‘He should also have conducted a secondary biometric check to ascertain Mr Ang’s identity. The fingerprint scans would have led to the positive identification of Mr Ang and that he was holding his son’s passport.’

The spokesman apologised to Mr Ang for the inconvenience caused and said: ‘ICA takes a serious view of such lapses.

‘We will conduct a thorough investigation into the case. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against the officers responsible for the lapses.’

carolynq@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_250948.html

Today’s report:

SECURITY checks at Changi Airport’s terminals appear to have been stepped up yesterday, following a wake-up call by Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng.

His stern reminder was a response to a security lapse which resulted in a 61-year-old retiree being let through for a flight to Vietnam on Monday – using his son’s passport.

Travellers at the Budget Terminal yesterday told The Straits Times that an additional officer was stationed before the automated immigration lanes at the terminal.

The officer was checking passengers’ names and faces against their travel documents before they approached the Immigration Automated Clearance System.

Deputy Prime Minister Wong had said in a press statement on Monday night that all heads of department were to take direct charge and step up checks to ensure vigilance on the ground at all levels and leave no room for complacency.

Airlines also said they were taking DPM Wong’s statement seriously, and taking steps to ensure that security checking procedures were followed.

CAROLYN QUEK & EISEN TEO

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_251272.html

Articles extracted on 25th June 2008

The petrol prices has been raising, and in response to the calls for cut in petrol taxes, Minister Mah explained that cutting the duty of about 40 cents for every litre of petrol would send the wrong signal to consumers about the REAL PRICE of oil.

Hmm. Price can be defined as the amount of money asked for or given in exchange of something, while tax can be defined as a sum of money demanded by a government for its support for specific facilities or services. So, in a sense, taxes goes into the government overall “budget” for maintaining of public facilities or services. It is different from the price of goods that is set by the seller. Pwd? =)

THE calls for a cut in petrol taxes continue to grow louder, but the answer from the Government remains the same.
Cutting petrol duties and giving out subsidies are not the answer to soaring global oil prices.

Instead, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan suggested modifying lifestyles to cut household energy bills.

Urging against subsidies, he said that even countries like China and Malaysia have started to re-think their policies on this.

Global oil prices recently soared to new highs of close to US$140 per barrel compared to US$40 per barrel in 2004. This year alone, crude prices have risen some 40 per cent.

The fresh calls for tax cuts here came this time from Tampines East residents during a dialogue with Mr Mah on Saturday.

He explained that cutting the duty of about 40 cents for every litre of petrol would send the wrong signal to consumers about the real price of oil.

‘Subsidising oil will not be right as it would encourage consumers to use more oil, which would drive up the price even more.

‘We want to make sure that we pay the correct price for oil and tackle the problem in a sustainable way.’

This involves changing lifestyles and habits by car pooling, using public transport, or just turning off lights and air-conditioning at home when not needed.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 21th June 2008

Medical bills for some patients can be slashed greatly by switching their drugs from branded to generic drugs. Just for example, the generic drug for cholesterol-lowering cost just 5% (at 10 cents per pill for generic Simvastatin) of the branded version (at $2 per pill for branded Zocor). Wow! That is a savings of 95% on the medication itself!

However, a number of patients are not making the switch. Why? These patients are really worried. They worried about the generic drug’s safety and efficacy. Hmm. Is generic drugs of any real difference from branded drugs? Actually, for FDA approval, generic drugs are required to be of bioequivalent to the branded drugs. This means that the two drugs have the same active ingredient, in the same dose or concentration (through a small amount of variation is allowed) and has the same route of administration. In short, they are supposed to be virtually identical, and thus theoretically should behave the same on the body.

Hmm. So, go or no go? ­čÖé

SOME patients stand to shave their medical bills by as much as half by switching from branded to generic drugs, but choose not to.

Concerned about the safety and efficacy of generic drugs, they are sticking with branded names.

For example, the cholesterol-lowering branded drug Zocor costs $2 for the required daily tablet, but the generic Simvastatin, just 10 cents each. A patient who makes the switch could save $684 a year.

Sales manager Vincent Yee, 41, will save nearly $580 by year end: He now pays about $140 a year for Stamlo, a generic high blood-pressure medication, down from about $720 for the branded drug Norvasc.

The savings are a bonus, since the cheaper drug has proven just as effective in controlling his blood pressure.

But it was not a switch he made lightly. Having been on Norvasc for five years, he was afraid Stamlo would not be as effective.

There are patients out there who remain fearful and refuse to switch.

Ms Diana Koh, a pharmacist at Unity Pharmacy in Tiong Bahru, said some patients prescribed generic drugs by hospitals ask to switch back to branded ones.

She sees four such patients every month.

‘They have this perception that branded drugs are safer. Or some are already comfortable with the drugs they have been using and so are reluctant to switch,’ she said, noting that nine in 10 patients she sees each day produce prescriptions for branded drugs.

A Straits Times check on nine other privately run pharmacies found that demand for generic drugs has not gone up significantly, though some report a slow shift towards the cheaper alternatives.

Pharmacies in hospitals, however, stock generic drugs when possible to help patients keep their bills low.

More such drugs have become available on the back of a number of brand-name drugs losing their patent protection recently.

Patents, which usually run out in 20 years, are granted to give manufacturers a chance to recoup the $1 billion it costs on average to develop a new drug.

The patents for Advair and Lipitor, drugs for asthma and high cholesterol respectively, expire in 2010.

In Singapore, a generic drug is allowed in only if it yields almost the same results as the original. Last year, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) approved more than 40 of these.

Ms M.K. Fatimah, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore and chief pharmacist at Alexandra Hospital, said generic drugs stretch the patient’s dollar and expressed confidence in the HSA’s enforcement of quality standards among such drugs.

Dr Kevin Tan, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said most of his patients come around to accepting generic drugs after it is explained to them that they will work as well, but a few opt to stay with branded drugs.

Other doctors said they prescribe generic drugs for their patients if these are available.

However, Dr Wong Tien Hua, a general practitioner, said he goes with proven branded drugs for patients with short-term ailments.

But he agrees generic drugs are best for the pockets of patients with long-term ailments.

Mr Yee knows this. He said: ‘With day-to-day expenses getting higher nowadays, if I can get cheaper medication and if it works just as well and is of the same standard, why not?’

jessicaj@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 20th June 2008

It is projected from late 2011, 3 years from now, the Johor Bahru Causeway toll will jump sharply to more than 200%. Yes, that means being 2 times the current toll fees. This toll fees will be revised every three years until it is more than 500%.

What that apparently happened, is that a very special contract has been awarded to a conglomerated linked to the ruling Umno party. This special contract is to build an 8km partially elevated expressway linking the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) at the Causeway.

Least of all reasons, the contract awarded is RM1.2 billion, which translated to RM150 million per kilometre to build. Wow. That is a really high cost! However, the more controversial aspect is that, the awarded contract stated that tolls will be levied on all vehicles crossing into Malaysia from the Causeway, and not just the users of the proposed road stated in the contract. It feels unreasonable to layman, that they have to pay for something that they did not use. However, that is not the end of the story. This toll will be start at RM6.20 for passenger vehicles and RM12.40 for lorries (more than 200%), which will be raised to a peak of RM14.60 for passenger vehicles and RM29.20 for lorries (more than 500%).

So, what will the impact be? Firstly, as 75% of affected passenger cars are Singapore registered cars, the Singapore registered cars owners will be the most affected. This means that the number of trips by Singaporean will be reduced in a certain extend, especially for those who visited Malaysia to take the opportunity of the cheaper foodstuffs and goods. This in turn will reduce the Malaysian businesses’ earnings.

Secondly, the majority of the lorries using the Causeway are part of the supply chain to export foodstuffs and goods to Singapore. This toll will indirectly increase the cost of export, which means either the Singapore business have to pay more, or if they have a cheaper source, they will bring their business elsewhere, thus affecting the Malaysia export businesses.

KUALA LUMPUR – THE Malaysian government has awarded a RM1.2 billion (S$500 million) contract for a road on the fringes of Johor Baru to a conglomerate linked to the ruling Umno party, a project analysts say will surely attract close scrutiny because it will be funded by sharply taxing vehicles using the Causeway linking Malaysia and Singapore.

Documents reviewed by The Straits Times show that publicly listed MRCB secured the government project in June last year to build an 8km partially elevated expressway linking the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) at the Causeway with the southernmost end of the North-South Expressway.

The contract, which its promoters say will alleviate congestion in Johor Baru city, also features a potentially controversial 34-year toll concession for MRCB, a diversified investment holding company that has interests in property development, infrastructure and engineering services.

Under the contract awarded, tolls would not be levied for users of the proposed dual three-lane carriageway, but rather on all vehicles crossing into Malaysia from the Causeway.

A senior MRCB executive who confirmed the project awarded by the government told The Straits Times that toll collection will begin once the expressway is completed sometime in late 2011.

Based on information contained in an advisory to potential investors for the project, the toll charges will range from RM6.20 for passenger vehicles entering Malaysia to RM12.40 for lorries.

The rates will be raised every three years, and will peak at RM14.60 for passenger vehicles and RM29.20 for lorries, the documents showed.

Currently, vehicles using the Causeway pay a nominal fee. Passenger vehicles entering Malaysia are charged a toll of RM2.90, and lorries, RM5.50. The Singapore Government imposes a charge of S$1.20 for passenger vehicles and S$2.60 for lorries.

The proposal to impose new toll charges in Johor will hit Singaporeans the most.

The document on the bond issue prepared by MRCB bankers stated that the Causeway currently serves ’69 million person trips annually, which is significant compared to the 20 million passengers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport’.

The document issued by CIMB Investment Bank and HSBC Malaysia also stated that about 75 per cent of the passenger cars crossing the Causeway are Singapore-registered vehicles.

It is not clear whether Malaysia’s plan to impose toll charges on the Causeway would provoke a similar reaction from Singapore.

But in February, Singapore raised rates at the Second Link, which a Land Transport Authority spokesman said were ‘pegged to those set by Malaysia’.

The Causeway and the Second Link, which connects Tuas and Johor’s Gelang Patah, are the two land links between Malaysia and Singapore.

The 1,056m Causeway is the preferred route because it takes vehicles directly into Johor Baru, and the toll charges there are lower compared with those at the Second Link.

The heavy traffic is a major cause of congestion in Johor Baru.

But the huge cost of the new elevated expressway to alleviate the situation is raising eyebrows.

At a price tag of RM1.2 billion, it will cost roughly RM150 million per kilometre to build, according to bankers and analysts.

ljlopez@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 19th June 2008

There was this case, then came news of molesters and serial molesters being arrested, and now there’s another. Just barely a week after it was reported that a serial molester got nabbed, another case surfaced again. The molester admitted laying on top of his maid and kissing her all over her body. Before he could send her back to her country, he was nabbed by the police after the maid’s cousin tipped off the police; and mind you, he’s a secretary of the Punggol Angsana Resident’s Committee.

For that, he got 10 months’ jail and 3 strokes of the cane (*piak piak*).

This morning, there was also mention of the alleged molestation of a blogger that had been spreading in the Internet forums. In the discussion on air, many felt that the girl who was involved in the molestation was asking for it because she apparently sent too many signals – wrong or otherwise. While some were sympathetic with her, many flamed her, calling her names and painting numerous (almost countless) scenarios on what could have happened. Some even when to the extend of stating that she probably asked the guy along for the trip because she could have gotten discounted tickets since the latter was working in SIA. In addition, 1 commenter wondered if it was for the cheaper DFS stuffs that she could lay her hands on.

Reading the comments in the blog, one will realise that talk is indeed free. Whether it hurts someone else is not important. Indeed, many who left flaming comments signed off with pseudonyms that were ridiculous sounding. While there are many variants on the different scenarios, most of them revolve around the girl being cheap and slutty.

The New Paper also ran the story today, with pseudonyms, of course. However, it doesn’t need too much of detective work to figure out who the article was referring to. From that article, it was known that the guy involved was contacted by the papers and that he is currently seeking legal advise. If the guy decides to sue, the consequences may not be as colourful as some would have hoped for. From the circumstances surrounding it, he could sue for defamation and the onus will be on the girl to prove that the event did happen. Now, since it is not possible for her to do that, then there’s no case for her and she may be ordered to pay compensation to the guy. In addition, it seemed like neither the police in Singapore nor South Korea are taking up the complaint, which further proves to be a disadvantage to the girl.

Nonetheless, perhaps John is the real victim here, with his name plastered all over the place. A search on Google returned her post as the first entry. Even if her post is taken down, other copies of the same post may still remain on the Internet for a while. As someone mentioned in the blog:

Your story holds little water, and any reader should not judge the guy. Most of them don’t know you, most of them don’t know him. We thus can only read your story and say, we’re sorry for how you feel. Please, delete his name and apologise to him – face-to-face and publicly. You know it’s partly your fault that this whole thing happened, if it did. John should not be the only person to take the blame.

Indeed, perhaps she should apologise and get on with her life. At best, it’s probably… just an honest mistake.

THREE days after molesting his Indonesian maid, National Environment Agency supervisor Lee Song Koi cancelled her work permit and tried to send her home.

His wife took the 21-year-old domestic worker to the airport but the police, acting on a frantic call from the maid’s cousin, intercepted and stopped the maid from taking her flight home.

Lee, 46, also a secretary of the Punggol Angsana Residents’ Committee, was yesterday sentenced to 10 months’ jail and three strokes of the cane for molesting her.

He is appealing against the sentence and is out on $15,000 bail.

He admitted on Monday to lying on top of the maid and kissing her all over the body at his Hougang flat on July 7 last year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Elizabeth Lee Liang Mae said that the victim was sleeping in her room when Lee forced himself on her by kissing her face.

He lifted her T-shirt while the victim struggled and told him to stop.

Lee ignored her and continued molesting her.

Before leaving the room, he told her not to tell anyone.

Three days later, police received a 999 call and the Airport Police were alerted to look out for the maid whom they found together with Lee’s wife at Terminal 2.

Lee’s lawyers Subhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan said that the father of two made no excuse for his behaviour, and had shown remorse by compensating her $5,000.

That night, he came home drunk after a company dinner and dance and hugged the maid in the living room.

Half an hour later, he went into her bedroom to molest her.

He apologised later that morning, said Mr Anandan, adding that Lee had contributed to society for 10 years as a grassroots leader.

After meting out the sentence, District Judge Wong Choon Ning said the charges were serious ones.

‘As the employer, it is your responsibility to treat her well, and certainly not to commit these offences.’

Lee could have been jailed for up to three years, fined or caned, or received any two such punishments.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 18th June 2008

ERP charges will be going up soon and 5 more gantries will be added along the banks of the Singapore river, going live from 7th July 2008. LTA has also commented that the timing to increase the ERP charges has nothing to do with the current inflation issue because motorists will be given relieve in other manners, such as lowering of road taxes. An important highlight in the ERP charges is that new gantries will have their charges starting from $2 and future increments will be in multiples of $1.

This is meant to make the motorists feel the pinch (and pain) of driving a car. The public transport system has recorded an all time peak in public transport usage but this is a separate issue from ERP charges. Mr Ong Kian Min, deputy chairman, GPC (Transport) added that if motorists pay to use the road, they will be assured of a smooth ride.

Perhaps they should just peg the ERP charges at $10 – that will definitely ensure a smooth ride. Then again… the motorists might not feel the pinch after a while. Perhaps $20 is better… No? $30? How about a $100?

TOP up that CashCard. Driving into the city is going to cost more.

Five new gantries along the banks of the Singapore River go live from July 7, bringing the total number islandwide to 65.

Gantries in the business district will stay on an extra hour, to 8pm on weekdays, and on Saturdays, Orchard Road gantries will start an hour earlier, at 11am.

Higher Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges kick in, too. Motorists will pay up to $2 more in the most extensive review of tolls since the first gantry went up 10 years ago.

The focus of this review is to speed up city traffic, especially from 6pm to 8pm.

Average speeds along North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road have dropped from about 25kmh in 2002 to 19kmh last month.

To speed things up, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is making three changes, starting with how ERP is charged.

‘When a motorist has paid whatever the going rate is to use the road, we want him to be able to have a smooth journey. The problem now with the average speed measurement is that the majority of people who pay do not get that experience,’ said an LTA spokesman.

From July 7, motorists will get to travel at speeds above 20kmh on arterial roads and at least 45kmh on expressways, at least 85 per cent of the time, up from just half the time now.

The new criteria will be used in the city centre first, before being extended to other gantries over the next seven months.

Another change being made affects the actual ERP charges. All new gantries will start with $2 deductions and as speeds deteriorate, each jump will be $1.

Over the last 10 years, it has become increasingly more difficult to deter motorists with 50-cent jumps. In 2006, it took nine rate hikes to do the job. Last year, 25 adjustments were needed, said LTA.

The last change – adding five new gantries along the Singapore River – is aimed at discouraging motorists from using city roads as a short cut.

These initiatives were first mentioned in January as part of a new transport masterplan aimed at getting more people onto public transport.

Since then, extra train and bus services and higher fuel prices have helped move some motorists off the roads.

Public transport ridership hit a record 4.78 million rides a day in the first three months of this year.

But this is not enough to postpone ERP rate hikes, said LTA. Average speeds along Bras Basah Road, for example, are down from about 30kmh in 2002 to about 22kmh last month.

Higher inflation is also not a reason to put it off.

Mr Cedric Foo, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said: ‘We should not mix up road usage measures like ERP with means to cope with general inflation.’

LTA added that holding off the ERP changes can lead to bigger economic problems due to congestion.

Motorists will get some relief in the form of lower road tax from next month. Vehicle registration fees were also lowered in March.

Mr Ong Kian Min, deputy chairman, GPC (Transport), added: ‘With the change in how ERP charges are determined, motorists are given the Government’s assurance that if you pay to use the road, you can enjoy a smooth ride.’

mariaa@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 18th June 2008

Pay rises have hit an all time high of almost 11 percent, however, employees should check the reality of their pay increment. With the recent soaring of prices of items that are directly or indirectly affected by oil prices, what you are getting may not be real increments but more of to cushion the impact.

Interestingly, I had this conversation with someone and asked if pay rises in his company would match the inflation rate. His reply was a little mind boggling for me, but I thought I’d just share the crux of the conversation here:

Me: So, will pay increment be likely to be at least on par with inflation?

Him: I’m not sure. You see, inflation only affects you on the amount you spend. So, if you have a $3000 salary and you spend, say, $1000 per month on stuffs, that means only that amount spent, which in this case is $1000, will be affected by inflation. Your other $2000 will not.

It was… mind boogling because it seemed that the idea behind that short conversation was how inflation will hit you only if you spend. Erm… according to his theory, inflation hits different people differently. If you are a big spender, then inflation hits you more than someone who is very thrifty.

However, I thought that inflation is all about diminishing the value of your current money-on-hand, isn’t it? Or did I fail my economics? To me, I’d think that inflation hits me regardless of how much I spend because the moment I spend it, I am affected. It’s like, how I may be able to buy a bowl of Laksa with just $0.20 some 50 years ago, and assuming that I keep that $0.20 and not spend it, I am hit by inflation the moment I decide to spend it. In short, inflation affects you regardless of what you do with your money, no?

WAGES here have risen by close to 11 per cent, the highest in almost a decade.

But the impact of soaring food and fuel prices meant that for employees in manufacturing, transport and administrative jobs, their real wages – pay minus the effect of inflation – actually fell.

The Manpower Ministry’s labour market report for the first quarter, released yesterday, is the first set of official figures to show the impact of inflation, at a 26-year high of 6.6 per cent, on the wage increases that workers across different sectors received.

And with annual inflation forecast at 6 per cent this year, analysts were not entirely optimistic.

National University of Singapore labour economist Park Cheolsung said it is a matter of time before real earnings dip for those in other sectors.

The report noted that on average, real earnings grew by 3.6 per cent compared to the same three-month period last year.

Workers made $4,316 a month on average this quarter. But after adjusting for inflation, they effectively earned $3,982.

This monthly figure is derived from an average of all full-time and part-time CPF members.

Rising global prices of food and fuel saw the consumer price index rise by 6.6 per cent in the first three months of this year.

The Government rolled out help schemes for the needy and the strong Singapore dollar is helping maintain purchasing power. The National Wages Council also asked firms to give one-off bonuses to help rank-and-file workers cope with inflation.

Still, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the best way to manage rising prices is to grow the economy so real incomes outpace inflation.

But for now, salary consultant Peter Lee is not optimistic real earnings can do so. ‘Nobody can control inflation, and most employers cannot adjust wages to fight it,’ said the managing consultant of RDS Remuneration Data Specialists.

His firm’s recent survey of 200 companies showed pay packets were likely to rise by 5 per cent – lower than what prices have risen already by, and below the 6 per cent inflation forecast this year.

But for now, the economy is growing, with jobs aplenty.

The ministry’s report showed a record 73,200 new jobs from January to March. This includes 46,500 in services, 14,500 in construction and 11,800 in manufacturing.

But unemployment crept up to 2 per cent in March, from 1.7 per cent in December. Among residents, the rate was 2.9 per cent, up from 2.4 per cent.

As for vacancies, there were 38,200 openings in March with more jobs for professionals, managers, executives, technicians, clerical, sales and service staff.

Analysts like Dr Park believe unemployment may rise and job growth could slow – a point backed by a Monetary Authority of Singapore survey of economists, who see growth slowing to 4.7 per cent this quarter.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 17 June 2008

All CPF members will have to take note that the minimum┬ásum will be raised to just $106,000 starting from July, from the previous figure of $99,600. This means that CPF members who turn 55 from 1st July 2008 to 30th June 2009 will have to set aside the $106,000 cash savings in their retirement account, from which they will get a monthly payout of $910 from 64 years of each for an estimated 20 years. This is raised from the current $790 monthly payout which required the lower minimum sum. This will be raised gradually to $120,000 in 2013, when the expected payout is… not known yet. I am sure if simply calculations will make any sense here.

Another significant change is in the phasing out of the 50% withdrawal rule. Reading the article itself is confusing enough, but it goes somewhere along the lines where the member is allowed to withdraw the first $5,000 or 50 per cent of their savings in their CPF Accounts, whichever is higher when they reach 55 years of age. This, however, will be lowered by 10% every year from now until 1st January 2013, when the CPF member is only allowed to withdraw the first $5000 from their account. No other information is available as of now.

THE Minimum Sum (MS) for Central Provident Fund members who turn 55 from July 1 will be raised to $106,000 – from the current $99,600, the CPB Board announced on Monday, along with other changes to the Medisave contributions and withdrawal rule.

This means that CPF members who turn 55 from July 1 to June 30 next year will have to set aside the $106,000 cash savings in their Retirement Account, from which they will will get a monthly payout of $910 from age 64 for about 20 years.

The current MS, which applies to members who turn 55 from July 1 2007 to 30 June, is $99,600, which gives a monthly payout of $790.

The new MS is in line with the announcements made in August 2003 that the CPF MS will be raised gradually to reach $120,000 in 2013, said a CPF board statement.

‘The increase in MS, which includes an adjustment for inflation, is to ensure that Singaporeans set aside sufficient savings for their retirement,’ it added.

Medisave minimum sum and contribution to go up
Also, from July 1, the new Medisave Minimum Sum (MMS) will go up to $29,500 – from $28,500.

Members will have to set aside this amount, or the actual Medisave balance, whichever is lower, in their Medisave Account, when they withdraw their CPF on reaching 55.

Additionally, the Medisave Contribution Ceiling (MCC) will be raised from $33,500 to $34,500 from July.

This is the maximum balance each member should have in his Medisave Account. Any excess in contribution will be transferred to the member’s Special Account if he is below 55.

For those above 55, the Medisave contribution in excess of the prevailing MCC will be transferred to their Retirement Account if they have a Minimum Sum shortfall.

The revisions to MMS and MCC are to ensure that Singaporeans have sufficient savings to meet their hospitalisation expenses, and have been adjusted for inflation, said the CPF Board.

Phasing out 50% withdrawal rule
The board also announced on Monday that members who are unable to meet the full CPF MS at age 55 are allowed to withdraw the first $5,000 or 50 per cent of their savings in their CPF Accounts, whichever is higher.

Members who are able to meet the full MS will be allowed to withdraw the remaining monies in their CPF accounts.

As announced in 2003, the percentage for withdrawal will be cut back from the current 50 per cent to 40 per cent Jan 1 next year, and this will be further reduced every year by 10 percentage points.

This means that from Jan 1, 2013, CPF members must meet the CPF and Medisave Minimum Sums first before they can withdraw their remaining Ordinary Account and Special Account balances at age 55.

However, CPF members can continue to withdraw the first $5,000 from their Ordinary Account and Special Account balances.

The change in the withdrawal rule will enable members turning age 55 from Jan 1 next year to set aside more savings for their retirement.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 16th June 2008