Well, it seems like the down trend is here to stay for a while – overstaying, if I may add salt to the wound. For the 5th time, fuel prices have dropped, hitting $1.770 for diesel at Shell after discounts. In fact, the last dip is the steepest dip that has ever occurred in the last 5 years. This is probably also compounded by the strengthening of the US dollar, which means that lesser US$ is required to purchase fuel.

Meanwhile, CNG prices remained unchanged at S$1.80 a kg, and this is likely to rise next month; although Smart Energy, which operates Singapore’s biggest CNG refuelling station in Mandai, will reduce prices "purely for goodwill".

People who have converted to CNG will definitely not be pleased to know that CNG prices will be going upwards while that of petrol is spiralling down. The "goodwill gesture" is probably made because the companies are expecting fuel prices to take a turn for the sky some time soon. However, before that happens, I am wondering when the taxi companies will suspend the fuel surcharge. I am beginning to feel like a flight passenger.

Forth fuel price dip:

Petrol and diesel pump prices fall by three cents

Fourth drop in two weeks but it’s just a respite for motorists: Analysts

By Maria Almenoar

PUMP prices headed south yesterday for the fourth time in a fortnight, but analysts are warning that the good news could be short-lived.

With northern countries stocking up on winter heating fuel and bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico, prices could rise in the near future.

‘Consumers can enjoy a breather for now but it is unlikely to last long. For every high jump, there is a short correction period, but within no time, it will shoot up again,’ said Mr Ng Weng Hoong, editor of energy news portal EnergyAsia.com

Still, drivers are relishing the second drop in petrol prices this week.

Petrol retailers lowered rates by three cents a litre yesterday. Prices have dropped 11 cents since July 9.

Though petrol rates are now at their lowest since May, prices are still about 13 cents higher than at the start of the year.

The latest adjustment brings a litre of 92-octane petrol to $2.103 a litre, 95-octane to $2.136 a litre and 98-octane to $2.210 a litre – all before discount.

Ultra-premium petrol like Shell’s V-Power is $2.339 a litre while Caltex’s Platinum is $2.336 a litre.

The latest fall in petrol rates followed a drop in crude prices. Light sweet crude for August delivery ended last week at US$128.88 (S$175.40) a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

A week earlier, it had hit a record US$147.27.

Prices also fell by three cents a litre at diesel pumps to hit $1.963 a litre. The fuel is still about 70 per cent more expensive than at the start of the year.

Cab companies – which mostly use diesel-run vehicles – recently introduced a 30-cent fuel surcharge in a bid to defray costs for their drivers.

The largest cab company here – ComfortDelGro – said that it was good news that diesel prices were heading downwards but added that prices were still volatile.

‘It should be noted that despite the recent decline in prices, fuel prices are still trading at record highs,’ said spokesman Tammy Tan.

The surcharge would be removed when diesel falls back to $1.19, which was the market price in December last year, she said.

While pump prices fell, the price of compressed natural gas (CNG) remained at $1.73 per kg as of yesterday.

CNG is used by some taxi companies and car owners who have added CNG tanks to their petrol-driven cars.

Smart Energy, which sells CNG, said it would review its rates closer to the end of the month when it gets billed by its supplier.

mariaa@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_261025.html

Fifth fuel price dip:

Pump prices down 10cents, sharpest drop in 5 years

Fifth cut in three weeks, in the wake of plunging crude oil prices

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

PUMP prices fell across the board by 10 cents a litre yesterday, the single sharpest drop since 2003.

It was the fifth consecutive slide in three weeks, and it came amid plummeting crude oil prices, which slumped to US$123 a barrel last week. That was down from a record high of more than US$147 a barrel earlier this month.

Mr Ng Weng Hoong, editor of energy news portal EnergyAsia.com, called the drop in oil prices a blip, saying it was triggered by concerns with credit, jobs and inflation.

With northern countries poised to stock up on heating oil for the winter, low prices are unlikely to last, he said. ‘You will see some short-term volatility. Prices could well fall further, but the long-term picture is still bullish.’

The 10-cent drop at Singapore’s pumps yesterday pulled a litre of 92-octane petrol to $2.003 before discount, 95-octane to $2.036, and 98-octane to $2.11.

The so-called ultra-premium petrol is 10 cents cheaper, too. Shell’s V-Power is now at $2.239 a litre, while Caltex’s Platinum retails for $2.236. Diesel is at $1.863.

Light sweet crude ended last week at US$123.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange – US$24.01 lower than two weeks earlier.

The downward spiral has been attributed to lower demand, as drivers cut back on trips and car buyers shy away from petrol guzzlers like sport utility vehicles. The recent strengthening of the US dollar, which is used to trade oil, has also helped to drive prices down.

Compressed natural gas (CNG), meanwhile, remained unchanged in Singapore at close to $1.80 a kg.

Mr Johnny Harjantho, the managing director of Smart Energy, which operates Singapore’s biggest CNG refuelling station in Mandai, said the wholesale price of CNG is likely to rise further next month.

The company will, nevertheless, reduce pump prices ‘purely for goodwill’, he added.

He said Smart would add more hoses at its station by December to cope with rising demand. It also aims to open a new station in Serangoon North by early next year.

Even though petrol and diesel prices have fallen by around 10 per cent since early this month, they are still 30 per cent and 50 per cent higher than they were in January last year.

christan@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_262293.html

Article extracted on 25th July 2008

Xiaxue has made her stand – she is not going to apologise (although I thought she did retract her statements). In fact, she challenged Dawn, who is currently on holiday in Sydney, to sue her. Dawn’s lawyer commented that they will not be ruling out other options – including mediation and a meeting between both parties without using any points raised in such a meeting in court.

While I do not doubt that the spat is real, but I smell *ahem* publicity *cough* stunt… =P

Bloggers’ spat: Xiaxue refuses to say sorry

By Debbie Yong

BLOGGER Wendy Cheng – better known online as Xiaxue – is not going to apologise to fellow blogger Dawn Yang. She was supposed to do so by Tuesday, the deadline set in a letter sent to her last week by Ms Yang’s lawyer.

The letter referred to allegedly defamatory remarks made by Ms Cheng, in a blog entry dated June 30, about Ms Yang. Ms Cheng, 23, had written, among other things, about the other’s entertainment and endorsement deals.

She also baulked at being compared to Ms Yang, 23, in a June 25 report in Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao. The letter had asked for Ms Cheng to publicly apologise and propose a settlement for the damages caused to Ms Yang.

‘I am not going to apologise. If she wants to embarass herself she can go ahead and sue me’, Ms Cheng told The Straits Times on Tuesday.

She is presented by Keystone Law Corporation.

Ms Yang is in Sydney on a holiday and could not be reached for comments. Mr K Anparasan from KhattarWong, the firm representing her, confirmed that he has received Ms Cheng’s letter but said he has yet to discuss the next step with Ms Yang.

However, he added that they will not rule out other options besides going to court, such as mediation or a ‘without prejudice’ meeting between both parties to settle the dispute.

This means that points raised in the meeting will not be used adversely against them in court.

The bad blood between the two bloggers goes back to November 2006, when they were compared in an online ‘hottest bloggers’ ranking.

They have been making comments about each other on their blogs since.

Ms Cheng gets 50,000 hits daily on her blog while Ms Yang gets 30,000.

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_260309.html

Article extracted on 22nd July 2008

Approximately 1,000 Singaporeans give up their citizenship every year – and this is only based on data that’s derived from Singaporeans who denounced their citizenship and left Singapore is the past 3 years. I am not sure of their decision to give up the citizenship, but I suspect that it’s got something to do with Singapore’s stance on dual citizenship.

The country does not allow dual citizenship and Singaporeans who want to take up a second citizenship is supposedly forced to make a decision to give up one of the citizenship. Needless to say, if the Singaporean goes through all the effort to get the second citizenship, guess what he’ll choose? =) Nonetheless, it’s been rumoured that such declarations had been relaxed recently and there’s just a slight chance that the government might contemplate to allow for dual citizenship – although it’s something that won’t come in my life time.

With all the hearsay going around, perhaps it’s a good time to straighten out some… "facts". Apparently, if you decide to give up your citizenship, you’d be given some time to consider it. If you are bent on giving it up, then you’d be able to withdraw your CPF in full within 2 weeks. For male Singaporeans, I am not sure how things go, but I presume that it spells the end of the 10-year reservist cycle.

Anyone gone through such a process? =)

1,000 S’poreans give up citizenship each year

AN AVERAGE of about 1,000 Singapore gave up their citizenship each year in the last three years, said Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng on Monday.

The reasons they renounced their Singapore citizenship ranged from marriage to foreigners to yearning for a different environment, he said in his written reply to a question from from Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, who wanted to know how many Singaporeans had emigrated in the last three years.

Most of them took up new citizenship in countries in Southeast-Asia, the United States of America and Australia.

Mr Wong said Singaporeans who emigrate generally do not declare this to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) when they leave.

The only available data which gives an indication of the number of emigrants from Singapore is the number of Singaporeans who have given up their citizenship and left Singapore.

Article extracted on 22nd July 2008

In what seems like a change of heart, Mr Khaw said that the Ministry of Health will be looking into the possibility of legalizing organ trading; with a catch. Any payment made to the donor must come from a third party. The rationale behind this idea is to distant the recipient as far away as possible from the donor, hence diminishing direct contact and exploitation from the poor.

Essentially, it feels like pushing the duty of responsibility of accountability to the organizations which are willing to help. If money is involved, then the organization will help to ensure that whatever comes in on the left hand goes out of the right hand – although I suspect that there may be some form of an "administrative fee" involved. In the event if anything untoward happens, the organization may be the first to be informed who will then have to investigate and notify the ministry.

So what kind of organizations will be involved? I am thinking organizations of religions, charitable organizations and other left-winged organizations. I am not sure why, but I feel that in times of need, everyone suddenly turns religious and start approaching these institutions for help. Otherwise, a government agency may be set up to manage this. They may also charge a lesser administrative fee. =)

Perhaps this idea is still too immatured to be discussed at this point in time since we have no idea where the government is heading towards. However, I do laud the government for doing something instead of just criminalizing everything and feeding the black market indirectly. 

Changes to organ transplant law to meet demand for transplants

SINGAPORE is considering legalising kidney trading to help meet demand for kidney transplants, the city-state’s health minister said on Monday.

The Health Ministry will examine the feasibility of providing payments to unrelated donors to augment the supply of kidneys, Mr Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament, acknowledging that the suggestion has stirred controversy.

‘We should not reject any idea just because it is radical or controversial,’ Mr Khaw said. ‘We may be able to find an acceptable way to allow a meaningful compensation for some living, unrelated kidney donors, without breaching ethical principles or hurting the sensitivities of others.’

Mr Khaw said the ministry would review possible changes to current legislation to allow payments for donations from third parties such as those from the charity and religious sectors. Under the proposal, which would need to be approved by Parliament to become law, patients would also get help in finding donors.

‘There are desperate patients out there wishing to live and desperately poor people willing to exchange a kidney for a hopefully improved life,’ he said. ‘Criminalising organ trading does not eliminate it … it merely breeds a black market.’

Mr Khaw also said the Health Ministry would push to amend existing laws on organ transplants to remove an age limit on deceased donors, currently set at 60 years, because ‘the suitability of the organ depends on its condition rather than the age of the donor’.

The two initiatives should enable Singapore to carry out 70 per cent of the kidney transplants needed every year – up from 50 per cent currently, the minister said.

The two initiatives should raise Singapore’s sufficiency in kidney transplants from 50 per cent to 70 per cent, the minister said.

He said about 1,000 new cases of kidney failure are diagnosed every year, with nearly 40 per cent unable to survive the first year.

Mr Khaw’s comments follow the cases of two Indonesian men who were jailed and fined by a Singapore court earlier this month after being convicted of agreeing to sell their kidneys to two patients in Singapore.

Selling or buying organs or blood is illegal in Singapore, as in many other countries, and carries a penalty of up to 12 months’ jail, or a fine of up to S$10,000 or both. — AP

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_259881.html

Consideration of a 3rd party to foot the bill:

Compensation for organ donors: Idea under study

Solution may lie in a third party making the payment, thus distancing donor and recipient

By Lee Hui Chieh

THE giving of compensation to some organ donors is set to emerge on the horizon. But there will be a catch.

The compensation for the donors is to come from a third party, like a charity or religious group, and not directly from organ recipients.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan indicated the prospect of such an outcome yesterday when he highlighted three ways the Government is considering for augmenting the supply of kidneys.

But he foresees the other two measures doing better in raising the supply.

They are: removing altogether the 60-year age limit when getting organs from a person who had died; and setting up a registry that will find a match among donors who are unrelated to the patient.

These two measures could raise the transplant rate within 10 years to 70 per cent of the demand from eligible kidney patients, said Mr Khaw. Currently, only half the demand is met.

The Health Ministry hopes to implement these changes over the next one year.

Organ trading has been the subject of heated debate in Singapore this month, since well-known retailer Tang Wee Sung was named for allegedly trying to buy a kidney. He has been charged.

The controversy led MPs like Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC) and Dr Lam Pin Min (Ang Mo Kio GRC) to ask about safeguards against illegal organ trading and legalising such trading. Madam Halimah chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Health and Dr Lam is the deputy.

Mr Khaw’s suggestion yesterday to allow compensation for some donors stems from requests made by charities and religious groups.

They had asked him if they could provide compensation – in cash or kind – to organ donors and their families to acknowledge the altruistic act of the donation.

The move is likely to stir controversy. However, Mr Khaw believes the solution lies in distancing the donor from the patient.

‘The more you can break the direct relationship between the donor and the recipient, (the more) the unethical considerations can be minimised.

‘So I think this is a possible option that we should explore, and certainly I’m studying this carefully, with a view to doing so.’

Exploitation of the poor, Mr Khaw has previously said, is his biggest worry. He believes that if a way can be found to minimise such exploitation, paying for organs may be acceptable to people.

He urged Singaporeans yesterday to ‘not reject any idea just because it is radical or controversial’.

‘The reality is…there are many desperate patients out there wishing to live, and desperately poor people willing to exchange a kidney for a hopefully improved life.

‘This is the stark reality and the dilemma confronted by many in such desperate situations.

‘We must therefore take a practical approach. Criminalising organ trading does not eliminate it…it merely breeds a black market.’

Most countries are short of kidneys, except for two: Norway and Spain, which are almost self-sufficient.

But what is perhaps most striking to Mr Khaw is that they rely on altruistic organ donations.

‘In Singapore, we have not yet maximised the yield through altruistic organ donations. Let us emulate them and push altruistic organ donations to their maximum potential,’ he said.

Attitudes towards compensating kidney donors have also been gradually changing, Mr Khaw pointed out.

He cited the views of Singapore Medical Association past president Arthur Lim and Nobel laureate Gary Becker.

Prof Becker, an American professor in economics and sociology, had argued that markets in organs are the best available way for a patient to get organ transplants more quickly than under the present system.

But this may be arguable in the light of the situation in Iran.

It is the only country in the world where organ trading is legal. Yet its transplant rate remains low.

huichieh@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_259986.html

Article extracted on 22nd July 2008

About 2 weeks ago, taxi companies came together to lobby for a 30 cents fuel surcharge in light of raising diesel prices. Ironically, on the first day that the surcharge was implemented, diesel price dropped, but still remained about $2 per litre. Since then prices dropped 2 more times which returned the price of diesel to sub-$2 again at $1.993 per litre. This is a result of a drop in crude oil prices, which is now trading at US$128.88 a barrel.

Now that diesel prices are going down, are the taxi companies going to scrape the 30 cents surcharge? Or is it here to stay? If it is, then this effectively means that there is now a flag-down rate of $3.10, up from the normal taxi rates of $2.80 but masqueraded as a fuel surcharge. I wonder how long the taxi companies will want to keep the surcharge, or will they just openly get it absorbed into the flag-down rate eventually.

Pump prices fall again – third time in fortnight

By Christopher Tan

PUMP prices fell for the third time in a fortnight, led again by Shell on Monday.

The reductions were two cents a litre for diesel and four cents for petrol, except for so-called ultra-premium petrols, which fell by three cents.

The latest adjustment brings a litre of 92-octane petrol to $2.133 a litre before discount; 95-octane to $2.166; and 98-octane to $2.24.

Shell’s V-Power is now $2.369, while Caltex’s Platinum is $2.366.

Diesel returned to sub-$2 level to $1.993.

The slide follows a sustained drop in international crude oil prices. Light, sweet crude for August delivery ended last week at US$128.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

A week earlier, it hit a record US$147.27.

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_259923.html

Article extracted on 21st July 2008

Some time back, I wrote about Malaysia adopting the through-train process in immigration; which apparently is a trial that just ended. Malaysia, after realising that many people are going in without getting their passports stamped, decided to get the cards back into the menu. For some countries, some of the important information may include address, health status and amount of money brought in. However, for the man-on-the-street like me, what’s important is that I have proof that I did pass through the proper customs since there’s usually (not always) a customs stamp on the card itself.

I just hope when the new rules kick in, the custom officers will be sufficiently notified and not just throw my white immigration form into the dustbin. You know lah… it’s just one of those things that can happen. =)

Embarkation cards for foreigners from Aug 15 a security measure

KOTA TINGGI – ALL foreigners, including Singaporeans, will have to fill in immigration embarkation cards when they enter Malaysia from Aug 15.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the move, which will apply at all entry points nationwide, is to enhance security in the country.

‘The police felt that there was a gap in their information and record keeping and that it was good to have the form,’ he told reporters here on Sunday.

Since Jan 20, all foreigners have been exempted from the need to fill up such cards.

Mr Syed Hamid said the exemption was merely a test period to see whether the country could do without it.

‘People come in and while we punch the data in, quite a number of people just walk through without any records of them coming into or leaving the country,’ he said.

Johor Immigration Department deputy director Johari Yusof said Singaporeans would also be required to fill in embarkation cards when they cross the the Causeway and the Second Link.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Tourist Guide Council president Jimmy Leong said the new ruling showed inconsistency of policies.

‘The Government should carry out research before implementing anything,’ he said, pointing out that the new ruling would definitely slow down the traffic at the Causeway as well as the Second Link. — The Star/ANN

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/S-E%2BAsia/STIStory_259817.html

Article extracted on 21st July 2008

I had not really followed the happenings between Xiaxue (who is Wendy Cheng in real life) and Dawn Yang, but I did read a little about what happened. Apparently, Wendy had defamed Dawn in one of her many people-offending posts (perhaps she believes in being straight forward), which allegedly called bluffs on some of Dawn’s claims on the people she knew, amongst many other things. It was believed that there were also personal attacks on Dawn.

Striking back, Dawn engaged lawyers from Khattar Wong and filed a defamation suit against Wendy, demanding a public apology and a settlement of sorts. Wendy in return has hired her own lawyers and has until Tuesday to respond to the case. As this is going on, many people in the blogosphere are wondering if this is just a show.

So, if it is, how far should it go? If it isn’t, how far will it last before the public believes that it is for real? Personally, I think the line is drawn when either party brings it to the courts. You see, a lawyer’s letter is nothing yet until the case is brought into the courts. When this happen, the jurisdiction of the Singapore government (or for that matter, any government in most countries) is brought into place where the matter can be presented. Moreover, such details will be recorded in the courts officially and I think it’d be too high a price for either party to pay just to bring up their "entertainment value".

Moreover, either party runs the risk of being charged with contempt of court if the matter is not handled properly. That, becomes an offence so serious that it follows the affected persons for life. For entertainment, that is not worth it. Of course, if it really is an act, then the cost is obviously bore by the respective management agencies who will foot the bill (for the lawyers?) as "marketing costs".

Wendy had been a well-known blogger for about 7 years before Dawn broke into the scene some 3 to 4 years ago. These 2 were quickly reigned to be the queens in the Singapore blogosphere – both being involved in high profile TV shows and media coverage. Some might have thought that a recent slow-down in their profiles may have led to this defamation suit to be played out so as to put the names of Wendy aka Xiaxue and Dawn back on the lips of bloggers and blog readers.

As Stickgal aptly puts it:

Drawing copyrights of http://www.stickgal.blogspot.com. Go pop by her blog for more cute drawings! =)

Virtual catfight

Blogger Dawn Yang wants Xiaxue to apologise for defaming her; others see the spat as ‘entertainment’

By Debbie Yong

The bad blood between the two reigning queens of the local blogosphere has come to a boil.

Last Friday, blogger Wendy Cheng, who goes by the online moniker Xiaxue, received a letter from the lawyer of fellow blogger Dawn Yang.

It called on Ms Cheng to make a public apology for alleged defamatory remarks she made against Ms Yang, and to propose a settlement for damages.

‘We hope to seek an amicable resolution to the matter without going to court,’ lawyer K. Anparasan told The Sunday Times yesterday.

He is from Khattar Wong, the firm Ms Yang hired for the case.

Ms Cheng has hired a lawyer from Keystone Law Corporation but has declined to say what she will do next. She has until Tuesday to respond to the letter.

Ms Yang is currently on holiday in Sydney and could not be reached for comment.

The legal action stems from a blog entry that Ms Cheng, 23, made on June 30.

In a lengthy post, she wrote, among other things, about Ms Yang’s entertainment contracts and endorsement deals.

She also baulked at being compared to Ms Yang, 23, in a June 25 article in the Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.

Ms Cheng has since removed this entry from her blog, but screenshots of it can still be found on the Internet.

Her blog gets about 50,000 hits daily while Ms Yang’s gets 30,000.

Ms Cheng said yesterday that the day after she wrote the post, both bloggers’ managers spoke over the phone on the matter. Ms Cheng is signed up with an entertainment agency and Ms Yang with a modelling agency.

She said she was ‘surprised and quite shocked’ to receive the lawyer’s letter.

The simmering discord between them can be traced back to November 2006. The two were compared in an online forum’s ‘hottest bloggers’ ranking, and have been making comments about each other on their blogs since.

Most of the other popular bloggers interviewed dismissed their spat as ‘entertainment’.

Mr Benjamin Lee, also known as Mr Miyagi, said the dispute ‘probably enhanced both parties’ site traffic and attention, which is what the blogging business is about’.

Polytechnic student Esther Chia, 18, who blogs as Ice Angel, concurred.

She was involved in a ‘flameball’ – or virtual mudslinging – with Ms Cheng last year over comments the latter made about her looks and dress sense. The episode boosted Ms Chia’s blog readership from 1,000 to 4,000 hits a day.

‘As long as she doesn’t criticise my character, I won’t be seriously offended,’ said Ms Chia.

Law undergraduate and co-editor of The Online Citizen website, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said that defamation is an ‘occupational hazard’ for anyone blogging about society and popular culture.

He said that the tussle would at least remind other bloggers to be careful about any personal accusations they wish to make.

He also hoped that more bloggers will be ‘more focused on issues and less on people and personality’.

debyong@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Home/Story/STIStory_259485.html

Article extracted on 20th July 2008

The increase has started. Fares on 11 SBS Transit premium bus services will be going up from 21st July 2008. The fare increase ranges from 30 cents to 60 cents. The affected bus services are 532, 533, 534, 535, 536, 538, 539, 542, 543, 544 and 545. In addition, bus services 537, 540, 551, 575, 577 and 580 will be removed due to low demand. This is probably an expected move with the increase in diesel prices – even though it had just gone down yesterday. With this increase in premium services, fares on normal bus services, including those of SMRT buses will probably be increased soon. With this, fares for SMRT and SBS Transit trains will probably go up as well since increase in oil prices will affect electricity costs.

From the way things are going, public transport – including taxis, will be more expensive even as more people are giving up their cars. This is probably expected since the transport companies now have to spend more on maintaining and upgrading their buses and trains. At the end of the day, commuters are losers and the real winners are the transport companies. We should just be glad that it is still somewhat affordable now.

Higher fares on 11 premium bus services

By Yeo Ghim Lay

FARES on 11 SBS Transit premium bus services will go up from Monday.

The increases, ranging from 30 cents to 60 cents, come as transport operators are feeling the pinch from rising fuel costs.

New fares on the 11 services will cost $3.30 to $3.60, up from $2.70 to $3 previously.

These services serve residents in areas like Jurong, Clementi, Yio Chu Kang, Toa Payoh, Pasir Ris and Bedok.

They each run one trip during the weekday morning peak hour, ferrying commuters from the heartland to the Central Business District.

The fare increases come on the back of higher electricity and fuel costs for operators. SBS said these have gone up by more than 50 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year.

The 11 routes that will see fares go up are: premium services 532, 533, 534, 535, 536, 538, 539, 542, 543, 544 and 545.

Besides the fare increases, SBS will also cancel six premium bus services starting from Monday because of low demand.

These are: premium services 537 and 540, which serve Jurong West and Yuan Ching Road respectively, and CityShopper services 551, 575, 577 and 580, which ferry shoppers from the heartland to town.

Surging diesel prices have also hit private bus operators, some of which plan to charge higher fares on their premium services.

There are currently more than 70 premium bus services running in Singapore, and half of these are operated by SBS.

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_259021.html

Article extracted on 18th July 2008

Today is the first day of the taxi fuel surcharge kicking in and according to preliminary reports, commuters are sticking with taxi drivers through thick and thin – although some are concerned if the surcharge will start going up in the future. Cabby Ken Chian mentioned that some commuters sounded quite resigned but I guess that’s quite natural. Apparently, most commuters said that they understand the predicament that the taxi drivers are in and are most willing to pay the additional 30 cents.

Ironically, the prices of fuel, including diesel, went down today as the price of crude oil went below US$140. On the other hand, CNG prices have been going up steadily. In February 2008, the price difference between CNG and petrol is 70 cents per litre. Today, it’s merely 30 cents per litre – costing about 40% more than in February.

It seems like CNG doesn’t quite live up to its name that some have given – Cheap n’ Good.

Commuters stick to cabs on Day 1 of fuel surcharge

By Yeo Ghim Lay

A NEW, 30-cent fuel charge levied by Singapore’s biggest cab company does not seem to have turned commuters off taxis.

The surcharge, imposed on the back of rising diesel prices, came into effect yesterday on all of ComfortDelGro’s cabs. Its drivers told The Straits Times that the increase has not hurt business.

Cabby Ken Chian, 39, said that while some passengers asked about the extra 30 cents, there were no complaints. ‘A few sounded quite resigned and said they don’t have a choice,’ said Mr Chian.

Diesel prices have jumped by more than 50 per cent in the last six months, putting pressure on cabbies and bus operators.

Commuters said they understand the predicament taxi drivers are in, and most did not mind paying the extra 30 cents.

Mr Devdutt Sridharan, 23, an air force pilot, said: ‘It’s a reasonable increase, especially with the rise in oil prices these days.’

Some commuters, however, were concerned that they would have to pay more in the future.

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_258630.html

And pump prices doing down…

Pump prices down after crude oil tumbles

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

PUMP prices fell on Thursday after crude oil tumbled below US$140 a barrel on Tuesday.

Petrol rates dropped by four cents a litre while diesel slid by two – just a week after the first reduction in 18 months.

A litre of 92, 95 and 98-octane petrol now costs $2.173, $2.206 and $2.28 before discount. So-called ultra-premium grades, Shells’ V-Power and Caltex’s Platinum, are now $2.399 and $2.396 respectively.

Diesel is $2.013.

The lower rates followed swiftly the plunge in crude prices, when news broke early this week that the US had larger oil reserves than expected.

Industry watchers noted that pump prices seem to be moving more closely in tandem with oil prices in recent months.

Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon said: ‘Consumers will welcome such quick response on the part of the oil companies. We believe oil companies are able to adjust pump price promptly and the latest move shows that such action is possible.’

Compressed natural gas (CNG) prices, meanwhile, have been rising sharply. They are now over 40 per cent costlier than six months ago.

With this, the gap between CNG and petrol has narrowed considerably.

Today, a kilogram of CNG is about 35 cents cheaper than a litre of petrol. The difference was 70 cents as recently in February.

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/STIStory_258620.html

Article extracted on 17th July 2008

Reverend Ming Yi, chief of the Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, who is a public and well-known figure in charity shows that were held for the past few years, had been charged in court for several offences concerning the hospital’s financial affairs. Amongst the charges include fraud, forgery and falsification of accounts. He allegedly forged documents to cheat auditors and provided false information to the Commissioner of Charities.

Due to this probe, the hospital has lost its status to provide tax exemptions to donors. 2 other staff were also charged with Reverend Ming Yi. A 4th person, who is not involved in the financial affairs of the hospital, was also charged for possession of obscene films at a residence that is co-owned by the abbot and the Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery.

Reverend Ming Yi is currently out on bail and his case will be heard again on 4th August 2008.

10 Charges against Ming Yi

  • Defrauding the charity
  • Helping to falsify accounts
  • Forgery
  • Giving false information
  • Sum involved: $300,000

    By Chong Chee Kin

  • BUDDHIST monk Ming Yi, the flamboyant chief of the Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, was accused yesterday of several offences concerning its financial affairs.

    The 46-year-old, whose real name is Goh Kah Heng, was charged with defrauding the charity, forgery and helping to falsify its accounts, all offences under the Penal Code.

    He was also accused of forging documents to cheat auditors and giving false information to the Commissioner of Charities, both before and after a probe was initiated last November by the Ministry of Health (MOH), which is in charge of medical charities. These are breaches of the Charities Act and Penal Code.

    The sums involved totalled about $300,000. Ming Yi faces up to a year’s jail for providing false information to the Commissioner, and up to seven years’ jail for forgery.

    Accompanied by a few friends and a team of three lawyers headed by Senior Counsel Andre Yeap, the saffron-robed monk had the 10 charges read to him in English in a district court.

    Ren Ci is the second large charity involved in court proceedings following the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal that ended with its former chief T.T. Durai going to jail.

    Like the NKF, Ren Ci ran big annual fund-raising shows which reaped millions of dollars in donations, and the highlight every year was a stunt performed by Ming Yi.

    In the wake of the probe, Ren Ci, which runs a hospital for the chronically ill, lost its right to promise its donors tax exemptions.

    Yesterday, a solemn Ming Yi found himself accused of fiddling with the charity’s accounts by re-classifying personal loans he took from it.

    He is said to have moved those loans to the Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre, a business he had a share in, or categorised them as part of advances given to him to invest on behalf of Ren Ci.

    He is also accused of trying to cover his tracks by showing investigators fake documents to back his claims.

    He is said to have conspired with two others to produce the false documents to mislead the Commissioner of Charities.

    Raymond Yeung Chi Hang, 33, Ming Yi’s former personal executive, and David Phua Seow Hwa, 47, a manager at Ren Ci, were named as his co-conspirators and charged yesterday too.

    Other charges relate to a $50,000 loan Ming Yi allegedly made to Yeung while he was Ren Ci’s chief executive, and a $300,000 donation. Court documents accuse him of dishonestly misappropriating these sums.

    The MOH said in a statement yesterday that the Commissioner of Charities had suspended Ming Yi from his office as the charity’s chief executive officer and executive positions in five other charities including Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery where he was abbot.

    But Ren Ci said Ming Yi had resigned voluntarily.

    He was freed on bail of $200,000 and is due back in court on Aug 4.

    cheekin@sph.com.sg

    Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_258042.html

    The crux of the case:

    Accused of lying

    Ming Yi allegedly claimed half of a $600,000 donation was a personal loan

    He allegedly falsified papers to cover up a $50,000 loan to his helper

    He allegedly said $300k in loans from charity was to invest for Ren Ci

    By Chong Chee Kin

    THE Buddhist monk who used to head Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre has been accused of trying to cover his tracks.

    When auditors opened the charity’s books and began asking questions, Ming Yi allegedly told them that a $50,000 sum paid out by Ren Ci was a loan to Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre to buy wood.

    He also purportedly claimed that half of a $600,000 donation to Ren Ci was actually a loan to him.

    The prosecution believes these two claims to be untrue.

    With regard to the $50,000, it will try to prove that this was the sum the monk misappropriated in 2004 to grant a loan to his helper, Raymond Yeung.

    The prosecution believes that Ming Yi conspired with Yeung in May 2004 to pass off the amount as a loan to Mandala, a shop which deals in Buddhist artefacts.

    To do this, the monk was said to have worked with Yeung to forge a document; a Ren Ci clerk, acting on this, prepared a payment voucher from Ren Ci to Mandala.

    When the auditors started poring through Ren Ci’s books last December on behalf of the Commissioner of Charities, the monk allegedly stuck to this story.

    Questioned by the auditors from Ernst and Young Associates, Ming Yi apparently told them that Mandala was to use the $50,000 to buy wood.

    And to show the commissioner proof of the purchase, the monk allegedly conspired with Yeung to come up with a letter, supposedly from a company in China, about the transaction.

    Ming Yi is also accused of forging the minutes of a meeting he had with the Ren Ci management committee in July 2001.

    In the minutes, he was said to have reclassified his personal loans from Ren Ci, amounting to nearly $300,000, as part of loans to Mandala, in which he has a stake.

    This would have duped the charity’s auditors into thinking that the committee had approved of the change in the status of his loans.

    The monk now also stands accused of misappropriating the $300,000 from Ren Ci and using it as part repayment for outstanding loans Mandala owed the charity last year.

    To explain the amount when the probe started this year, he apparently conspired with Phua Seow Hwa, a manager in Ren Ci, to show the Commissioner that half of a $600,000 donation from a businessman was actually a personal loan to him.

    He faces separate charges for allegedly reclassifying his personal loans in 1998 and 1999, when he is alleged to have signed off on Ren Ci’s audited financial statements, stating that his personal loans from Ren Ci were part of advances to him for investments on behalf of the charity.

    The monk, represented by Senior Counsel Andre Yeap, is out on $200,000 bail. He is due back in court on Aug 4.

    cheekin@sph.com.sg

    Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_258166.html

    And the article on the 4th person being charged:

    Charged: Man with obscene films in monk’s condo

    A FOURTH man charged yesterday appeared to have nothing to do with the financial affairs of Ren Ci Hospital.

    Pang Leong Chuan, 27, was charged with having 138 obscene and uncertified films.

    He used to be the former personal assistant of monk Ming Yi, and was caught with most of the illegal films in an upscale apartment where the monk sometimes stayed.

    Ming Yi is one of five listed owners of the apartment in The Cornwall, a condominium off Holland Road. Checks showed that the other owners included the Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery, where Ming Yi was the abbot.

    Monastery staff were said to live in the fourth-floor unit, valued at about $2 million. Pang is believed to have lived there too.

    Commercial Affairs Department officers confiscated 95 films at the apartment on Feb18, and another 43 from Pang’s listed address in Tampines.

    A resident said three men, including Ming Yi, lived there. Others said they had seen him returning at night in a car with two men.

    Pang, a university student, was the monk’s personal executive for more than a year.

    No one was at his Tampines flat when The Straits Times checked yesterday. He is believed to have lived with his mother, though he was seldom home.

    He faces six charges – four for possessing obscene films and two for having films uncertified for screening – and may be fined and jailed if found guilty.

    He has engaged a lawyer.

    TEH JOO LIN

    Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime+News/Story/STIStory_258044.html?sunwMethod=GET

    Article extracted on 16th July 2008