Monday, July 20, 2009

Parliament Passes New CPF Life Plan

ChannelNewsAsia ran this story on 20 July 2009:

Parliament passes new CPF Life plan with aim of celebrating longevity
By S.Ramesh

SINGAPORE: Celebrating greater longevity with CPF Life is the aim of changes to the CPF Act passed by Parliament on Monday to ensure members have an income for the rest of their lives.

But several MPs expressed concern over those who have less than S$40,000 in accounts to fully benefit from the scheme.

It started with 12 different plans for CPF Life and now it's down to just four - Life Plus Plan, Life Basic Plan, Life Income Plan and Life Balanced Plan.

Members with at least S$40,000 in their Retirement Account will be automatically included, while those with lower cash balances can opt-in.

LIFE Plus Plan offers higher monthly income but leaves behind less for beneficiaries.

For the LIFE Basic Plan, members accept a lower monthly income for higher bequest amount.

The LIFE Income Plan offers the highest monthly income but members would leave nothing behind when they pass away.

The default plan is the LIFE Balanced Plan which will provide a balance between a level of retirement income and some bequest amount if they pass away early.

Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong, said: "Over the years our CPF policies have evolved to better address our changing needs and they will continue to evolve.

CPF Life is our unique response to address the challenges of our ageing population and it marks an important milestone in the evolution of the CPF."

This was a major concern for trade unionist Halimah Yacob as the number of Singaporeans working part time or on contract work has increased.

She said: "Our low-wage workers are the ones who need such a scheme the most as they are not likely to have discretionary savings or other assets. I would like to ask the Minister to study this issue carefully, so that we can have a truly inclusive CPF Life scheme."

In her maiden speech in Parliament, Nominated MP Pauline Straughan, suggested programmes for the vulnerable poor.

She said: "As we move towards a more comprehensive coverage for Singaporeans, it is even more critical for us to ensure that no group is omitted from the lifelong income fund. If we failed to do so, we may inadvertently entrench social inequality."

The CPF Board estimates that at least 70 per cent of members turning 55-years- old in 2013, will have at least S$40,000 in their retirement accounts.

Mr Gan said: "There is no minimum balance required to participate in CPF Life. All members, regardless of their CPF balances, can opt-in into the scheme.

“However, members with a very low balance may not be in a position to maximise the benefits from CPF Life."

For them, schemes like Workfare will come in handy where older, low-wage workers receive an income supplement, of which a portion is credited into the recipient's CPF to shore up his retirement savings.

Changes to the CPF Act also address the issue of members who are mentally incapacitated.

Currently, under the Mental Capacity Act, a court ruling cannot affect a CPF nomination.

So, rules dealing with nominations will also be amended to allow the courts to do this, in the best interest of the member.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Four Prosecuted in Kickback Employment Scam

AsiaOne ran this story on 16 July 2009:

Four prosecuted in kickback employment scam

Three employers and one agent have been prosecuted for kickback offences.

This is the first prosecution since new regulations were introduced by the Ministry of Manpower in July 2008.

The employers - Ong Gim Chua, manager of Meeting Point Pub & Lounge, Ke Koon Seng, director of Seng System Engineering Pte Ltd, and Wong Seng Kiong of Guo Tai Mei Trading - were charged for recovering employment-related costs from their foreign workers.

Meanwhile, the agent, Sun Bao Hua of Starseas Consulting Services Pte Ltd, was charged for abetting representatives of four bus companies to receive benefits by paying them to hire foreign workers through her agency.. The for cases involved 22 workers.

Under the new regulations, Work Permit and S Pass conditions prohibit employers from receiving payment as consideration for employing foreign workers, and recovering employment-related costs from foreign workers.

Similarly, the Employment Agency Licence Condition also prohibits employment agencies from offering payment (whether monetary or in kind) to employers, in exchange for hiring foreign workers through them.

Aw Kum Cheong, Divisional Director, Foreign Manpower Management Division, MOM, said, "Kickbacks undermine the integrity of the employment agency industry, and distorts the market for foreign labour. Our foreign worker policies are intended to help companies to meet their legitimate need for foreign workers. Foreign workers should not be brought into Singapore in order to collect fees from them. Such exploitative behaviour will not be tolerated."

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers who breach Work Permit conditions can be fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned for up to six months. They will also be barred from employing foreign workers in the future. Employment agencies that breach the Employment Agency licence conditions will have their licenses revoked and security deposit of $20,000 forfeited.

Fake Degree Peddler's Second School to Close Too

The Straits Times ran this story on 16 July 2009:

Fake degree peddler's second school to close too
By Amelia Tan & Corrie Tan

A SECOND private school run by a man who peddled fake degrees has been ordered to close.

In a statement yesterday, the Education Ministry (MOE) said it had revoked the registration of Stamford Global Learning Centre, which has about 40 students and is also operated by Mr Benny Yap Chee Mun.

The order came a day after another school owned by Mr Yap, Brookes Business School, was ordered to close.


Students lured by attractive deal

BROOKES Business School offered something which many students found too good to refuse - a degree in a year for $12,000, and from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) no less.

But the scam was exposed by The Straits Times in a report last month.

Students were lured by the fact that the school was registered with the Education Ministry and had the CaseTrust quality mark.

In addition to RMIT degrees, it offered bachelor of business qualifications from a Brookes University - which students said they were told was based in Truro city in Cornwall, Britain - the University of Wales and the University of Ballarat in Australia.

Brookes Business School Registration Cancelled

AsiaOne ran this story on 15 July 2009:

Brookes Business School Registration Cancelled

Ministry of Education will cancel the registration of Brookes Business School effective today.

This follows the outcomes of investigations by the secretariat of the pro-tem Council for Private Education (CPE) on Brookes Business Schools for contraventions of the Education Act.

All affected students may approach the Association of Private Schools and Colleges (APSC) to seek assistance to be placed in another private education institution.

Students must be prepared to show proof that they are currently enrolled at the school, and must bring their student contracts, payment receipts, course schedules and assignments completed, and any past tests scripts and results.

International students holding student passes issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) should first approach the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) to get advice on fees return under the Student Protection Scheme.

Students may also contact Students may also contact pro-tem CPE via the MOE Customer Service at
(email) or (Telephone) 68722220 for clarifications.

The secretariat of the pro-tem CPE is working with various agencies and the private education industry players to put in place measures to ensure that affected students have other avenues to complete their studies.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Siew Kum Hong Not Re-Appointed as NMP

From Siew Kum Hong's blog entry on 6 July 2009:

I received a notice from Parliament a couple of hours ago -- it was the Second Report of the Special Select Committee on Nominations for Appointment as Nominated Members of Parliament, which I've reproduced below. In short, I was not re-appointed, and the new NMPs (who will be sworn in on 20 July) are:

1. Mr Calvin Cheng Ern Lee
2. Mr Terry Lee Kok Hua
3. Mrs Mildred Tan-Sim Beng Mei
4. Assoc Prof Paulin Tay Straughan
5. Mr Teo Siong Seng
6. Mr Viswaroopan s/o Sadasivan
7. Mr Laurence Wee Yoke Thong
8. Ms Audrey Wong Wai Yen
9. Ms Joscelin Yeo Wei Ling

I am of course disappointed that I was not re-appointed; I felt and continue to feel that I could contribute meaningfully to Parliament for a second term, which is why I applied for it in the first place. Having said that, I am glad that I had the opportunity to serve, and I hope that I had contributed to Parliamentary debate (as the NMP scheme was intended to). Beyond that, it is really for Singaporeans to judge my time in Parliament for themselves.

Please visit Kum Hong's blog to read the full entry @

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Video: Plight of Migrant Workers

TWC2 has produced two videos on the case involving the unfavourable housing and employment conditions of migrant workers in the dormitory at Tagore Lane. This is one of them titled "Plight of Migrant Workers".

Video: Migrant Workers Left In The Lurch

Another video produced by TWC2 titled "Migrant Workers Left in the Lurch".

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Human trafficking: More Women, Children Being victimised

AsiaOne ran this article by The Nation/Asia News Network on 30 June 2009:

Human trafficking: More women, children being victimised

THAILAND - More and more women and children are becoming part of human-trafficking scams, a report from the Foundation for Women (FFW) said yesterday.

"With countries like Laos having a very male-oriented society, male family members force women or children to shoulder bread-winning responsibilities. Since children and women are weak, they are not allowed to make decisions and instead are taken advantage of or violated by human traffickers," Panjit Kaewsawang, a social worker with the FFW, said at a seminar yesterday.

"Some female victims in Laos cannot even use the money given to them by the FFW to bring their lives back in order. Instead the money is used for other purposes such as a relative's wedding, the purchase of a tractor or a satellite dish," she added.

She studied the lives of victims in Laos, Cambodia and Burma after they were rescued from a life of drudgery.

Panjit said she found that mothers and children were often abandoned, which put them at further risk. She also found that some Burmese refugees on the Thai border kept selling their children even after they had been rescued from human traffickers.

The seminar, held at Bangkok's Asia Hotel, was organised to study the problem of human trafficking and to find a way of assisting victims after they had been rescued.

Meanwhile, Matthana Chetamee, the FFW's project coordinator in Thailand, has discovered that illegal agents held a lot of power in certain communities, which not only threatened people's safety but also made it difficult to corner them.

"The agents will have donated large amounts of money to temples, thereby gaining the respect and trust of the locals. Victims who try to take these agents to court are usually condemned by their communities," Matthana said.

Another problem that Thai human-trafficking victims face is that some relevant government officials do not take them seriously.

"Many have told me that every time they asked for financial assistance, they were made to feel like beggars," Matthana said.

FFW's president Siriporn Skrobanek recommended that both governmental and non-governmental organisations jointly approach local administrative organisations and have them take part in making locals understand what happens to human-trafficking victims and encourage them to fight against the illegal agents.

She also called on relevant officials to pay serious attention to victims. "People accused of human trafficking out on bail should not be allowed to go overseas," Siriporn added.

Regional Rights Body Dismissed as "Toothless"

IPS ( ran this article on 27 June 2009:

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Regional Rights Body Dismissed as "Toothless"
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Jun 27 (IPS) - Southeast Asia is weeks away from getting its own regional human rights body, but not everyone is cheering the birth of this new mechanism due to be approved at a foreign ministers’ meeting here. Least of all the region’s vibrant human rights community, spread across the 10 countries that belong to the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In a final, desperate push to lobby for an ASEAN Human Rights Body (AHRB) with teeth, over 200 civil society organisations, activists and academics have dispatched a letter to the high-profile committee drafting the terms of reference (ToR) of the rights body to make it an "effective" mechanism.

Plans are afoot to meet some foreign ministers before they assemble for the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in the resort island of Phuket, from Jul. 17- 23. The ministers are due to approve the ToR for the AHRB, paving the way for it to start functioning later in the year.

The countries in the regional bloc, which was formed in 1967 as a bulwark against the spread of communism, include Brunei, Burma (or Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Most troubling for the activists is the lack of power for this regional entity to investigate rights violations among member countries and the absence of independent human rights experts to be on the body. There is also a call for the AHRB to have regular reviews of the human rights situation in the region.

"We hear that these three demands have not been met," says Yuyun Wahyuningrum, East Asia programme manager for FORUM-ASIA, a Bangkok- based regional rights lobby. "There is opposition from Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. Even Singapore and Malaysia have said our demands are difficult."

"We said this has to do with the lives of victims, in our meetings with the government officials," she added in an interview. "The ToR is very weak and may do little to improve the human rights situation in the region."

That is confirmed by the confidential draft text of the ToR seen by IPS. Although stating that the AHRB is being created to "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN," the language in this nine-page document is short on specific details on precise actions of the new body to protect victims of gross abuse.

There are also provisions for principles that the 42-year-old ASEAN is known for, such as "non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member states" and "respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all ASEAN Members States."

But non-governmental organisations (NGOs) argue that when governments sign international treaties they give up an aspect of sovereignty and are open to some monitoring by the international community.

"To renege on the international human rights standards at this point would be really a shame," says Rafendi Djamin, coordinator of Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy. "This would again affirm the widespread perception that ASEAN lacks the political will to protect human rights."

There is already a view among some activists that the AHRB is destined to fall far short of what national human rights commissions in some ASEAN countries - such as Indonesia and the Philippines - have achieved. They have strong investigation mechanisms and independent commissioners.

"The power to investigate human rights violations is the first mandate of the Philippines human rights commission," says Cres Lucero, deputy executive director of the Manila-based Task Force Detainees of the Philippines. "It helps with a witness protection programme and is committed and has a capacity building plan."

"The credibility of any human rights body will be judged on its power to investigate," she added during a telephone interview from the Philippines capital. "It is disappointing that the AHRB will be weaker than the national human rights bodies."

ASEAN’s history offers a window into understanding why the AHRB is hampered by these flaws despite the region’s charter, which came into force last December, spelling out that the need for a regional human rights mechanism was important in making the bloc a rules-based entity on the lines of the European Union.

With the exception of Indonesia and the Philippines and, to some measure Thailand, the rest of ASEAN’s members have governments that permit a limited democratic culture to ones that crush all hints of political and civil liberties. The latter are still comfortable with the concept of "Asian values" - an idea advanced by the authoritarian leaders of Malaysia and Singapore in the 1990s to justify the strong grip with which they ruled, and to deflect criticism from the West.

"The ToR for the AHRB mirrors the shortcomings of the ASEAN Charter as a whole," says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. "It has the politically correct concepts. But in the details, it has been diluted and is not effective."

"The problem is that the ToR was a ‘Track One’ process like the ASEAN Charter. Only officials were involved in drafting it," he explained to IPS. "ASEAN is full of non-democratic countries. So a ‘Track One’ process lacks legitimacy, lacks people’s participation and also ruins the purpose."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Firm Fined $100k Over IR Worksite Death

The Straits Times ran this story on 27 June 2009:

Firm fined $100k over IR worksite death
By Elena Chong

A CONSTRUCTION company was fined $100,000 yesterday over a fatal accident on the worksite of the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, where a brick wall collapsed on a foreign worker.

A representative of Lian Beng Construction, the occupier of the worksite, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure a safe workplace on Jan 16 last year.

In the same court, Indian national Pitchai Alagarsamy, 40, the former foreman of Soon Li Heng Civil Engineering, was fined $800 - $200 shy of the maximum fine - for failing to work with Lian Beng to stop the wall from being backfilled.

This safety breach resulted in the death of Mr Xie Xu Han, 39, who died of multiple fractures.

Lian Beng was contracted by Marina Bay Sands to build the sub-structure for the three hotel towers on the site; Lian Beng sub-contracted Soon Li Heng to carry out the earthworks on the site, Ministry of Manpower prosecutor Danny Han told the court.

The accident happened while a basement was being built. As one part was progressing ahead of the other, a gravity wall was to be erected to demarcate and separate the work areas.

Investigations showed that a brick wall was erected to act as a formwork for the gravity wall.

Not supported with any other structure, the backfilled brick wall collapsed onto the Chinese national.

The court heard that a few hours before the accident, Alagarsamy had seen the brick formwork being backfilled with earth. He did nothing to stop it although he had been told backfilling should not be done.

Lian Beng's lawyer Raymond Chan said that, following the accident, steps have been taken to improve workplace safety. Under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, the company could have been fined up to $500,000.