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Coordinated support for vulnerable groups among MSF priorities: Tan Chuan-Jin


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Government reviewing benefits for unwed mothers

By Kok XIng Hui/The Straits Times/280715

SINGAPORE – Unwed mothers could, in the future, have the same benefits as married mums.

The Government is reviewing some of the discrepancies in benefits, such as how unwed mothers are given eight weeks of paid maternity leave, instead of the 16 weeks received by married mothers.

This was disclosed by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview on Monday (July 27).

 Mr Tan said he had asked his colleagues to review the policies when he joined the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in April, and that he hopes to make announcements on it before the Budget next year.

“I’ve a great deal of sympathy for single unwed mothers,” he said. “Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it? So that’s being reviewed.”

Unwed mothers also do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and have to wait till they are 35 years old to buy a HDB flat under the singles scheme.

While these differences have been raised many times, including in Parliament, the answer has always been that the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to.

Just in March, then Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said that Singapore needs to find a balance between supporting unwed mothers as well as the policy to support parenthood within marriages.

When asked if he thought Singapore society is now prepared to change its stance, Mr Tan said: “My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single unwed mothers.”

He added that there is more support available for unwed mothers than maternity leave and baby bonuses. “It’s about healthcare availability, it’s about education opportunities and the support that comes with it.”

When probed about how extensive the review will be, he said the issues – such as housing, education, health, employment – are being discussed from a “whole-of-government perspective”.


Myanmar army chief vows to respect election outcome

The Straits Times/July 19th 2015

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s powerful army chief has vowed to respect the outcome of November’s landmark elections and has not ruled out becoming president if asked to take the top post.

“Whoever wins I will respect the result if they win fairly,” General Min Aung Hlaing told the BBC in a rare interview with a Western news outlet released on Monday.

“I believe the elections will be free and fair. That is our true wish. We are committed to helping make that happen, anyway we can,” he added.

Some 30 million voters are expected to head to the polls on November 8 for what is expected to be the freest election in decades.

Myanmar languished for years under a brutal, isolationist and paranoid junta which crushed opposition and ruined the economy while enriching a coterie of senior military officers.

In 2011 army rule gave way to a quasi-reformist civilian government – dominated by former generals – which led to the lifting of most Western sanctions and a promise of elections.

The November polls will be the first general election in a quarter of a century to be contested by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which is expected to make huge gains at the ballot box if the vote is free and fair.

It will also give the international community a chance to judge the country’s democratic progress.

But the army will continue to wield significant political influence even if the opposition sweep the polls because 25 per cent of seats in the country’s parliament will continue to be reserved for the military.

Observers say the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as the protector of the Myanmar constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Suu Kyi under lock and key for some 15 years.

The NLD has vowed to change the charter to reduce the army’s role and overturn a provision which currently bans Suu Kyi from becoming president because she has foreign born children.

In his interview, the general said he was open to changing some parts of the constitution, but said others had to remain in place because of ongoing fighting with ethnic rebel groups.

“It is impossible to leave people with all these problems, without real security,” he said of on-going efforts to end decades of civil war.

Myanmar’s long-running peace process between the government, army and multiple rebel groups has foundered in recent months following the signing of a draft ceasefire deal in March.

Asked whether he had plans to seek the presidency, Min Aung Hlaing insisted he would remain as army chief until his retirement next year. But he also did not rule out accepting the top post.

“If needed we have to be prepared to serve the country in any role, this is part of our national politics,” he said.

“If people ask me to do this duty, I will decide then.”


More patients choosing C-class wards for subsidies

By Salma Khalik/The Straits Times/18th July 2015

atients are increasingly turning to C-class wards, which offer the highest subsidy levels of 65 to 80 per cent of the hospitalisation bill.

In 2000, 26 per cent of all public hospital patients opted for C class. Last year, 46 per cent did so.

Combined with B2 class, the proportion of public hospital patients choosing subsidised care went up from 70 per cent of the total number in 2000, or 194,000 patients, to 80 per cent last year, or 272,000 patients.

Mr Lo Chun Meng, 84, who was admitted to Changi General Hospital when he fainted while shopping in Bedok, said he opted for C class because it was the cheapest. He added: “The place is very nice.”

The high demand for subsidised care comes despite most people having insurance for treatment in private wards or hospitals.

Health economist Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “Many Singaporeans are risk-averse – kiasu – and buy more insurance than necessary, for peace of mind.

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‘Only a 1MDB smoking gun can topple Najib’

By Nyshka Chandran/CNBC/12 Jul 2015

Political pundits say Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is likely to remain in power despite calls for his resignation amid a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported earlier this month that nearly $700 million from the troubled quasi-sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development (1MDB) was deposited into the Prime Minister’s (PM) personal bank accounts, leading to the launch of an official investigation.

The PM has denied any wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB and is reportedly considering a lawsuit against the WSJ over its coverage of the issue.

However, the expose, one of the worst political crises to embroil the 61-year old leader, appears to have triggered a serious backlash among voters. An analysis by social media research firm Politweet of 600 Malaysians on Twitter from July 3 to July 7 found that 85.5 percent of users felt negatively about the PM. Nearly 40 percent believed he should step down immediately.

Former PM Mahathir Mohamad has also demanded his resignation. “The person who has shamed the country is Najib and his 1MDB. Before this, the country was never ridiculed like this,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

The investigation is the latest in a series of problems surrounding 1MDB. The troubled state-fund, whose advisory board is chaired by the PM, reportedly has a $11.6 billion debt load and investors are afraid of a public bailout even as the recent oil price crash strains the crude-exporting economy’s finances.

The graft probe helped push the ringgit to its lowest level since the Asian Financial Crisis last week. Yet, experts say PM Razak will ride out the crisis relatively unscathed.

“Politically, his image is of course greatly affected but he will be able to survive because either the opposition or those in the party against him don’t have enough members of parliament to topple him,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University and former political secretary to the PM from 2009-2011.

“If the allegations turn out to be true, Najib will have to clarify for what purpose. If they are not true, he will definitely be taking legal action against the WSJ. But he does need to do something more decisive than just denying the allegations for now,” he added.

The country’s ruling political party is the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has been in power since Malaysia become an independent nation in 1957. A number of MPs within UMNO threw their support behind the PM last week, according to Malaysian news media.

The PM isn’t in any danger just yet, echoed Murray Hiebert, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also pointing to the rock-solid support he enjoys within UMNO.

“If no real linkages are found to the PM during investigations, Najib can muddle through but it’s really distracting the country from bigger issues like its economic slowdown.”

Indeed, a weak fiscal position and a declining current account surplus are key worries for Kuala Lumpur, Fitch warned in a ratings review earlier this month. Malaysian government debt as a share of gross domestic product was 53.9 percent at the end of last year, above the median range, it said. That is especially problematic as the U.S. gets set to tighten monetary policy, which could see domestic interest rates rise and trigger capital outflows.

The allegations are being referred to as a smoking gun, but William Case, professor at the Southeast Asia Research Center of the City University of Hong Kong, points to the fact that the PM has direct control over the investigation process as well as a long history of surviving scandals. One of the most high-profile of these was the 2006 murder of a Mongolian model, which made Malaysian headlines due to her alleged involvement in past government negotiations for a $1.1 billion purchase of French submarines.

Moreover, Case warned that there is no obvious replacement for the PM even in the event that he did resign, adding nobody else in the upper echelons of government could operate internationally and domestically in the way he does.