Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking Back On 2013

Chinese character "霾" sums up 2013: Zaobao readers

After three weeks of voting, Lianhe Zaobao readers have chosen "霾" (haze) as the Chinese character to sum up 2013. For the third year running, Lianhe Zaobao, the Chinese flagship daily of media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), has organised "Character of the Year" (字述一年)- a review of the year through 10 Chinese characters via a readers' poll to determine which character best characterises major local and international events of 2013.

Ms Han Yong May, News Editor of Lianhe Zaobao, said: "This being the third year we're organising the poll, we are doing it on a bigger scale and across more platforms. We tried out new ways to conceptualise the project, write the articles, produce the online videos and design the webpage to attract more participants."

She added: "More people took part in this year's voting. This goes to show that our new attempts have attracted more people to participate in our project. It is challenging to sum up a year's events with just one word, but this process lets us reflect on the past and the future, and is a worthwhile venture."

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4 reasons that made 2013 great

It's the time of the year to celebrate the incredible wonder of life. Despite the hardships and challenges that abound everywhere, there is much in the human spirit that inspires, and makes the passing of the year an occasion to count our blessings

It was a challenging year for Singapore, but there was also plenty to celebrate.

In this festive spirit, I can count at least four reasons why 2013 was a great year.

The list is a personal one because though it is about the big things that have happened here, I have also been fortunate to have had a personal experience with each of these developments.

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2013 a year of some turbulence for Singapore courts

Suspected "Messiah" hacker James Raj leaving the Subordinate Courts on November 12, 2013. (TODAY/Ooi Boon Keong)

2013 was a year of some turbulence for the courts.

It started with the acquittal of the former Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) chief and convictions of two others - the former head of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and a former law professor.

And in the later months of the year, more high-profile cases came -- from alleged hackings, murders, to the riot at Little India and the charges that followed.

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The Year In Images

Responding to questions on the by-election outcome of Saturday January 26, Ng Eng Hen haughtily dismissed the notion that the result is a report card of the ruling party's performance. Their candidate did perform to script: "Before (my wife and I) moved into our house, in our combined bank accounts... we had $11.50"

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said "People support CPF cuts because there are no protest (sic) outside the Parliament." From his perspective, the guys at Hong Lim green were just having a picnic.

Episode 7 of the Series 2 Idhayam Pesugirathu talk show demonstrated what a no holds barred National Conversation is really about.

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TOP 10 2013, TNE

10. Kovan Double Murder, July. Senior staff sergeant from the police, Iskandar Rahmat, is suspected of killing a father-and-son duo, over either relationship or monetary issues. A scene was created just outside the MRT station with the roads bloodied by a dragged body. http://bit.ly/1gfTtso

9. Yong Vui Kong gets life sentence and 15 strokes of the cane instead of death, in November, following a legal reform that introduced the discretionary death-penalty regime, following numerous petitions from activists. His lawyer was M Ravi. Singapore had had the mandatory death penalty regulation on drug trafficking. http://bit.ly/1dOHBLA

8. Singapore is alleged to have spied on Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Wikileaks, in November. http://bit.ly/1ipIu2P

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What is the greatest blooper of 2013?

2013 shall be remembered as a very eventful year till the very last day with the massive jam caused by the most expensive crooked expressway in the world. This is kind of hard to beat really. But through the years there were several other outstanding events that really shook this little island like a little tsunami.

Let me recall, the two high level corruption cases involving top civil servants when money was still not enough to stop them from being corrupt. In both cases it wasn’t money that led them astray. This may call for a rethink on what else is needed to keep officers in public service clean short of recruiting monks and priests for the job. 

This was followed closely with a long list of luminaries involved in underage sex with a nymph. Quite shocking that this happened in such a scale and involving so many prominent people, including the scions of famous clans.

The courts really were doing roaring businesses with God’s money being passed around in circles that were called round trippings. And poor God had to apologise to his dear messenger for the mess and putting him under the authority of human judges. The headless body and the numerous crimes were pale in comparison to these events and the Little India riot that saw policemen running for their lives and their vehicles overturned and burnt. It turned out that the culprit was alcohol. 

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Shocking videos from Singapore in 2013

There several videos from Singapore that have definitely shocked the nation this year. (Getty Images)

Remember the man who spit at a lady at Woodland’s bus interchange? Or the “samurai” who scared MRT train commuters?

The viral videos of the incidents definitely shocked Singapore this year. Now take a look back at what happened to them and other events that made a big impression on the general public.

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The year started with much excitement as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a by-election in Punggol East for the seat vacated by PAP Member of Parliament Michael Palmer in December 2012. Set on 26 January, the Punggol East by-election was the second by-election to take place in eight months, after the May 2012 Hougang by-election in which Workers’ Party (WP) Png Eng Huat defeated PAP’s Desmond Choo to retain the WP stronghold.

Unlike the outcome of the Hougang by-election, Lee Li Lian’s win in Punggol East took many by surprise, not so much because the WP candidate emerged victor in a multi-cornered race contested by three other political parties, but because her vote share was a good 10.5% higher than that of PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon.

Any delusion PAP might have about the 2011 General Election outcome as a “freak election result” was shattered by its shocking defeat in Punggol East. It seemed apparent that the need for the party to change and to relook its policies was finally drummed into PAP leadership after that by-election.

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A HAZY 2013

The haze came and gone in June, leaving in its trail disgruntled Singaporeans. At its peak, the Pollutant Standards Index hit 401. Even as many stepped up to distribute masks and purifiers or house those who were affected medically, the G was a convenient scapegoat for the discomforts. A stop-work order was never issued, millions of masks were pushed out to residents and retailers (belatedly, some argue), and geopolitical pressure was applied.

The G must have wondered: damned if it does, damned if it does not.

Six months later, and the smoke has barely settled in Little India. Arrests were made, deportations were carried out, and a committee of inquiry has been commissioned. It is reductive to identify a single causal factor for the riot, but it is nonetheless a timely reminder of the one million foreign workers in our midst, and more importantly a reminder of their rights and welfare. Present proposals to house some migrant workers at nearby offshore islands, or to provide alternative recreation spots “away from residents” – moves advancing the view that they are a part from us – are ludicrous as they are depressing.

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Singapore’s 10 ‘most alarming’ statistics for 2013

Tourists come to look for jobs? Apparently, an increasing number of foreigners are coming as tourists to look for a job in Singapore. For example, tourist arrivals from one ASEAN country – the Philippines – had an increase of 24.5% to 678,000 in 2011, from 2010. Just for the first 6 months of this year alone, the number is already 358,000. Media reports say that such tourists have been able to extend their tourist visa to as long as 4 months to secure a job.

Foreign workers’ levies hit record high? Foreign workers’ levies and fees are estimated to hit $3 billion for the year. It was $2.6 billion in 2011. This may cause prices charged to consumers to increase, and arguably also depress wages for both foreigners and Singaporeans.

Most expensive monthly public transport pass in the world? After adjusting for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) using the same PPP in the Fare Review Mechanism Committee (FRMC) report, the monthly cost for unlimited travel on public transport passes in Hong Kong, London, New York and Tokyo, is S$72 plus, S$162, S$116 and S$100 respectively. This makes them about 60, 15, 39 and 47% cheaper than Singapore’s monthly pass at S$190.  The 2 transport operators have applied for fare increases

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2013 will be over soon but not our problems

The world was supposed to have ended a year ago. Not only it didn’t end but life & living were more challenging. Almost every countries experienced slowing economy, rising unemployment & rising costs of living Singapore was no exception except we continue to bring in foreigners to compete with locals. Jobs were created but with majority filled by foreigners (PRs are foreigners) & locals have to scratch the bottom.

It’s amazing that for every 5 persons, 2 are foreigners, 1 a PR & the last two are Singaporeans. We are fast becoming strangers in our own country. Another fast development is that foreigners who were educated here, went on to work, settle down & became PRs.

A fair numbers became citizens when their babies arrived. Our Singaporean Sons have to serve 2years of NS & after they finish their education, they are 4 years late in working experiences. Alas, who is to protect our Singaporean Sons who protect the country while foreigners feast?

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2013 review part one – a year in justice

Singapore has never enjoyed a strong reputation on justice or the rule of law. As long ago as 1990 the New York Bar Association wrote of “a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests”. A look back on some of the biggest cases (and non-cases) of the year reveals little to suggest that the historically subservient relationship between the courts and the government has changed for the better. The (ab)use of legal proceedings to silence critics remains an ever-present, but this year has also seen troubling developments with the government at times appearing to be beyond the law. Is this “a year in justice” or “a year of injustice”? You decide.

Probably the most significant cases of injustice this year are the arbitrarydeportations of those acquitted for involvement in arguably the year’s defining event – the Little India riots. The concept that someone is “innocent until proven guilty“, enshrined in Singapore’s constitution, was no match for K Shanmugam’s pursuit of “cheap justice” wherein bypassing the rule of law was apparently justified in an effort to keep costs down.

But this was a mistake, one which backfired on probably the world’s most expensive law minister when the judicial void created by the absence of any findings of guilt was filled by damaging accusations made by those deported against the Singapore Police Force’s investigatory processes. This is a story which continues to run, withallegations of abuse in custody now coming to light – an all too common occurence in politically sensitive cases.

related: 2013 review part two – a year of U-turns

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A government in dilemma

A government in dilemma

The year began for the PAP government on a dismal note with its trouncing in the Punggol East by-election. And it is ending on the back of the unexpected and unfortunate Little India riot, where the cost is still being counted.

In between these big events, the government muddled through with no clear shape or direction. It veered one way, then another, marched a step forward, then peddled back.

If the intent was to nullify critics by sending mixed signals, by appeasing and then denying, then the government succeeded brilliantly.

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If there is one word to sum up Singapore's experience this year, it would be Vulnerability.

2013 is the year the People's Action Party lost whatever it might have retained of the lustre of invincibility.

In January, it had already lost a seat in the Punggol East by-election and was trying to beat a dignified retreat from the backlash unleashed by the Population White Paper's conclusion about preparing for a population of 6.9 million. By the end of the year, it wasn't just the PAP but the entire Singapore system of governance that had shown its vulnerability.

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A look back at Singapore's first riot in more than 40 years
A look back at Singapore's first riot in more than 40 years

The riot at Little India on 8 December was the first in more than 40 years.

Sparked by the death of Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the riot involved some 400 foreign nationals, left 39 officers injured, and saw 25 vehicles damaged or destroyed.

In response, Little India was made a proclaimed area under the Public Order (Preservation) Act the weekend after. 28 rioters have been charged and 57 people repatriated.

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4 reasons that made 2013 great

ST managing editor Han Fook Kwang

Straits Times managing editor Han Fook Kwang wrote an opinion piece yesterday (’4 reasons that made 2013 great’, 29 Dec) where he talked about the things that made 2013 great and that enabled Singaporeans to count our blessings.

He wrote, “It’s the time of the year to celebrate the incredible wonder of life.” “Despite the hardships and challenges that abound everywhere, there is much in the human spirit that inspires, and makes the passing of the year an occasion to count our blessings.”

He said despite the fact 2013 was a “challenging” year for Singapore, there was plenty to celebrate. He did not say what the “challenging” issues were that Singapore encountered in 2013.

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