5th in food security: Not Bad

September 30, 2014

Food security remains a global challenge.  How countries fare are regularly tracked.  For example, the Economic Intelligence Unit publishes its annual Global Food Security Index (GFSI) covering 109 countries around the world. GFSI measures three key areas: i) Availability, ii) Affordability and iii) Quality and Safety of food.

Singapore’s challenges are especially acute as we are inevitably highly reliant on food imports. But challenges can be addressed with sound policies and practical strategies. Despite our handicap, we can still ensure that food is available, safe, nutritious and affordable for all.

We have been tracking our progress on the GFSI score.  Last year, Singapore ranked 16th.  This year, we came up 5th.

Moving up 11 notches on the GFSI for a tiny city state without much agricultural land is no mean feat.

Although we import over 90% of our food, we support some local production to play a useful complementary role. Last month, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) launched a $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund to help our local farmers boost yields and raise productivity.  Our ambition is for our local farms to, over time, transform into a high tech and progressive one.

The improvement in our GFSI ranking was mostly due to (a) stability in our local production, (b) sufficiency of supply, and (c) having a nutrition plan in place.

We have also scored well in the new indicator for food loss. Our programmes and R&D projects to reduce food losses in the early stages of food production, which include post-harvest handling techniques, cold chain management, and conversion of food manufacturing waste, have been notable.  Meanwhile, we must press on with reducing general food wastage among consumers.

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Making Right-sizing Easier

September 24, 2014

At Meet-the-People sessions, I sometimes meet elderly residents who intend to right-size to a smaller flat but face some cash-flow difficulties in the process.

The sale proceeds for their existing (larger) flat will be enough to pay for the new (smaller) flat, but they need to sell the flat first to raise the funds for the new purchase.  For example, they have to make a downpayment for their new flat, which is at least 10% of the purchase price.

HDB told me that, in 2013, 47 elderly cancelled their new flat bookings, because they were unable to raise the downpayment. They must have felt disappointed, having to abort their plans because of a cash-flow problem.

Today’s announcement by HDB will help address this issue.

Henceforth, flat buyers right-sizing to a 2-room or 3-room BTO flat will only need to pay half the downpayment when they sign the Agreement for Lease. They need only pay the other half together with the balance purchase price when they get the keys to their flat.

I am glad that the HDB has made this change.


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When cars go out of fashion, what happens to car parks?

September 16, 2014

It seems hard to imagine at the moment, but a day may (soon) come when cars go out of fashion in Singapore.

It is already happening in some European cities. Youngsters no longer see a need to take driving lessons, let alone buying a car. People are walking, cycling, taking public transport. The occasional car needs can be satisfied more cool-ly, via Uber or Zipcar or many such local ridesharing equivalents.

That will transform lifestyles and city landscape, for the better! Car parks will become excessive and redundant.

To help re-imagine such a scenario, URA is supporting PARK(ing) Day on Friday, offering all its parking lots for the public to transform into creative, temporary public ‘PARKS’. This is part of a global PARK(ing) Day initiative.

The mission is to get everyone to envision a city with fewer cars, and more space for people, for living.

All ideas are welcome. We have so far received about 50 registrations, from community groups, local businesses and student bodies. The variety and creativity of the entries are inspiring.

One group intends to create a display area to showcase growing crops on roofs and walls, and harnesses solar energy to power fans and lights. Another intends to set up a pop-up repair café, where people can learn how to mend everyday items such as furniture, shoes and clothes, thus reducing the amount of waste.

You may have other ideas. Do join us on PARK(ing) Day, and continue to share your thoughts on how to enliven our public spaces and our city.

For more information on where the ‘PARKS’ are created, you can visit URA’s PARK(ing) Day website.


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Lifts for cars too

September 14, 2014

Lifts for cars too

We try to meet the demand for car parking in HDB towns. Given rising car population, we have increased the norm for car park provision in new precincts. But in existing precincts, meeting the new norm will require us to build new car park lots. This is sometimes not possible for lack of available land.

One solution is to build mechanised parking systems or MPS, as it takes up less land than conventional car parks. Our GPC MPs led by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah suggested it, before a joint study visit to Japan and South Korea with HDB staff.

Minister Khaw at Commencement CeremonyMPS is not new in Singapore: several private condos and hotels have it. But it will be new in a HDB town. We decided to pilot it in Bukit Panjang, Changi Village and Yishun. These pilot sites were selected due to their high parking demand and severe site constraints. We announced this initiative last year.

The plans for MPS are progressing well. I have just launched the commencement ceremony with Mayor Dr Teo Ho Pin at his Bukit Panjang site. Construction will start next week. The new MPS, with 60 car park lots, should be up and running before the end of next year. The residents there will get much-needed relief to their parking situation.

Below are some artists’ impressions of what the MPS car parks at the three sites will look like.


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Run free at Sembawang

September 12, 2014

Some of my residents living in the north have asked me for a dog run.  There are now 5 in Singapore. The nearest is at Bishan-AMK Park where my pets have had a great time occasionally.

They will be happy to note that this coming Sunday morning, I will be launching the sixth dog run at Sembawang Park!

It will have 2,700m² of space for the dogs to run free, and get the necessary exercise. I am sure it will be popular with our residents and their dogs.

While we have fun with our dogs, we must be considerate towards other park visitors.  Some may be fearful of animals.

Three simple steps will avoid accidents and unpleasantness:

- please clean up after our dogs;

- leash them when outside the dog run; and

- be extra mindful when children or babies get too close to our dogs.

This will go a long way to make our shared public spaces enjoyable for all.

There will be a pets carnival to accompany the launch, with many exciting activities: a hamster race, a dog obedience demonstration, and free pet health screening. More information can be found here: Sembawang Our Home.

My pet dogs will be joining in.  Do come and join us too :)

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Lease Buyback Can Be More Flexible

September 3, 2014

Current Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) is good, as it allows seniors to get a monthly income from their flat, while continuing to live in the home they love.

But it can be more flexible.

This was the distinct feedback we got from Singaporeans when they shared with us their views during the Our Singapore Conversation on Housing.

Today’s announcement on the 4 enhancements to the LBS is our response to this feedback and request.

The extension to 4-room flats is the most significant enhancement, as it opens up this monetisation option to many households. Altogether, 75% of elderly households will soon have access to this option.

Another enhancement is the introduction of different lease options. Younger seniors can choose longer leases, while older seniors can choose shorter leases in return for more cash proceeds.

The enhancement to the CPF top-up rule is another major enhancement. It has direct impact on joint flat owners who make up half of the LBS-eligible households. Currently, joint owners will have most of their cash proceeds used to top up their Retirement Accounts. The enhancement has halved the top-up requirement. This means that they will have more upfront cash proceeds when they join the LBS.

While these enhancements are good, I do worry about some elderly spending unwisely away the substantial cash proceeds. For example, many overseas properties are being marketed here. There are bound to be disappointments and even losses.

I urge our seniors to exercise prudence and caution.

The best advice I can offer, is to use the substantial cash proceeds to voluntarily top-up you and your spouse’s Retirement Accounts. That will be a sure way to ensure that you can both enjoy a steady income each month in your golden years.

Of course, the best option is to live with your children to enjoy their company, and rent out your flat as your additional retirement income. Then there is no need for LBS.

But for some, because of their family circumstances, the enhanced LBS offers additional security.

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Make our SUN work harder

August 28, 2014

In Singapore, HDB has the most experience with solar (photovoltaic, PV) panels and has the largest installation.

There are now 176 HDB blocks with solar panels and the number is growing.  Next year, it will be 300 blocks.  They help to power common services such as lifts and corridor lighting.  It is clean energy and helps Town Councils offset rising energy costs.

Being the largest, HDB is also taking on the role of helping other government agencies harness solar energy.   This way, we help to expand the use of solar panels beyond HDB blocks.

These agencies ride on HDB’s bulk tenders for solar panels, and enjoy lower costs due to economies of scale. This way we accelerate solar deployment in Singapore through aggregating solar demand across government agencies.

The first demand aggregation tender will be called next year. MINDEF has expressed interest to install solar panels on the rooftops of their camps. MOE is also looking into using the rooftops of schools.

Overall, Singapore plans to raise the adoption of solar energy to 350MWp by 2020. HDB’s contribution will amount to 220MWp, involving solar PV panels at some 5,500 HDB blocks. This could generate enough electricity to provide for common services and households in a town the size of Woodlands!

And this would mean a cleaner and greener Singapore — for our children and the generations to come.

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