Archive | February, 2012

S’pore Takes A Serious View Of Its International Obligations: MFA

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: Singapore has clarified a Reuters report that implied Singapore is not compliant with its United Nations obligations.

The report dated on February 15 was titled ‘Iran’s Global Cat-and-Mouse Game on Sanctions’.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Reuters appears to have conflated the unilateral sanctioning of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) by certain jurisdictions such as the United States, with the issue of United Nations member states’ obligations under the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran.

MFA said the report contained several inaccurate assertions.

For example, in referring to the 2010 seizure in Singapore of three ships of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) for failing to meet their credit arrangements, MFA says Reuters quotes selectively from UN Security Council resolutions on Iran.

The report states that the UN embargo orders IRISL assets be frozen, including those of any person or entity acting on their behalf or at their direction, and to entities owned or controlled by them.

MFA said this is a misrepresentation of the relevant resolutions.

It said these resolutions do not require the freezing of the shipping lines assets.

They only require the freezing of assets of specific entities.

The assets of the shipping line itself are not targeted by the resolutions.

MFA said it is therefore factually incorrect on Reuters’ part to report that the UN embargo orders IRISL assets be frozen.

It added the Reuters reporter has whether wilfully or out of ignorance, failed to understand the issue and has confused several important legal points.

The Ministry stressed that Singapore takes a serious view of its international obligations and enforces all UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

– CNA/fa

Channel News Asia

Thousands Stranded As Air Australia Goes Bust

17 Feb

SYDNEY: Budget carrier Air Australia went into voluntary administration on Friday, grounding all domestic and international flights and stranding thousands of passengers.

The news comes a day after embattled Australian flag-carrier Qantas said it was slashing at least 500 jobs, cutting costs and closing two international routes after posting a 83 percent slump in first-half net profits.

In a statement on its website, the Brisbane-based Air Australia, whose 300 staff have been stood down, said it had appointed KordaMentha as voluntary administrators.

“In the short-term, the fleet will be grounded. It currently appears that there are no funds available to meet operational expenses so flights will be suspended immediately,” the administrator said.

“For clarity, it also appears highly unlikely there will be any flights in the short to medium term.”

Air Australia flew international routes to the Indonesian island of Bali, Thailand, and Hawaii, and domestically to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth, Derby and Port Hedland in Western Australia.

Administrator Mark Korda said up to 4,000 passengers were currently overseas with Air Australia return tickets and advised them to find alternative arrangements.

He told ABC radio the airline was unable to buy fuel at Phuket International Airport on Thursday night, prompting fears about the airline’s solvency.

“Air Australia was unable to purchase fuel in Phuket to refuel the planes so the directors had a meeting at 1.30 this morning and appointed us as administrators due to the solvency of the company,” Korda said.

“The supplier of the fuel wouldn’t grant any further credit to the company.”

Reports said a flight out of Honolulu was also refused fuel.

The carrier, previously known as Strategic Airlines and relaunched in November 2011 to cash in on under-serviced routes, flew five Airbus A330-200 and A320-200 aircraft.

Korda said he was hoping to find a “white knight” to save the airline.

“Hopefully we can find a white knight, if not the operations will stay suspended and then what we’ll do is we’ll follow up with everybody about how did this all happen?

Qantas chief Alan Joyce, whose own airline has been hit hard by soaring fuel costs and a fleet grounding last year due to labour disputes, said he would do what he could to help stranded passengers.

“If the (Air Australia) passengers come to a Qantas desk, a Jetstar desk, show their ticket, we’ll give them a ticket for the same value they’ve paid with Air Australia,” he said.

Joyce said Qantas was also looking at adding supplementary services.

– AFP/ac

Channel News Asia

Budget 2012 Expected To Focus On Increasing Productivity, Helping Needy

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government’s financial policy for 2012 will be presented to the country’s Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam when he delivers the 2012 Budget Statement on Friday at 3.30pm.

Economists and political watchers said they expect the announcements to focus on ensuring that the country stays on course in its economic plans and efforts to enhance the productivity of the workforce.

There have been calls by the business federations for more effort to help the small and medium enterprises take advantage of the various productivity improvement schemes introduced by the government.

Singapore has maintained its economic growth forecast of 1 to 3 per cent this year. The economy grew by 4.9 percent in 2011.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said it expects the global economic outlook to remain subdued, although the US economy has shown signs of a pick-up.

The ministry added that in the Eurozone, the economy is expected to enter into a recession as fiscal consolidation and bank de-leveraging dampen private demand.

On their part, Singaporeans too have also been sharing what they hope to see Budget 2012 address.

According to a survey done by the government feedback portal REACH, topping the list are social issues, such as the rising cost of living, promoting family life and strengthening the social safety nets, followed by employment and the economy.

REACH said contributors expressed concerns over the rising cost of living.

Some felt that wages have not kept up with the rate of inflation.

They called for more measures to curb the rising costs of basic necessities and essential services like utilities, transport and healthcare, and to improve the standard of living for the low-income and sandwiched middle-income groups.

Mr Tharman’s speech will be broadcast “live” over Channel NewsAsia, with a Chinese translation on dual sound mode, over the radio on 938Live and on

Channel News Asia

Two Men Face More Charges In Largest ATM Fraud Case

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: Two suspects involved in Singapore’s largest ATM fraud recently may see more charges levelled against them.

Loke Siew Fei and H’ng Gaik Chin, both Malaysians, are alleged to have defrauded DBS Bank and POSB of about S$1 million.

They are alleged to be linked to a transnational ATM skimming syndicate based in Malaysia.

The Court was told that more time was needed to carry out investigations against them.

The duo will be back in court on March 6. If convicted, they could be fined and jailed for up to 10 years.

Separately, the latest scam has also raised concerns over the security of top-up machines at MRT stations, where commuters top-up their EZ-Link cards on a daily basis.

There are some 550 of these General Ticketing Machines.

The Land Transport Authority says the machines are under 24-hour CCTV surveillance, and checks are conducted daily for any unusual activity.

A check by Channel NewsAsia showed many commuters were not too concerned about shielding their PIN numbers when doing their transactions.

– CNA/de

Channel News Asia

Yaw Shin Leong’s Parliament Seat To Be Decided Feb 24

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: The Speaker of Parliament said he has been officially informed by the Workers’ Party (WP) that Mr Yaw Shin Leong, Member of Parliament for Hougang, has been expelled from the Party.

Mr Michael Palmer said received the letter dated February 16 from the Secretary General of the WP.

It is presently unknown whether Mr Yaw is appealing against the Workers’ Party decision or is otherwise challenging his expulsion.

The Clerk of Parliament on Friday morning wrote a letter to Mr Yaw asking him to inform her in writing by February 24 if he intends to appeal against or challenge the expulsion.

Mr Palmer said: “The decision on the vacancy of Mr Yaw’s seat in this House will be taken when his reply is received or after the expiry of the deadline given to him to reply.”

Under the Constitution the seat of a Member of Parliament shall become vacant if he ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigns from, the political party for which he stood in the election.

The Constitution also states that whether an MP has vacated his seat “shall be determined by Parliament whose decision shall be final” with a proviso which permits Parliament to postpone its decision “in order to allow for the taking or determination of any proceedings that may affect the decision.”

The last time Parliament saw on a Member of Parliament expelled from the political party for which he stood in an election was in 1993, when former Potong Pasir MP Mr Chiam See Tong was expelled from the Singapore Democratic Party.

The expulsion was challenged by Mr Chiam and Parliament did not take any move until the issue was resolved.

– CNA/fa/sf

Channel News Asia

Singapore Economy “Set For Rebound”

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: Private-sector economists said they believe the Singapore economy is now poised for a rebound.

Economic figures released on Thursday showed the Singapore economy contracted by 2.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year.

This is compared to the previous three months, and better than earlier estimates.

As the US economy improves and supply disruptions arising from the Thai floods and the Fukushima crisis start to fade, some economists are of the view that Singapore will not slip into a technical recession next quarter.

Barclays Capital senior regional economist Leong Wai Ho said: “The possibility of another contraction remains remote in our view.

“We’re past the bottom of the mid-cycle slowdown and if you look at indicators like IP (industrial output) in terms of momentum, they’re actually bottomed out in December.

“December was a very strong month for IP. I think that momentum can carry us forward into Q1. (But) I think we haven’t stopped worrying about growth even though we’ve passed the bottom.”

And although latest trade figures have firmed up with external trade expanding 2.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, reversing a decline of 1.8 per cent in the previous quarter, the government remains conservative, and is sticking to a full-year GDP forecast of between one and three per cent for 2012.

Ministry of Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary Ow Foong Pheng said: “For Singapore, near-term indicators on a sectoral basis do not point to an imminent rebound in the Singapore economy.

“Inventory adjustment in the global IT industry will continue to weigh on the electronic cluster. This will have a negative spillover effect on the precision engineering cluster.

Economists also expect the Monetary Authority of Singapore to maintain its stance of gradual appreciation of the Singapore dollar.

“The central bank thinks that the October monetary policy decision remains appropriate and the next policy is scheduled for review and announcement in mid-April,” said Edward Robinson, assistant managing director (Economic Policy) at the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Full-year GDP growth for 2011 came in at 4.9 per cent.

On a quarterly basis, Singapore’s fourth quarter GDP contracted 2.5 per cent, mainly dragged down by the manufacturing and financial sectors which contracted 11.1 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively.

The construction sector declined 2.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter, while growth in the services industries was generally flat.

The wholesale and retail trade sector expanded 10.2 per cent while the transportation and storage sector contracted 2.9 per cent.

Economists said a rebound could be seen as early as March.

But this is threatened by inflation risks.

DBS Bank economist Irvin Seah said: “The upside risk to inflation is certainly higher than a few months ago.

“Previously we were looking at inflation easing to three per cent, but right now, given what’s happening in the Middle East, the rising labour costs, which has become a problem for companies, and also the high chance that companies will pass on this higher labour cost to consumers — that essentially indicates significant upside risk to inflation in the next couple of quarters.”

Official forecasts put inflation for 2012 at between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent, reflecting an easing from 5.2 per cent in the previous year.

– CNA/wk

Channel News Asia

Budget: Economy, Skills Upgrade Key Priority

17 Feb

SINGAPORE: Delivering this year’s Budget Speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam said it is a budget for the future.

Themed “An Inclusive Society, A Stronger Singapore”, Mr Tharman said the Budget will address Singapore’s long-term challenges and is not primarily focused on providing a counter-cyclical boost to the economy.

A key priority is upgrading Singapore’s economy and developing deeper skills, so as to sustain growth and create better jobs for citizens.

There’ll also be measures to help children from lower-income families, help the elderly live well and more support for Singaporeans with disabilities.

On restructuring the economy, Mr Tharman said the government will take further measures to reduce the inflow of foreign workers, so as to spur productivity and encourage companies to upgrade and design better jobs.

Nevertheless, he said it will not be easy for companies who rely heavily on foreign workers.

Mr Tharman said: “While many of them may be able to adapt and grow in less labour-intensive ways, others choose to downsize, switch to new business lines or move abroad.

“We must allow market forces to restructure our economy, so that efficient enterprises have more room to grow. The government cannot decide which companies should succeed or phase out.”

However, Mr Tharman added there will be broad-based support to help as many businesses as possible to retain their roots in Singapore and help them grow.

In addition, the government will also help Singaporean workers — who may be displaced — find new jobs.

In particular, small and medium sized enterprises will receive special help to upgrade their operations and enable them to attract Singaporean workers.

Moving forward, Mr Tharman said productivity must continue to be the key driver of Singapore’s growth and to push up incomes of citizens.

Citing an example, he said the same value of output produced by 10 workers in Singapore takes only seven workers to produce in the US or six in Switzerland.

Mr Tharman said if Singapore succeeded in achieving productivity growth of two to three per cent a year over this decade, the country should be able to sustain economic growth at three to five per cent.

For the fiscal year 2011, Singapore enjoyed an overall budget surplus of about S$2.3 billion — equivalent to 0.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

This is much higher than its initial estimate of an overall budget surplus of S$100 million.

The boost is attributed to stronger corporate profits, lower-than-expected claims for capital allowances as well as a sharp increase in stamp duties.

– CNA/wk

Channel News Asia