Friday, February 26, 2010



SYDNEY - A Malaysian consular employee was stabbed to death in a "ferocious attack" outside his Sydney home in a suspected road rage incident, officials said yesterday.

The 43-year-old man, who worked as a driver for the Malaysian consul-general, was beaten and stabbed in inner-city Leichhardt by two men late on Sunday despite an attempted intervention by a female passer-by.

"It was a ferocious attack, there's no doubt about that," said Detective Inspector Shane Woolbank.

The authorities said they were examining whether the attack stemmed from a road rage incident moments earlier involving a dark-coloured sedan, the police said.

Malaysian Consul-General Mohd Nasir Abu Hassan said the victim, a Malaysian who had recently become an Australian citizen, had worked as a driver for the consulate for three years.

"This is a very stressful time for all of us at the consulate," he told reporters.

"We got on very well with him and we were shocked when we heard this tragic news." AFP

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010



FUNCHAL (Madeira) - Portugal was expected to announce three days of mourning after flash flooding on the island of Madeira killed at least 42 people.

Troops and other rescue workers on Sunday continued to dig through mud-filled houses to find those missing. "It is very probable that we will find more bodies," said Mayor Miguel Albuquerque.

A shopping centre in Funchal was also completely destroyed and firefighters feared there were people trapped in an underground parking lot which was still under water. The government rushed medical and rescue teams including divers and sniffer dogs and relief supplies to the Atlantic island.

A special Cabinet meeting was to be held yesterday to discuss the period for mourning as well as financial aid to rebuild Madeira's destroyed roads and bridges. The regional government says it has no estimate yet of its financial needs.

Madeira's social issues affairs secretary Francisco Ramos told reporters the disruption to phone lines had made it difficult to establish how many people needed to be rescued because many of them just could not be contacted.

A morgue has been set up at the airport, where local official said they had not yet been able to identify all the bodies.

Football star Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeira's most famous native, expressed shock and promised help for relief efforts. "It is a huge catastrophe," said the world's most expensive footballer, who was born in a poor district of Funchal.

Britain said a British national was among those who died on Saturday when torrents of muddy water swamped buildings and streets on the island. It was the first confirmed death of a foreign national in the disaster. AFP

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010


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KL Skyline At Night in HDRImage via Wikipedia


KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is considering allowing refugees to work while awaiting resettlement abroad, a report said yesterday, after an industry group said the measure could help ease a labour shortage.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told The Star newspaper he would discuss the proposal with the foreign ministry and foreign embassies. "The suggestion might work but we need to look at it from all angles," he said.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman agreed, saying: "We have to study this in detail. It will benefit the country if refugees with certain expertise are allowed to work while they are here."

The United Nations refugee agency said there are almost 80,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia, most of whom fled persecution in Myanmar. Its spokesperson told AFP the agency was ready to support the initiative: "We believe that this is in the long-term humanitarian, economic and security interest of Malaysia, and consistent with Malaysia's own humanitarian tradition in helping those in need."

Ms Florida Sandanasamy, an official with local refugee rights group Tenaganita, also welcomed the work proposal as a first "small step".

Several groups, including the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, have called on the government to allow refugees to work, particularly in labour-strapped sectors, instead of importing more foreign workers. The country depends heavily on foreign labour in industries such as construction, manufacturing and farming.

Earlier this month, Malaysia announced it planned to issue ID cards to refugees - in a first move toward recognising them and sparing them from being arrested with other illegals. Agencies

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010

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Thursday, February 25, 2010


"Tharman Shanmugaratnam"Image via Wikipedia

SINGAPORE - With the overall dependency for all categories of foreign workers unchanged - employers can continue hiring the same number of foreign workers, but they will be paying more.

From July, foreign worker levies will be increased gradually over the next three years, starting with a "modest increase", said Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Levy rates will first be raised by $10 to $30 for most Work Permit holders. Further increases will be phased in until it reaches a total increase of about $100 on average per worker in manufacturing and services.

However, there will be a "larger increase" in the construction sector, where there is "much scope for productivity improvements," said Mr Shanmugaratnam.

The current levy for Work Permit holders ranges from $150 to $470.

S Pass workers will see the biggest jump in their levy rates. From the single $50 rate now, there will be two levy tiers introduced, with rates at $100 and $120. By July 2012, the rates will reach $150 and $250.

These changes will "provide clear incentives for businesses to restructure and upgrade their operations so as to rely less on low-skilled foreign workers", said Mr Shanmugaratnam. However, he assured businesses they will get financial support to invest in productivity and develop higher-skilled workers, especially Singaporeans.

Explaining the need to manage Singapore's dependence on foreign workers, the Finance Minister said they already comprise one-third of the total workforce, and there are limits to the numbers Singapore can absorb.

Having the levies will allow employers to continue hiring foreign workers, rather than be "constrained by fixed quotas", he said.

Head of SIM University's Business Analytics programme Randolph Tan noted that the Government had taken "a paradigm shift" to distinguish between productive workers, and those who were not.

However Mr Tan noted that for an S-Pass holder earning $3,000 - and engaging in higher-skilled work - the higher $150 levy would be just 5 per cent, "way too low to influence employers to favour local workers", he said.

Some employers were surprised at the steep overall increase in levies, but vice- chairman for the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association Hong Poh Hin felt it was better than tightening the quota as it gives businesses more "flexibility" in hiring decisions.

Lucky Joint Construction managing director Yeow Kian Seng said that without locals being interested in construction jobs, "we still have to "face the music" in order to keep projects going". But the company will move from labour-intensive projects to those involving cabling work that still attract locals.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry has urged the Government to "monitor its adverse impact" on local businesses - saying there is a need to be "more flexible and accommodating" in addressing manpower shortages in specific industries.

More details of the changes to the foreign levy will be released later this week.

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Haiti in need...


MIAMI - From his makeshift workstation, Mr Ryan Bank spends hours sifting through thousands of electronic cries for help from Haitian earthquake victims, many detailing the horrors of dead family members, hunger and homelessness.

"I'm hungry and I have no one," says one text message from a Haitian man living in a tent city with thousands of others whose homes were destroyed in the quake. "People are unable to breathe due to the smell of the dead," says another.

Mr Bank, a Coast Guard volunteer who runs his own technology company in Chicago, said he had received more than 18,000 messages.

"Most of them are utterly heartbreaking," he said while staring at a list of messages sent to him through a new emergency relief effort that relies on text messages and social networking websites to help coordinate humanitarian aid in Haiti.

Along with the United States State Department, the Pentagon and aid groups, as well as Haiti's leading mobile phone carrier and countless volunteers, the Coast Guard is part of an emergency contact network for Haitians to send text messages requesting aid. Those involved in the effort also monitor Facebook and Twitter postings for information indicating where supplies are needed.

To get the word out about the new program, the distress code number - 4636 - was sent to every mobile phone on the Haitian network. Word of the programme also went out on local Haitian radio stations.

Text messages from Haitians saying that they needed food and water helped identify a tent city that the American military and relief workers were previously unaware of, Mr Bank said.

And more Haitians are using the service every day, he said, noting the increase in volunteers needed to translate the messages from Haitian Creole into English.

Once the messages make it to his computer screen, Mr Bank passes the information along to military personnel at the United States Southern Command in South Florida, which in turn coordinates with American military personnel in Haiti to help them locate those in need.

The choice to base the emergency network on text messaging was because of the damage Haiti's telecommunications system suffered in the quake. Fallen cell towers and overloaded networks made telephone calls nearly impossible.

However, text messaging was still available and widely used among Haitians trying to locate friends and loved ones among the rubble. Even the least sophisticated of cellphones has a text-messaging option, noted Mr Josh Nesbit, co-founder of FrontlineSMS:Medic, an aid group that provides free open-source software communication for medical workers in developing countries. He helped set up the Haiti emergency program.

Since its conception just hours after the Jan 12 earthquake, the joint programme has expanded to include regular news and information updates to those who have reached out through the emergency line, telling them where to find food relief and seek medical attention. The New York Times

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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Whaling Banned, but not Diplomatic Ties...

International Whaling Commission LogoImage via Wikipedia


PERTH - Japan's Foreign Minister yesterday described Australia's threat of legal action against its controversial whaling activities as "unfortunate" but said he did not believe it would hurt ties.

"Should court action become a reality, then Japan will seek to represent its case to the IWC (International Whaling Commission) supporting the fact that its activities are legal and within the convention," said Mr Katsuya Okada on the second and final day of a visit to Australia.

Mr Okada, the first official from the new Japanese government to visit Australia, said however that the dispute should not affect relations between the two major trading partners.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last Friday bluntly warned Japan that it had until November to reduce its whale catch to zero, or face action in the International Court of Justice.

Australia, along with New Zealand, has consistently opposed Japan's killing of hundreds of whales each year, which it carries out via a loophole in an international moratorium that allows "lethal research".

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia remained hopeful of a diplomatic solution but he reiterated Mr Rudd's vow that Canberra would seek redress in the ICJ if talks failed.

Mr Smith said Canberra had decided to bring a proposal before the IWC to phase out whaling in the Great Southern Oceans over a reasonable period of time. The case would be taken to the IWC in the very near future as soon as today, he added.

Before Mr Okada left Tokyo, he had insisted that Japan's whaling activities were legal, carried out in public waters and in accordance with international conventions.

He and Mr Rudd had a "frank discussion on whaling" during their Saturday meeting in Sydney. AFP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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It Was Simpler Then; Now Employers Have To Undergo Course As Well


KUALA LUMPUR - From next month, all new foreign maids in Malaysia and their employers must attend a half-day course aimed at improving working relations between them, reported The New Straits Times.

The course that is being organised by the Human Resource Ministry is also aimed at reducing the number of runaway maids and physical abuse by employers. The maids and their employers must attend the course within six months of employment.

Human Resource Minister Dr S Subramaniam said the ministry found most employers to be responsible and supportive but "there is this 1 per cent who tarnish the country's image".

Speaking after launching a 30-page booklet on foreign maids on Saturday, he said the ministry also hopes maid employment agencies can do more: "We want them to act as a middle person and look into the management of the employer and the maid. They should also be able to counsel both the parties."

At present, agencies are obliged to replace a maid if the employer finds the helper unsuitable or if the maid runs away.

The course, which will be held during weekends, will also look into the contract's terms and conditions for salaries, working conditions, tips and how to end a contract.

Those attending the course will receive a book with hotline numbers, government addresses and phone numbers.

Asked if the ministry agrees with the recent call by Indonesia for a minimum payment of RM800 ($331.50) a month for an Indonesian maid, Dr Subramaniam said the ministry has rejected the demand.

"We will allow the market to decide on the pay because if we allow one country to decide on the pay, we will also have to entertain others," he said.

There are about 216,000 foreign maids in Malaysia with some 2,000 new maids entering the country every month.

Most are from Indonesia, followed by maids from the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. Agencies

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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The hard truth about raising a family in SG...

Floats and dancesImage via Wikipedia


SINGAPORE - Young Singaporean couples want to have children - but they are apprehensive about taking the first step towards parenthood or delaying it for practical reasons.

Most want to focus on careers and being together, while some want more family support. The cost of having babies is also an issue.

These were the key findings of a survey of 50 young Singaporeans at focus group discussions conducted by voluntary welfare organisation, I Love Children (ILC) last year.

ILC president Joni Ong was not surprised.

"The results show that, as expected, establishing their career, waiting for their finances to be built up, even trying to find more time for couplehood - those were some of the reasons that came up."

So, why have the survey? "The whole idea is it is going to serve as an impetus for us to have a quantitative study, some time towards the end of this year, where we're going to survey 1,000 young people on how we can help them," Mrs Ong explained.

Even before that, the VWO is coming up with its Maybe Baby campaign in April, where it wants those between 21 and 39 to start talking about parenthood.

"We want them to come forth and share with us their issues, whether it be work-life balance, whether it be career establishing, and things like that.

"We want to have a forum to discuss such things so there'll be seminars, there'll be life talk shows, there'll be expert advice panelists," said Mrs Ong.

The campaign follows the Prime Minister's recent call to couples to have more babies.

Singapore's resident total fertility rate slid to 1.23 last year - the lowest level ever. This means the country was short of at least 10,000 babies.

To help couples get over their parenting fears, an ILC bus highlighting the joys of parenthood will make its way around Singapore to the heartland shopping malls as well as the community centres from next month onwards.

The revamped three-year-old ILC bus made its debut with 70 young couples and Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports over at the Chingay Parade on Saturday.

A one-stop Web portal will also be launched in May to share parenting tips and the kinds of financial assistance available.

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

BEING CONTENTED: Living without the frills

A block of HDB flats along Bukit Batok West Av...Image via Wikipedia


SINGAPORE - There are more people living in public housing - 2.92 million in 2008 according to latest figures - and almost all of them are satisfied to be where they are.

In the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) latest Sample Household Survey, over 95 per cent of households said they had no complaints with their flats or neighbourhood.

And these sentiments were shared across households of different flat types, length of stay, tenure of flat, age groups, ethnicity, educational qualifications and household income, said the HDB.

The survey - carried out every five years - showed that the number of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who are flat dwellers has increased 2.7 per cent since 2003. They now make up 96 per cent of the total population in HDB flats.

Location, transportation network and provision of estate facilities were listed by residents as what they liked most about their environment. What they disliked most were the state of cleanliness and maintenance, and noise

By and large - at 81 per cent - most homeowners were proud of their flats. They also felt that their flats were value for money, with 86 per cent of them telling the HDB so.

The average resident is also now older at 37 years old, compared to 30 years about two decades ago. And longer life expectancy has also resulted in the proportion of residents aged 65 years and above increasing from 5.4 per cent in 1987 to 9.8 per cent in 2008.

Residents are now also better educated too, and a third of them now tertiary-educated. More are also now in white-collar jobs, up from almost 30 per cent a decade ago to almost 35 per cent in 2008.

Reflecting growing affluence, the average HDB household income from work is now $5,680, up from $4,238 five years ago.

Over the next two months, HDB will release more findings on the well-being of the elderly and families, and residents' sense of social well-being. MUSTAFA SHAFAWI

From TODAY, Friday, 19-Feb-2010


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