My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Blatherings on Razor TV

Had an out-of-the-blue interview with Razor TV on handphone etiquette.

Producer and Interviewer was Ms Goh Shi Ting

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

OTGV #59 - GM Food

Broadcast Date: 07/06/04

The European Union has lifted its controversial 1998 ban on Genetically-Modified or GM food.

Environmentalists called GM food "Frankenstein food" as these are plants that have been tweaked genetically to be more parasite and climate resistant or provide either greater yields or better taste.

The biotech companies and most governments say GM food is safe and it'll feed the world's hunger.

But consumers have reacted suspiciously saying that the long-term health risks are yet unknown.

Hi, Welcome to On the Grapevine with me, Chong Ching Liang.

As far as GM-food is concerned, a recent workshop for regional stakeholders is significant.

CEO of the Agrifood and Veterinary Authority of Singapore Dr Ngiam Tong Tau.

"The First Asean workshop for testing for genetically modified food is an important step for Asean members to have a deeper understanding of GM-food. It is also necessary for us to have methods to detect GM food coming into this region. That's why that we are very glad that at this workshop there are experts from different countries here to inform us in the advances in testing for genetically modified food."

As the world heads into an era dominated by biotechnology, the issue of quality control and food safety becomes crucial, hence GM testing is now considered indispensable in many regions.

In regions like Europe and Japan where there're great consumer suspicions of GM food, a rigorous test is written into the law.

Dr Guy van dan Eede of the European Commission's Institute of Health and Consumer Protection.

"For us within the European community, testing is essential, there is a new law into force on the 19th of April, we need to have testing procedures for every GMO that's being place on the European market. My organisation, the joint research centre of European commission actually checks the validity of such a method."

Proper testing and policing will ensure that only GM-food that's been certified safe by the World Health Organisation or individual countries will reach our neighbourhood supermarkets.

Karen Chan, a local consumer and expectant mother, says she wouldn't mind eating GM-food if stringent checks exist.

"I am trusting the authorities are giving us sufficient knowledge or at least are disseminating sufficient accurate information to consumers like us. There is a certain level of trust that we have to have in terms of it is a safe product to consume. Ultimately if it is safe, I guess I am not against taking it."

But in countries like Europe, Japan, and other developed western economies, food retailers are require to label GM food products clearly.

Dr van dan Eede thinks this will eventually become a global movement and not just a European idiosyncrasy.

"Labelling requirement as they are applied in the European Union is also taken over by a number of international like Codex Alimentarius. I also hear that a number of non-EU countries, even the United States, Japan. It is certainly the case in Australia and New Zealand so it is not that the EU is an island in terms of labelling. There may be a tendency towards world-wide labelling."

GM-food in the form of soya, corn and canola oil has been in Singapore the last four to five years.

But many Singaporeans don't know about them being GM food as they have never been labelled as such.

Dr Ngiam of the A-V-A explains why Singapore hasn't adopted this practice.

"The labeling of GM food is something being discussed at the international level, at WHO and Codex Alimentarius [Commission] and we are participating in this discussion because it is quite a complex procedures to label and it is very difficult to detect GM material in compound food and therefore that has to be sorted out first and we will adhere to international guidelines on this when it comes about."

But the situation here in Singapore may change as people get savvier and desire more information about the food they eat.

Dr van dan Eede feels this trend of wanting to know more is a natural progression.

"More and more are concern with not just GMOs but in general people would like to know what kind of food they are eating, where the food is coming from. After a number of problems that we have seen with food, people tend to have more and more interests in the quality and the origins of their food. Labelling and traceability may be a solution to that."

Singapore may only be moving towards clear labelling of GM food only if a world standard has been reached because of certain constraints, highlights Dr Ngiam.

"We cannot insist GM producing countries to label because Singapore is a very small market for food and we don't produce our own. It will be quite difficult for us to access sources of food in the world."

While it may be slower in coming, most if not all Singaporeans will one day ask for the labelling of GM food.

Ms Karen Chan with the reasons why.

"I would like to know if they have been genetically altered or not so that if I have young children or the elderly or parents who may choose not to eat it for whatever the health reasons, then at least that gives me the choice."

The old cliché goes, we are what we eat.

So perhaps, it isn't too much to ask for, when we ask to know what exactly is it that we are eating.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

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European Union FAQ on GM Food Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Agrifood and Veterinary Authority Singapore Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

World Health OrganisationPhotobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Codex Alimentarius Commission

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OTGV #58 - Fundraising

Broadcast Date: 31/05/04

Singapore is a country that is fiercely proud that it isn't a welfare state.

It also seeks to be a country where the wealthy help out the poor.

Where the government doesn't provide, the non-profit sector welfare organisation will step in.

But where will the funds come from?

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

For the longest time, the non-profit sector depended on a central body Community Chest to raise their funds for them.

But as some grew savvier, non-profit organisations or NPOs start to raise their own funds.

NPOs like NKF has became wildly successful and are subsequently targetted by the public for veering into the area of using professional fundraisers.

So is the old system still useful?

Executive Director of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre or NVPC, Mrs Tan Chee Koon.

"The Comm Chest model still has its usefulness especially for the smaller charities that don't have the benefit of sufficient resources themselves to brand, to market, to brand their cause. Having said that, there is a need for CommChest to also re-invent itself. One reason for this is that more and more donors want to dictate where their money goes to. So under that kind of environment, the CommChest equivalent organisations have to see how they can accommodate donors' advice."

The Singapore now is different from the olden days.

These days Singapore sees massive television charity galas, direct mailers and myriad charity events.

Is there a danger of compassion fatigue?

"Compassion fatigue? No I don't think so. It is for us then to put the need across to the giving public or the ones who are not already giving but who could be on the fringe, who just need to be told that there is an opportunity for them to give to and I think it is for the NPOs to be able to enunciate that need and not necessarily just tug on people's emotions but sometimes also to make a good business case as to why it makes sense for the grant makers to come in and support them."

It is generally accepted by the NPO community that fund-raising is a tedious and awkward exercise.

Most feel that having to worry about and to seek funds detracts from their core services.

But some, especially those with the backing of religious societies or the marketing clout of NKF don't seem to worry too much.

Dr Lee Tuck Siang, CEO of the Thye Hwa Kuang Moral Society who runs some 50 family service centres, home for the aged and the Ang Mo Kio Hospital.

"We do not have much problems fund-raising. We do not go out all the way to fund-raise. We believe in live and let live. So we just fund-raise when there is a need but since we took over Ang Mo Kio Hospital 2002, the deficit is 2.57 million per year and with the recent deduction in subvention, we may have to go for fundraising."

Others find that it is easy to raise funds when donors think it is a one-time charge of paying for the construction of a facility.

President of the Hospice Care Association, Dr Seet Ai Mee.

"For most fund-raising, it is very easy to fund-raise for a building project even for renovation, there is a tendency for people to give to a certain object but for people to give towards supports, and towards salaries of doctors and nurses, it is not very common."

This is something that NVPC hopes very much to change says Mrs Tan.

"What we want to see is corporate donors go beyond programme funding into infrastructural overheads needs of these new initiatives or new programmes. These programmes need people to run it but traditionally, the givers have fought shy of funding overheads. So we also trying to encourage companies to take a strategic approach to giving, empower these organisations especially in their start-up years, by helping to cover whether its their staff, their rent, so that they can concentrate on delivering their services to their beneficiaries."

If NPVC is to succeed, it will certainly be much welcome by groups such as Action for Aids or AFA.

The funds raised by AFA go into subsidies for AIDS sufferers’ treatment.

The medication is incredibly expensive and the group estimates over half of the AIDS patients here can't afford the tab.

And yet, AFA's Brenton Wong says their outreach is small and he explains why.

"It's been difficult and because we have been dealing with this particular stigmatised subject of HIV/AIDS many people do not want to be involved in fundraising for us because they find that it is a topic that is not socially acceptable. And there are very few people who understand the issues as well and they tend to be judgmental so they do not give as freely as to other charities."

For groups like AFA, smaller NPOs or startup NPOs, NVPC hopes that there will be more horizontal cooperation to pool their resources together when it comes to raising funds.

Mrs Tan.

"We are trying to encourage is for some of these smaller, like-minded charities perhaps in the same cause to band together and jointly promote their interests as a cause so that when givers give, they give to maybe 3, 4 , 5 of these charities as a way to go."

Right now, an NPO has the best chance of being surviving if it enlists a high-profile political or entertainment celebrity to help it source for funds.

NPVC hopes that when the Singaporean society will mature as a giving society, it will be the NPO's mission that draws the cash from Singaporeans,

and not who is supporting them or what prizes they can win to draw them into parting with their cash.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

Community Chest at National Council of Social Service Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Hospice Care Association Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Ang Mo Kio/Thye Hwa Kuang Moral Society Hospital Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Action for Aids Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

OTGV #57 - Aids Memorial

Broadcast Date: 17/05/04

There are a few reasons why HIV/AIDS patients aren't called patients, but sufferers.

They suffer the burden of knowing that their affliction has no cure;
That the only medication that can prolong their life may be far too expensive for them to buy;
And that the society will stigmatise them.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

In Singapore, the media highlights the disease only in two occasions, the AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 16th, and World AIDS Day on December first.

Action for Aids or AFA organiser for the Candlelight Memorial, Kelvin Wee on its significance.

"May 16th is the date that everyone in the world will be observing the AIDS Candlelight Memorial. It's an event that is held in over 85 countries and by 3000 communities. Singapore is just one of that many that's just doing it."

AFA's Vice-President Brenton Wong says it's the reluctance by the society to deal with HIV bug openly that hampers Singapore's fight against AIDS.

World Health Organisation's Director General Lee Jong Wook on why the world's losing the battle against the AIDS pandemic.

"We've been talking about prevention using condom without talking about mentioning the ability of medicine. Nobody told them that this is too expensive for them to buy so that you just go back and wait and die but people in the other parts of the world can live another ten, 15 years more. Nowadays, eight thousand people a day dying is equivalent to 30 jumbo jets crashing every day."

The costs of one year of HIV/AIDS medication in the form of the "triple cocktails" of required anti-retroviral may cost up to $10 thousand yearly.

Not many in Singapore can afford this exorbitant price tag so some go over to Thailand where the cheaper generic drugs are available.

Generic drugs are cheaper copies of brand-name drugs that cost about US$400.

The World Trade Organisation allows generic drugs to be produce if HIV/AIDS is classified as public healthcare threat by the country.

AFA's Brenton says developing countries have taken advantage of this provision but not developed economies like Singapore.

"The Doha declaration which states very specifically that it is public health over everything else which very few countries invoke because of the threat of sanctions from the US. Well, basically Singapore has signed off most of its rights with the American free trade agreement. So it is countries like Brazil who have flouted those rules by declaring an emergency and then producing their own drugs and they give 100 percent to their patients. And this is a developing country."

The UN health agency head Dr Lee Jong Wook talks about the W-H-O plans known as "3 by 5", to take the battle to the HIV/AIDS virus.

"Three million comes from the number 6 million who need the medicine today. People said at the time that this is a really ambitious, unattainable plan. When my staff presented this to me, I was under whelmed because we need to provide the drugs for six million people. Depending on where you stand, this can be overly ambitious or it is really too small."

Thailand, the country most hit by HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia now has access to generic drugs

The sufferers here who couldn't afford the HIV drugs here but can afford to travel go to Thailand for the generic drugs.

But the sheer inconvenience of this may result in some of the HIV sufferers lapse in their medication.

This will create a more serious problem of cultivating drug-resistance strains of the HIV bug says Brenton.

"From our experience in talking to HIV-positive people in Singapore, we know that more than half of them cannot afford name-brand anti-retroviral so many of them either have to look for it elsewhere or go without medication. When a person takes HIV medication, it has to be for life to suppress the virus. Now if a person does not consistently take the drug, the chances of resistance developing is much higher. It has public health implications because if this person infects another person, then it would be a resistance strain."

That, incidentally, is Dr Lee Jong Wook's greatest fear.

"At this stage we have to be very very careful that this '3 By 5' if unwisely implemented can be an invitation for massive scale of drug resistance. With a limited number of drugs still effective for HIV-AIDS, this will be a real catastrophe."

Dr Lee says the government and public health planners must get into the act.

In Singapore, because of the social stigma and the costs of medication a HIV-positive diagnosis is viewed as a semi-death sentence.

This sense of fatalism that accompanies a diagnosis presents the most danger to society.

The existence of this mindset won't help the public health planners in their fight against HIV/AIDS says Brenton.

"I have spoken to many people and they say why bother to go for testing when I can't afford treatment in Singapore and there's no support anyway. So it shows up in our figures because more than half our patients who discover that they are HIV-positive discover it only when they are very sick and they are hospitalised and the doctors suggests an HIV-test. That means there are many people out there who are HIV-positive but do not know it because they do not want to be tested."

If not all "at-risk" Singapore residents go for HIV screening, then the total population of sufferers in Singapore will never be known.

This makes the silent risk even more silent, and even riskier.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

UNAIDS Image hosted by

Ministry of Health Image hosted by

Action for AIDS Image hosted by

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OTGV #56 - WHO AIDS Fight

Broadcast Date : 10/05/04

HIV/AIDS is an infectious disease that has plagued the human society for more than two decades.

The World Health Organisation or W-H-O has been leading the fight since the beginning, but the UN agency is better known for its role in fighting SARS.

This is an indication of the taboo associated with the illness and the low priority the world gives to HIV/AIDs as a public health threat.

Hi, Welcome to On the Grapevine with me, Chong Ching Liang.

Some 8,000 people or 30 jumbo jets worth of passengers are dying from HIV/AIDS everyday

It is no wonder that W-H-O Director General, Lee Jong Wook, was in town recently, focused on this issue for his public lecture here

"Right now 40 million people around the world are infected with HIV-AIDS and 6 million people need the medicine today but only about 50 thousand people have access in the developing world. In India, officially there are 5 million people; In China, last year for the first time, said there are at least 850 thousand living with the virus; Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia these are countries struggling with the virus and Singapore is right in the middle. Clearly, this is knocking at the gate."

The current W-H-O HIV/AIDS initiative is snazzily known as the 3-by-5 campaign

It aims to supply medication to three million HIV-AIDS sufferers by 2005.

Most HIV-AIDS campaigns have been restricted to public education and prevention, but Dr Lee says this has to change.

"This is the world's worst public health threat that the world had faced. I believe Black Death in the 15th, 16th century in Europe was probably less significant problem than HIV-AIDS today. We believe, in WHO, that we have to focus very strongly on prevention to deal with this problem. But now we have to also introduce treatment. 'Without health, there is no development'. "

HIV is a virus that mutates very quickly to defend against any medication, so effective medications are almost always new and experimental.

This creates the single largest obstacle to treating HIV/AIDS in the public health sector -- the problem of expensive drugs.

Here's a Newsradio 938 listener's contribution to the station's World Aids Day radio forum last year.

"Dennis Yim [DY]: Let's take a caller right now. Victor good morning to you. Victor: Er Morning. DY: Yes what would you like to tell us? Victor: Those who catch AIDS is in a terrible state. The cocktail is very expensive you see. If they can't afford it don't know how they continue their treatment."

So how achievable is the W-H-O's 3-By-5 campaign, given the sheer costs of treatment?

Dr Lee says there's been outside help for public health planners.

"Today it will be about ten thousand dollars to treat one person per year because R&D costs are in the price. Many activist groups fought for many years to lower this drug price. Now after 20 years, generic drugs are offering the same combination of drugs at 300 dollars per year."

Generic or cheaper versions of HIV/AIDS medications are governed by strict intellectual property agreement endorsed by the World Trade Organization.

However, Dr Lee says there are abuses to this system.

"The TRIPPS agreement at the DOHA declaration there was some intellectual property exemptions for those drugs used for public health purpose. This will only work if rules are observed by everybody. Some European countries provided drugs to certain countries in Africa and in no time these drugs re-cycled back to their own market in Netherlands. And if this happen, it will be a great dis-incentive for anybody to provide drugs at reduced price."

But there is a reason why such black markets exist.

The lower-income HIV/AIDS sufferers in the developed countries can't afford the 10,000-US-dollar-medicine bill.

Vice-President for Singapore's HIV/AIDS activist group, Action for AIDS Brenton Wong, highlights the plight of sufferers in Singapore.

"More than half our patients cannot afford the triple drug therapy in Singapore. That is why many are going to Thailand for treatment. The 3-in-1 drug costs about 60 to 70 a month and in Singapore pay almost 900 to a thousand dollars for that."

The poor and the rich in Thailand gets help because they have access to generic drugs.

Singapore is a different case, as Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan explained at a Newsradio's radio forum last year.

"We have strict patent laws and as a result only patented medicine is sold. And the costs of patented medicine is determined by the company that makes the medication. Generic drugs available in Thailand are very cheap and Singaporeans do go to Thailand to buy generic drugs as a result. But that's not because there's a big subsidy but because of patent laws."

Dr Lee agrees that the discrepancies in the pricing of HIV/AIDS medications are hard to fathom.

"Drug prices are a big mystery. The more you know, the more you don't know. One example, the price of polio vaccine which is manufactured in France and purchased by UNICEF and used for us in the field, is 11 US cents. The same vaccine, you have to pay maybe twenty or thirty dollars in a more advanced market. Exactly the same vaccine!"

But if you don't give the giant pharmaceutical companies their profits, they won't do the research.

On the other hand, when these companies recover their research costs through the retail price of their products, you deny the latest drugs to a sizable group of patients in developed economies.

How's that for a Catch-22 situation?

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

UNAIDS Image hosted by

Ministry of Health Image hosted by

Action for AIDS Image hosted by

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Monday, May 01, 2006

OTGV #55 - New DownTown

Broadcast Date: 03/05/04

The future may be more different than you think. First, there may no longer be something as clear-cut as a Central Business District or CBD anymore.

People will live and play near the very place where they work in the New Downtown.

But can you afford this luxury?

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

The government means business when it says it wants the Marina Bay to develop from nothingness to a district of an ilk that Singapore has never seen before.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

"The Downtown at Marina Bay is slated to become a unique business and financial hub, integrated with quality housing, recreational and leisure facilities, providing a total live-work-play environment. The development of the Downtown at Marina Bay will require the coordinated efforts of all agencies. The Government has tasked the URA to be the development agency to champion and focus efforts on the development."

He also revealed plans to pump some 300 million dollars through the building of infrastructures and facilities to kick start the new Downtown at Marina Bay project.

"The opening up of the bay through the proposed infrastructural and low-intensity uses will complement the development of the BFC. So that in around 10 to 15 years, besides prime office place, it will offer a variety of housing options in the heart of the city, with magnificent views out across the waterfront and parks and the city's attractions."

Mr Mah says the old CBD must also change or face a decline.

"Many buildings in the existing CBD actually have not realised their full development potential. Developers have always looked at commercial offices, not even retail for the CBD areas because of the relative pricing. But I think with the nature of the area changing, I expect some of them may be viable for conversion to residential. And as more people get used to the idea of inner city living, that may be one viable alternative."

This inner city is gradually being coaxed into transforming into a place of residence.

What impact will it have on the society?

First of all, land will be so expensive that only the very rich can afford making their homes at the new or old Downtown.

Managing Director of Colliers International Dennis Yeo expects to see a neighbourhood where there may be less Singaporeans than expatriates.

"Yes there will be a higher population coming from overseas. In fact it will be attractive to expatriates that is working in Singapore that might have might have a few years contract working in Singapore. It is quite possible that some of these foreign expatriates would purchase a property if they feel the location is right and if they feel that this is really an investment especially a downtown, Manhattan style of living."

One wonders if that the New Downtown if it arrives will become such an elitist neighbourhood where only the well-heeled can saunter.

Mr Mah hopes not.

"It is not a placed designed for well-heeled Singaporeans or visitors alone. I mean, everybody can come and enjoy themselves. In fact I would go further and say if it is just catering for the well-heeled alone, I don't think you are going to get a critical mass. So that place must be for everybody."

In a best case scenario, and the one most hoped for by the public planners, the New Downtown is for everyone, rich and poor.

For the heartlanders, or your average Singaporeans in the HDB suburbs , the new Downtown will still be a source of pride and a place where there are shops to browse, parks to relax in and bayside spots for their family to enjoy.

President of the Singapore Institute of Architects John Ting suggest a way to bring the posh city dwellers and the heartlanders together.

"One is to integrate the two slowly at the fringes where they interface. You can never merge the two into one. There will be a lot of them who will be uncomfortable if they are totally thrown into the deep end so to speak. To mix with the Cosmos. Now what you do is you develop certain interface areas where it is up tot he cosmos and the heartlanders to mix and then you allow that activities to eventually organically over time. You don't force them. The idea is to create a nexus for their activities to change and to happen rather than forcing one to become the other."

But will the private and public housing types in the HDB heartlands see a drastic drop in their values and their locales transformed into second-class neighbourhoods.

Mr Yeo doesn't think so and here's the reason why.

"When you look at the population that have a family of two, three children, in the middle income, they may not be able to afford the New Downtown. There may be some competition for 99 years in say the Orchard, District 9 and 15 areas. But suburban areas say in Woodlands or even Tiong Bahru, the prices will generally be quite well maintained because they do have their catchment buyer. People pick certain location because maybe they were brought up there, maybe their families is still there. In that sense, they still have their own attractions for the buyers. And in any case, suburban areas tend to be freehold whereas what you get in the New DownTown will all be 99 years."

But one things for sure, the majority of native born Singaporeans will be on the outside looking in at the marvels and convenience of inner city living.

What the social impact this will have will perhaps sustain many an interesting studies by sociologists and other social scientists.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


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Ministry of National Development Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

OTGV #54 - Heritage Tours

Broadcast Date: 19/04/04

Uniquely Singapore, the new advertising sting adopted by the Singapore Tourism Board. But can Singapore live up to the title?

Chong Ching Liang ponders this question.


STB's new brand campaign "Uniquely Singapore" is chosen as it's designed to highlight the country's blend of traditions, culture and modernity.

But some sardonic Singaporeans have questioned -- Just what is so Unique about Singapore?

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

Some tour agencies see the branding as a good start.

Journeys is a heritage tour agency and its founder, Jeyathurai gives his take on the re-branding of Singapore.

"Because they are trying to focus on what is unique about Singapore so it is important that the investments that goes in actually amplifies and enhances what is unique about Singapore so that it cannot be replicated somewhere else."

Others such as Ow Yong Kit Fun, of JTB tour agency feel it's about time that Singapore starts working at developing some kind of character.

"We often received feedback from our tour planners in Japan saying that Singapore has no identity of its own. Only Merlion is not a big impact for them. I hope there will be more and more aggressive promotions on Singapore in Japan targeting repeaters. You know they travel to Hong Kong many times, they travel to Bangkok many times but Singapore, only once is enough."

But a glitzy campaign won't help if there isn't any substance to what you are advertising.

One of Singapore's pioneer architects and now urban thinker and writer William Lim recalls an interview he had with me some four years ago.

"Years ago, last time we interviewed we say let's preserve Changi Prison. I say let's use it as prison hotel. A few of us also mention that in serious discussion, in interviews everywhere. Now we are perhaps in a process of tearing them down. Are they listening? I mean why are they not preserving Changi Prison?"

Back then, Mr Lim had said Changi Prison won't be a white elephant if it's converted into the world's most unique youth hostel.

Some analysts think it's a radical idea but it may well work with heritage and tourism going hand-in-hand in a brazen combination.

But we may never find out if it'll ever work as all that may be left of Changi Prison is just one segment of its outer walls.

The historic clock tower where Lord Mountbatten announced the Japanese surrender to the prisoners-of-war may be gone.

Old prisons have a certain character that help the Uniquely Singapore slogan says Mr Jeyathurai.

"Saving Changi Prison or other heritage sites can easily turn into tourists dollars and therefore has economic utility. You cannot even get a ticket into Alcatraz nowadays; it is so difficult and thinks of the thousand of people that visit it. The economic argument is an argument that cannot be used for saving Singaporean heritage because by creating an identity that is uniquely Singaporean everybody would come. If you are the same as every other place in the world, what is the point of coming to Singapore?"

Alcatraz has its Al Capones, Changi Prison -- its Adrian Lims and other notorious criminals that are the subjects of many a local drama serial.

But more importantly, it is the closest Singapore has to a truly international heritage site, explains Mr Jeyathurai.

"Changi Prison Singapore not only has the story of what prison life is about and to see what colonial prison were like, but it goes all the way back to the WWII, and it connects with so many other countries who is interested in the history of what their soldiers and civilians have gone through in Singapore."

The problem is STB doesn't own any of the land titles for these heritage sites.

The various stakeholders do.

So for Changi Prison, the Home Affairs Ministry must be consulted and overall, there's still the Urban Redevelopment Authority to convince.

The URA makes all the master plan to ensure Singapore's physical development is smooth, through what it thinks are timely buildings and demolishing.

Take for instance, the older one or two-room HDB flats in town, themselves an interesting social heritage sites, will be gone at some time.

Mr William Lim wonders why there isn't an alternative to "tear" and "rebuild".

"Why tear them down? They are right in the centre of the city. Why don't just let go and say, okay you guys, you can do whatever you like, you can have a boarding place there, you can have a shop there, artists can stay there, artist studios can operate there, it becomes an energy area. One of the biggest problems with Singapore is that we are too damn efficient. So these areas are immediately being "corrected" -- re-built, tear down for who-ever it is so that you don't have these rather run-down places."

Think that's upsetting for the heritage activist?

Just listen to what Mr Lim has to say about rumblings that the Newton Hawker Centre may soon make way for more condominiums.

"You find there's some vibrancy in certain areas which the combination is highly complex and location as well as circumstantial specific. If you find there is an exciting place, plan round it. Don't disturb it. Newton Hawker Centre is an example. Nobody understands why. The food is good but not that good, there is better food. It's terribly expensive, why everybody wants to go. It cannot be explained. And you say 'oh, the thing is old-fashioned and some of the pavement is breaking up' but nobody complains. Best thing for the planners, you see good things don't touch it!"

Newton used to be the congregation place for Singapore's musicians and artistes.

One expatriate travel writer even called it Singapore's Greenwich Village.

Changi Prison was the place British and Australian tourists would flock to relive how they or someone they knew, once suffered in the second great war of modern human history.

Strip away all these physical icons of national character and heritage away in the name of development -- what else is there to make Singapore truly unique?

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

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Singapore Tourism Board Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Journeys Pte Ltd Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Changi Chapel and Museum Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

OTGV #53 - Green Cabs

Broadcast Date : 22/03/04

How clean is the air we breathe?

You'll be surprised to find out that even on a clear day, there are contaminants infiltrating our bodies.

These contaminants are the latest target for eradication by the Environment Ministry.

Hi, Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

The European Union has set limits for diesel engines' emissions through a series of directives known as Euro I to IV.

Diesel engines in Singapore now conforms to Euro II but will leap frogged to Euro 4 standards come October 2006, as announced by Environment Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament.

Environment Ministry's top civil servant Tan Yong Soon explains Mr Lim's objectives.

"He mentioned that we will do two things. First we are giving this two and a half year lead time for the industry to plan to prepare itself for the new standard. And secondly, we will try and kick start the CNG, compressed natural gas vehicle so that by 2006 October, there is this viable option."

Head of Planning and Development at the National Environment Agency Joseph Hui on how to get people to switch to CNG and Euro-4 vehicles even before implementation date.

"In order to encourage them to bring it earlier you must provide the incentives to make it worth their while. From first of January 06 to 30th of September 06, they will continue to enjoy the 80% rebate of OMV. In the case of CNG and Euro IV buses and commercial vehicles, they will continue to be ARF exempt all the way up till 30-09-06."

Early adoption will be better for public health says Mr Hui as he explains the invisible threat of the older diesel engine emissions.

"This pollutant is matter that is less than 2.5 micron in size and this is what we called PM 2.5. And it is so small that one particle is less than one twentieth the diameter of a human hair. You can't see it with the naked eye. And because of its fineness, it is able to get into our lungs and reach places that bigger particles cannot reach. As a result, it has a more significant impact on health. It increases the risk of bronchitis; particularly those people who are asthmatic are more vulnerable."

This threat becomes even more significant when taking into account the Singapore Asthma Association's estimate that the illness hits one in five children and one in twenty adults here.

NEA's Director General, Loh Ah Tuan on the damage done by the current and older diesel engines.

"If we took a total amount of PM2.5 in Singapore, about 50% comes from diesel engines. So therefore we have to address this."

But the new Euro-4 engine that's required of all diesel vehicles after October 2006 isn't the cleanest option, CNG engines may be cleaner.

However, Mr Tan Yong Soon, says the government has no preference between the two.

"CNG hardly emit PM2.5 so in that aspect it is a better option but we are not prescribing an option. We are quite comfortable if a company want to adopt Euro-IV. What we particularly want now is to create CNG as a feasible option. Otherwise, if we don't introduce this policy, CNG is non-feasible. Over the last two years, there were hardly more than twenty thirty vehicles."

While the 2006 Euro-4 regulations target all diesel vehicles, Mr Hui explains why taxis are a natural target.

"Taxis are very heavily used, they are on the roads virtually 24 hours a day so in terms of emissions, it is significant compared to any other types of vehicles."

The environment stands to gain the most if all taxi cabs and buses adopt CNG vehicles.

But while CNG engines are much cheaper than the prohibitively expensive hydrogen fuel cells, they are still more expensive than diesel ones.

Comfort-Delgro that operates the two taxi giants Comfort and CityCabs told me that "even with the incentives, operating costs will be significantly higher than under current conditions".

In short, it doesn't think buying CNG taxis is a good business move.

This is in spite of CNG taxis being given more perks such as the waiving of the annual $5000 special tax and additional 20% rebate of the over the next 2 years.

But cost isn't the only issue.

Right now there's only one CNG refueling station and it’s in the middle of restricted access Jurong Island.

Comfort-Delgro's spokesperson Tammy Tan says refueling will be a great inconvenience because CNG tanks have smaller capacity and cabbies will have to top up twice daily.

A local CNG supplier, Gas Supply Private Limited is willing to open alternative refueling points but with a caveat.

It's spokesperson Leong Chee Wei.

"If we can get taxi companies to commit to a long-term ramp-up rate to convert their taxi fleet to CNG taxis, taking the total figures to say about 3 to 4 thousand taxis within the next two years, we are quite comfortable to kick start the CNG project."

A classic chicken and egg situation.

Shouldn't the government incentives the supply side further by providing incentives to gas companies as well?

Mr Tan Yong Soon

"What we are trying to incentivise here is to create the market, the demand the gas companies need not ask for any incentives. They will go and supply. That's why we have this package to induce the taxi companies to calculate and say 'yes, its worth bringing in CNG vehicles' over the next two years. When they make that decision, that is the best incentives the companies are looking for."

But will the market bite?

No public transport companies or fuel providers seem willing to think out of the cash box and see the wider picture of social responsibility.

It may well be when 2006 rolls around, Singapore still won't see any significant increases in CNG vehicles.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

OTGV #52 - Eldercare 2

Broadcast Date: 08/03/04

Care for aged relatives.

The state can only do so much.

What the state and society can offer only compliments what the family itself can provide.

Hi, welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang as I take another look at the issues surrounding eldercare.

At a recent SingHealth-organised national health conference, Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan highlighted the importance of proper disease management.

"The challenges we face are to better prevent chronic diseases, detect such diseases early, prevent complications arising from disease conditions and ensure that every Singaporean has the means to provide integrated, holistic and seamless care. While much of the components and tools are already in place in the clusters, much still remains to be done in terms of developing disease management as a cost-effective and efficient model of delivery of care for patients with multiple medical conditions."

And the elderly are most likely to be the ones with multiple medical conditions.

Yet some elderly Singaporeans are bed-ridden and their family members have given up on taking them to a doctor for proper disease management.

You can't blame the relatives because it's gotten too tough for them both financially and psychologically.

This isn't a problem yet but Singapore, in a decade or more, will see its population of elders double or even tripled.

Head of Geriatric Medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, Carol Goh is looking over her shoulder at the looming problems.

"And they are getting quite scary. We are facing a situation [where] we are not growing as fast as a population but the percentage of elderly is growing extremely fast. And that's the worrying thing because all these elderly will need someone to take care of them."

As the public healthcare system strives to catch up with the demographic curve, relatives must step up to help with the care of the elderly.

The first thing they must do is to get rid of certain myths such as the one that the hospital is the answer to all their prayers.

Head of SGH's orthopaedic surgery Tan Seang Beng.

"When a person comes to hospital, automatically the relatives assume everything will be taken care of because they are at the hospital. But they forget that while the hospitals have increased their advancement in delivery of healthcare but we have gone very much into specialisation. So you may go into oncology ward and so on. So you have very highly trained doctors, very highly trained nurses in that particular field of speciality. So when you say you bring your mother in and automatically all the needs will be taken care of, that may not actually be the case."

The family or the patient can help plug in the gaps in disease management.

Discharging from the hospital means the onus of managing a patient has been passed on to the step-down healthcare institutions, neighbourhood clinics or the family members.

SGH's Senior Consultant in orthopaedic surgery, Wong Meng Koon says the family must be the one in control of the information.

"Every patient that is discharged from the hospital has a discharge summary. There's pretty comprehensive information on investigations and the surgeries and findings. I think you really need to encourage the public how to take ownership of your own information. I don't think it applies to you and our generation but certainly when my grandma goes to see her doctor, she says 'yeah I have some sort of allergies' and she has no idea what that was. So take ownership of your own information."

Greater awareness of what's happening to their aged relatives will help families.

Family members can be the best assistants any doctors of elderly patients can have.

For example, they can observe the effects or side-effects of any medication and pass this information on to the doctors.

Also, don't rush to the hospital all the time as some of the chronic conditions don’t require specialists says Dr Tan Seang Beng.

"Many of these diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease etc you don't really need to have super-specialists. So by centralising it and partnering with the geriatrician, be it training our doctors and nurses, the level of care and standards is now much better. You don't have to call a cardiologist every time the blood pressure goes up."

It is inconvenient for families to bring their aged relatives to hospitals for follow-ups and home-base care for elderly patients isn't yet available on a large scale in Singapore.

So the family members may have to turn to GPs at the neighbourhood clinics for help.

But Dr Wong points out a stumbling block to GP making house calls.

"But if you go into a very successful business, that guy may not even resuscitate a person that'd just had an accident outside. The fact is that he has other commitment to a whole group of people in his clinic. We really can't make the call whether he did the right or wrong thing. There will be GPs that are hungry for business and they just come down. And once you formed that relationship where you grow old together, he's not going to say no. "

Ultimately, while the families of elderly patients need to have some faith in the doctors, they shouldn't just take their words wholesale.

After all, the attending doctors or specialists observe their patients only in the little ten minute slots each visit.

They are dependent on their elderly patients' relatives for information.

Research, understand, observe and report.

You'll be surprise how much your little involvement can turn up.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


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OTGV #51 - Eldercare 1

Broadcast Date: 01/03/04

The Singhealth group of healthcare institutions hopes to serve its aged patients better. Chong Ching Liang finds out why it is doing this now and what the changes involve.


Everyone talks about Singapore becoming a graying society. Well, in less than thirty years' time, society may simply be white.

It is projected that two out of five Singaporeans will be over 65 years of age.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang as I take a look at care for the elderly.

Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with a figure of just 1.37 live births per couple. The population isn't producing enough to replace itself.

Coupled with the aging statistics, it is a ticking time bomb.

Dr Carol Goh, Head of Geriatric Medicine at the Singapore General Hospital.

"The diseases that our population is facing are chronic diseases. We have a high incident of strokes and we all lead fairly sedentary lives. So we're all going to be facing a population that is going to have a lot of issues with regards to functional care. So we will have elderly who may be wheel chair bound or at least need help getting around. We are hoping that despite this, we are going to have a society where we support our elderly and promote their care and not have an elderly person left alone with no one to take care of him and no good quality of life."

Many of us already have or will have aged relatives. For superstition's sake or mere complacency, we often try not to think of bad things happening to our loved ones. So we never plan for what'll happen if our aged relatives have a nasty fall or illness that leaves them wheelchair bound.

When this happens, we panic.

There are stories of Singaporeans trying to "dump" their aged relatives onto the hospital system, or nursing homes. S-G-H's Orthopaedic Head, Tan Seang Beng describes an all too common scenario.

"All the things that we take for granted: Go to work and leave the old fogies managing by themselves. But when we have an injury suddenly is now magnified. You want to bring them home but when you find that when you physically have to do it, it is very difficult. So what do they do? They tell me, 'well, we still bring them home' and they manage the best that they can. But honestly, many of the times, most are not well managed. Because if your mother now is unable to walk well and the children or the family may be working, who's going to bring the mother to hospital?"

According to SingHealth statistics, one in three patients seeking orthopaedic treatment such as those for fractures and bone injuries are elderly.

For internal or respiratory medicines, the figure rises to nearly one in two.

And geriatric medicine, the branch of medicine looking after the ailments of the aged is terribly short-handed.

So Dr Carol Goh says it must innovate.

"For geriatrics for example, there are all of thirty in Singapore. And the number of geriatric trained nurses is very few. So if have a system that is dependent on any one specialty doing it all, then it is going to be very difficult. And that is where my orthopaedic surgeons have been most supportive. In the end this is part of what we called geriatrisation of services. You don't have to be only the geriatric trained or specialty services that manage the elderly. We are raising the awareness of the elderly in all specialities."

Singhealth plans to "geriatise" to all its institutions in two years time that is getting them to cater to the elderly. Part of this exercise is a discharge planning programme where aged patients are referred out to a community hospital for convalescence.

Taking them out of the acute-care hospitals like S-G-H, Alexandra or Tan Tock Seng hospitals will reduce their chance of catching nasty infections like pneumonia.

But there's also a social purpose explains Dr Goh.

"A lot of them are the referrals that we have diverted from nursing; this is not to say that a nursing home stay is wrong, but a lot of patients we want to give a chance when they were borderline cases. You know, the families were saying 'I am in a state of shock, my grandma fell down', 'she fractured her hip', 'I can't take care of her' and 'I don't have enough time' then the family will come to us and say, 'well, we want to put her in a nursing home.' And grandma may not want to go to a nursing home. She want to be given a chance to go back home. So they needed time. So for the grey cases especially, for those whose families were wavering, we wanted to send them to a place where they have more time, and more rehabilitation, and give her the chance."

But some of the elderly patients won't recover despite a lengthy stay. So inevitably, they will be discharged home from the community hospital. Ideally the next layer of care would be the neighbourhood doctors or GPs.

They help relatives manage their elderly relatives' chronic illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. But Dr Goh highlights some obstacles.

"We face two issues. Number one our GP simply don't have the time to go to patients' house because it takes a lot. But again we hope to expand and working with partners both for SGH patients as well as Ang Mo Kio as a continuum that have access to home medical. Home based service is really important. And working in partnership with Ang Mo Kio because they also have a home medical programme where they actually use a GP."

The day isn't here yet when GPs are willing to step up to this role where they take part in providing home care for the elderly.

Until that day, the public healthcare system has to pick up the slack.

One thing is for sure, if the family of aged patients feel they aren't supported enough to keep their parents home, they won't. And the ones who lose out the most will be the elders.

So this latest initiative by the Singhealth group and the Health Ministry is a breath of spring breeze for those heading into their autumn years.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


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