My Newsradio Scripts

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

Thursday, December 23, 2004

OTGV #11 - Social Paradox

Broadcast Date: 22/04/2002

Two alternate visions Singapore glisten in the future.

First, an economically successful and viable Singapore and second, a Singapore that's renown for its grace and civil society.

Are the two mutually antagonistic?

Hi, welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang as I examine this potential paradox.

It is an ever decreasing world where countries play a furious game of musical chairs of attracting top talent.

Singaporean political leaders are cognizant of this and is trying to inch ahead in the game.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam

"We should continue to shift the emphasis of our tax policies from redistribution to growth. We have to move away from an egalitarian approach. We should give greater incentive for anyone with the ability, guts and energy to succeed to go as far as he can. That way we can succeed as a country, generate more growth and more jobs."

No one would argue with his logic in this harsh world. .

However, after Singapore dangles materialistic incentives to fuel its economic development,

will it be able to create the other Singaporean society, a veritable renaissance city that is kinder and more inclined to non-materialistic desires?

Maybe there is no paradox for me to ponder over.

National University of Singapore's Professor in Philosophy Saranindranth Tagore, doesn’t believe so.

"From a philosophical level, I can say that the way you have set up the paradox, perhaps there is no paradox there. One could make the case that a healthy society will have the material benefits that are necessary for one to be able to lead a flourishing life and at the same time use the material wealth for a higher purpose such as pursuit of the arts, pursuit of philosophy if you will, pursuit of scientific research. I don't see a necessary contradiction between the material basis that is needed for human flourishing on the one hand and the pursuit of higher human ideals."

But the coming new world will see greater social dislocation and income divide.

This means that even the arts will be polarised and this must be mediated to prevent rifts in society.

Associate Professor in English Literature, Kirpal Singh of the Singapore Management University.

"Precisely because of this great economic divide it is very easy for an artist to be irresponsible from one point of view and therefore ignite a lot of passion amongst the so-called have nots or in our Singaporean context, the Heartlanders to view the Cosmopolitans a little more suspicisiously. Therefore whenever this kind of things like mistrust and suspicions exist. There will not be the graciousness that we want."

Can we hope for a Singapore of the future where the government just occupies a sedentary role?

What about an active citizenry to provide self help to its own disenfranchised?

For Dr Kirpal Singh who's also one of our great poets and social observers says that day isn't achievable yet.

"In Singapore for me the answer is very simple. Just as the government spend enormous resources producing a workforce that work very effectively for various Macs, so I think the government also have a social responsibility of making sure things like the arts and other needs are satisfied in the first place. I think for the government to abdicate and say no, now's the time for self-help, might be copping out. This may not be the time that the government be advised to opt out, particularly with things that are going to involve our people in way that's going to help them comfortably accept the great divide and the great traumatic changes that coming our way."

As the cliché goes, it will be a brave new world.

It is a world that will be wreaked with divides before it can become whole again.

As Singapore evolves, the gap between "the haves" and "the haves-nots" will increase.

A widening income gap, though, won't be unique to Singapore.

It maybe but a stage in development.

The poet Kirpal Singh muses.

"Someone once described it that the future is going to six billion people on the ground hunting while 100 million are jet setting in the sky. Now I think that is not an unrealistic speculation. The person who said that to me, a very famous science fiction writer who projects this, I think he is particularly going to be right maybe in a hundred years. I think this is going to be very very critical. I think what we need to do is to self-help ourselves and educating ourselves to be able to cope with these things. And if we cannot have the luxuries that the 100 million might have in the future, we need to have other kinds of luxuries."

What sort of luxuries?

What will be the salve to soothe an economically-divided Singapore when that day comes?

For the poet, the balm is the arts, Associate Professor Kirpal Singh.

"Luxuries of the spirit which the art provides. Luxury in the passion and the feeling. With good relations which can also be fostered by the arts. So yes, there is going to be an increasing paradox. It is going to be painful, it is going to be difficult, but I think the off side can be cushioned by good sensitive education."

But the future isn't cast in stone.

It remains to be seen on whether "the haves" will assume the social leadership that is needed for a more gracious Singapore --

Where the few who are strong take care of the myriad weak.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

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OTGV #10 - Scaffolding Laws

Broadcast Date: 19/08/2002

Every now and then, a horrific accident happens in a construction site and reports of it is splashed across all news media in a gory and sensationalistic manner.

There may be some public debate about why the accident occurred.

And then there's silence as it fades from public minds.....

that is... until another accident happens and the cycle repeats itself.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang as I look at the Manpower Ministry's or MOM efforts to keep worksite fatalities to a minimum.

A couple of weeks ago, M-O-M invited members of the media to one its worksite safety inspection.

Senior Safety Officer Hashim Mansoor explained why the media is invited.

"In 1997, the number of fatalities hit a record high of 72 cases, When the debarment scheme was introduced; there was a sudden dip to 27 cases in 2001, last year. However, this year so far, we have already recorded 27 cases it could be as the result that the contractors are not taking the safety as seriously as they should have. That's one of the reasons why we call for this media visit to highlight to them, that they must always renew their vigor in ensuring a safe workplace."

Mr Hashim acknowledged that there might be some correlation between tough economic times and bad safety records.

But he said negative reinforcement works.

When contractors find that they are accumulating demerit points that may lead to them being banned from construction work, they shape up pretty fast.

"That's one of the reasons why we are going to step up our enforcement. Debarment points are accrued through contraventions that are uncovered during our interventions. So we will step up our inspections, we will step up our enforcement and we will take strict actions against contractors found flouting the rules."

So how does M-O-M receive news about contractors flouting safety regulations?

Mr Hashim said the public sometimes reports construction workers being put through unnecessary risks.

He also said workers themselves can report to M-O-M if the workers are subjected to unreasonable risk.

But Mr Hashim acknowledged that this channel is rarely utilised.

This was confirmed by an illegal construction worker from China that I spoke with.

"We know we have to report them. But it’s also better for us to look the other way. One less problem, one less worry. Even though the laws are very strict in Singapore, there are still rule bending. We are not saying that Singapore is not good. But we do not necessary have any security here. All this irreputable employment agents, they get us here. Spend several tens of thousands dollars. But once here, they just abandon us. Not caring we live or die. If you can find work, you go ahead. If you have the ability you find work. Can't find work, you rest."

Most foreign workers pays huge sums of monies to recruitment agents to get to Singapore.

This may result in them trying to avoid being sent back home before they can recoup their investments.

As the Chinese construction worker said, this includes infuriating bosses even though they may be unreasonable.

Relooking at the grim statistics.

Mr Hashim said some 50 percent of all construction accidents results are from falls from high places.

At the worksite, he showed us why this is so.

"Well, you can see how, how dangerous it is, eh? You can see the worker up there doing the work... can you see, far back there? See how dangerous it gets? There's no protection at all. There's nothing there to prevent him from falling. There's nothing to catch him if he falls then he goes phoom! All the way down."

This is why the Manpower Ministry will be enacting a law against extended use of the traditional wooden scaffolds by the end of the year.

"Timber scaffolds, ah, we’re going to restrict the height to 15 m and it must be double layer. Previously 15 m single layer is okay but now no more already."

Mr Hashim said the scaffold is important equipment in all construction projects, and from next year onwards, only the safe aluminum double layered scaffolds will be used.

He gave me an update on the act.

"It’s already up now; we've already referred to the industry. We've got feedback from the industry. We've put it together. I would think that by the end of the year, the regulations will be up. All contractors that use scaffolds. Scaffolds is a very important piece of equipment in the construction industry. This particular regulation will not only affect contractors, it will affect anyone using scaffolds whether it is in the construction industry, shipyard, marine, petrochemical, R&R whatever the job is."

Back at the site visit in Kampung Chantek, Bukit Timah, Mr Hashim explained what is the procedure after a safety inspection had uncovered safety trespasses.

"We will follow-up with a follow-up inspection in a week or two's time. Depending on the situation lah. If it is a minor non-compliance we may not you see. But if it is a major non-compliance we will. [And usually the problem?] Yes, usually. Except for those recalcitrant ones lah. [In that case do they get demerit points event though they don't go to court?] The quantum of the fines will be higher. And after the third time they commit the same offence, we'll charge them in court. And then they will acquire demerit points you see?"

There has already been 27 fatal accidents in the construction sites in the last 7 months.

That is the total for the whole of last year.

This means that for Mr Hashim Mansoor and his crew, the work goes on to ensure the safety of foreign workers so that their families won't be receiving the cruel news that their loved ones won't be returning.

This is Chong Ching Liang, for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:
Manpower Ministry's Scaffolding Act

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OTGV #9 - Our Elders

Broadcast Date: 18/03/2002

Heard a lament on the grape vines the other day, the childhood nursery rhymes are extinct.

Nursery rhymes are icons of cultural transmission between generations and now they are confined to the vaults of the Archives, not in our lives.

Such is the hallmark of changing times.

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

This week we look at issues dredged up by a graying Singapore.

Earlier this month, the National University of Singapore hosted an international workshop on inter-generational programming in social services.

National University of Singapore's Dr Thang Leng Leng.

"This is the first time ever that a workshop of such nature is being organised in the region although I think quite a few people may not be very sure what exactly is inter-generation programming apart from a vague knowledge that it is something to benefit different generations. And this is precisely the aim of the workshop. It’s to introduce to the region, to people here, the concept and ideas of intergeneration programming, something which has been promoted in the US, in Europe and to a certain extent, in Japan. And more to impart to you ways to start a programme or activities for the purpose of bringing the different age groups together."

Why now?

Mayor of Central Singapore Community Development Centre, Heng Chee How.

"We live in fast changing times and many things are not what they were thirty years ago or even ten years ago. Global economic integration and technological progress has shrunk the Earth and that has a huge impact on the connectedness of societies. For example when fortunes can be made anywhere in the world, then the more ambitious members of societies will become more 'footloose'. Then the place of the family and the nations will also be impacted in new ways."

As Singapore became independent, it sole resource was human.

To survive, the fledgling country sought to optimise its development of its citizens.

In 1979, then Education Minister Goh Keng Swee ushered in the modern education system after a comprehensive study of education conducted by system analysts, not educationalists.

Within a decade, generations are not merely separated by years, but, increasingly, language and education qualification as well.

The young Chinese Singaporeans no longer speak the language of their elders.

Does this make Singaporeans rootless?

NUS' Dr Angelique Chan doesn't think so.

"Whether there's a generation of rootless Singaporeans per se, we need to look at that a lot more closely because there may be a lot more inter-generational transmission going on then the media would like to pick up. If we look at the current rates of living arrangements, of the type of interactions that goes on, meals together, conversations. With those kind of high levels, there's got to be a there's a certain amount of transmission occurring."

Dr Chan says the future of grandparenting won't be static.

"They are going to be some changes that we will see. For instance, there are going to be more women that have ever worked, therefore there are going to be more resources at their disposal. These future cohorts are more likely to want to do things like travel. For elderly that have more outside interests, they may be less likely to want to stay home and look after grand kids which tells us a few things. For future cohorts of elderly, they are different type of grand-parenting issues that will be involved."

And with a global graying of populations, there will be more grandparents.

Dr Chan says new problems and solutions will arise.

"One of the issues is now that people are living so much longer, what are the relationships that are going to develop with the younger generations. If you have people living until a hundred, what are their roles? How are they supposed to interact, what do we want to get from them in society, if you think in utilitarian terms, and maybe one of the things is this transmission of values and helping us to raise a younger generation as the middle generation becomes more and more put upon, you know, the sandwich generation."

Mayor Heng agrees that a graying population is not necessarily negative.

"Now on the positive side, as Singaporean society experience a rapid increase in elderly population, there's also evidence that most of the elderly are staying healthy and they come with higher education levels and they look forward to spending their retirement years in positive and meaningful ways. They therefore constitute a valuable resource to the community and their life experiences are particularly useful in helping to nurture the younger generations."

As Mayor Heng noted, more Singaporeans elders are educated and they also tend to speak more English.

Dr Angelique Chan says this will make bonding easier.

"Yes, I think definitely that will help and also there's much more awareness now in the government sector for the need for this kind of programming. Uhm, when this kind of conference is put in place, it's not necessarily there's a problem but as Singapore is very good at pre-empting problems, that I think is the role of this conference."

Maybe the day will come when new nursery rhymes will be sung, in uniquely Singaporean form.

This is Chong Ching Liang, for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:
Central Singapore Community Development Council

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OTGV #8 - Cancer Management

Broadcast Date: 11/03/2002

According to government health statistics, cancer is the number one killer in Singapore.

It accounts for 27 percent of total deaths here.

The mainstream treatment of the disease is extremely debilitative.

Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may get rid of cancer cells but it also knocks rather severely, the patients they are designed to save.

But cancer patients are employing other weapons to fight back these days.

Hi, I am Chong Ching Liang and welcome to On the Grapevine.

Founder of Cancer Story dot Com, Lee Soh Hong explains the function of her website to me.

"The number of people contracting cancer is on the rise and yet many people are very reluctant to talk about it. And this is a lot of time where they need a lot of help and yet, they do not know where to go. So Cancer Story will provide them the avenue for them to seek help and to cope with the cancer challenge."

One of Ms Lee's new projects is a Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, support group for cancer patients.

She explains why she felt TCM is a viable form of co-treatment for cancer.

"I emphasised that it is a safe form of complementary treatment. I am saying that you go for your mainstream treatment. That is the mission now of Through my mother's experience, we felt that TCM had helped her. Initially she was just given a prognosis of 6 months to a year. But she survived beyond the medical expectation. So how do we explain it, you see? Even before my mom started chemo, we already start her with Chinese medicine and throughout her battle with cancer for three years and eight months, she has been on it."

Does Ms Lee Soh Hong gets singled out for being too radical for advocating the use of TCM in cancer treatment?

"You'll be surprised. Somebody just sent me an e-mail a few days ago expressing his disappointment in me. Why? Because he says that I am still trapped in the same system. He believes to go on vegetable diet and things like that and he thinks that I should go straight for the alternatives, meaning the changing of life-style, eating vegetables and organic food and things like that. Now this is again, an extreme view which I do not want to debate it you see. All I can tell him is thank you for your comments. Perhaps you can do a better job than me so please, go and promote this with your own efforts. I will not do it. I can tell you that there's many many hundreds way of you know trying to fight cancer but which is the more reliable way? I dare to advocate TCM because my mother went through it and many other cancer patients went through it."

To preach moderation is also an unspoken mission of a website like CancerStorydotCom while Ms Lee sees TCM as beneficial, she says it won't offer a cure.

"TCM itself will only help improving the immune system of the cancer patient. No physicians dare to claim that they can cure cancer using TCM. Unfortunately, there are some profiteers around who are trying to sell the magic bullet to cure cancer. As word of caution, there's no magic bullet to cure cancer."

Ultimately, a cancer patient's life is saved or prolonged is simply not in the hands of medicine alone.

"Every cancer patient case is a unique case. Things such as a change of diet, lifestyle, environment actually has an impact on the total management of cancer. So cancer don't totally rely on one medicine whether you call it western or Chinese herbs, it doesn't work that way because if a person continue working under stress, to continue to work under a polluted environment, he is not going to recover."

The existence of CancerStorydotCom is just so that cancer patients can obtain more information and not fall prey to false hopes.

Ms Lee again.

"Many times, people hear this, hear that but they did not actually read further. That's why it is difficult for me to tell you over the radio like that. If I said 'oh in China, to help patients to improve their immune systems, they actually give them cordyceps'. Then I am actually promoting cordyceps, which is wrong! The difficulties of Chinese medicine is that not everybody is suitable for those herbs. That's why you need to be guided and you need to be reviewed on a regular basis, by a responsible and a competent Chinese physician."

That is the next step -- to promote responsible use of TCM in the management of cancer.

Ms Lee So Hong has planned to set-up a monthly TCM Support Group for cancer patients.

"And we have managed to seek help from a competent and experienced Chinese physician who graduated from the Fujien University and he has agreed to be errrr Cancer Story counselor and to support my upcoming Chinese medicine support group. This support group will meet in the afternoon of the last Sunday of every month. I intend to set up this Chinese medicine support group with the objective to provide an avenue for cancer patients and their families to share their experiences using TCM as a complimentary treatment, and to seek clarification on Chinese medicine. The registration form for this support group will be given out at our upcoming Cancer talk on 24th March."

You can find out more from w-w-w-cancerstory-dot-com.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:

Cancer Story
Ministry of Health, Singapore

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