Ahad, 17 November 2013

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Lee: ‘Poverty line’ is obsolete


SINGAPORE is past the point where a poverty line is useful, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated yesterday, adding that the groups of needy now take shifting and multi-faceted forms.

Hence, the Government's kueh lapis (layered cake) approach to social assistance, he said, summoning a metaphor that Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing used to describe the multi-layered help it provides to those in need.

Speaking to reporters after a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, Lee weighed in for the first time on recent calls to establish a poverty line in Singapore, after Hong Kong did so in September.

He said that a poverty line like the World Bank's measure of US$1.50 (RM4.80) a day was irrelevant in Singapore as there are no "dead poor" here, by which he means those who are starving and unsheltered.

Rather, the poor here range from those going through temporary setbacks to families suddenly felled by illness, to the needy elderly and low-skilled workers.

Each of these groups needs a different sort and scale of help, and often, "men and women of good sense" are required to assess what assistance is desirable and necessary in each case.

This cannot be accomplished by a rigid poverty line, he said, which might be polarising and leave some outside the definition of poor.

"To say as an ideological matter that 'I must have a proper definition, and I want to reduce this group to zero' – I think we have moved beyond that point and I don't think that a definition will help us to improve our schemes," he said.

Lee also dismissed suggestions that a poverty line would help "focus minds" on the issue of the poor in Singapore.

"What is important to us is not about whether we can find a definition with which we can focus minds on the problem, because our minds are focused on the problem," he said.

There are many people doing social work of various kinds in Singapore, he added, a diversity of effort that could actually be hindered by the establishment of an all-encompassing poverty line.

The topic dovetailed with discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, whose theme was "Growth with Equity".

During retreat sessions with leaders of the 53-member grouping, Lee set out Singapore's approach to sustainable development, explaining why it is careful to spend within its means and not provide a false sense of well-being through deficit spending.

While it is right for governments to shield their people from the uncertainties and inequalities of the globalised world, it is hard to translate "noble intentions" and social spending into real gains, he said.

In some countries, heavy public spending has not solved the problems of unemployment and a lack of competitiveness but has led to growing debt, he said.

Singapore's approach is to live within its means so as not to leave the next generation indebted, pursue long-term growth strategies rather than deficit spending, and protect the environment, he summed up.

Later, he told reporters that the biennial Commonwealth meet remained a valuable point of contact between Singapore and countries in Africa and the Caribbean that it did not have many direct links with.

On the sidelines of the two-day summit, Lee met his counterparts from Malta, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vanuatu for bilateral discussions.

He also congratulated Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa on a summit well-hosted.

Thousands rally in Australia for climate action


SYDNEY: Thousands of people rallied across Australia calling for stronger action on climate change, days after new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott moved to abolish a carbon tax.

Activist group GetUp, which organised the National Day of Climate Action, estimated that more than 60,000 people turned out at protests.

"From remote country towns to the big cities, Australians have come to their own conclusions after our hottest year on record. And they want action," GetUp national director Sam Mclean told reporters.

Australia has just experienced the hottest 12 months ever recorded, which coupled with massive bushfires in New South Wales state last month has inflamed debate about whether there is a link to climate change. — AFP

‘Batman’ gains greater notoriety than his crimes


SINGAPORE'S Batman Suparman made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website.

The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his name.

His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about. "A person's name is not a laughing matter," she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero.

She claimed Batman, 23, was a "normal" Javanese name properly pronounced as "But-Mun".

Some international media called on experts to help explain Batman's name. Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer told BBC it was an "interesting juxtaposition of local naming with Western culture".

Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that Batman has no meaning in Malay or Javanese.

"I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic."

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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