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Singapore the costliest city? That’s rich

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

SINGAPORE: A study out last week naming Singapore as the world's most expensive city has become a major talking point around town.

Many people say the study confirms that the cost of living here has spiralled. But others argue that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report does not reflect the consumption patterns of ordinary Singaporeans. Rather, it focuses on high-living expats, they say.

Included in the basket of items the study used to compute the cost of living in 131 cities worldwide were imported cheese, filet mignon, the four best seats in a theatre and Cointreau liquor – hardly regular buys of the average local.

The EIU seemed to focus on high-end options for clothing, which it says costs more in Singapore than anywhere else.

The study says a white business shirt costs S$259 (RM668), a daytime dress S$485 (RM1,250) and a Burberry-type raincoat for men costs S$2,295 (RM5,917) at a department store.

The study also took into account taxi fares and the costs of buying and running a car but excluded public transport. And it included fees at various international schools as part of the overall cost of living.

Other costs in the study were based on the habits of Western expats.

For example, the report states that the monthly electricity bill for a family of four would be between S$938.96 (RM2,420.75) and S$1,433.32 (RM3,695.30), far higher than the utilities bill for most families here.

The editor of the EIU report, Jon Copestake, told The Straits Times that electricity bills tend to be high for expats living in warm climates such as in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore as they often use air-conditioning.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng said: "Rental rates for the survey are taken from average rates of locations like Orchard Road and River Valley, where most Singaporeans do not live in. Most locals live in HDB flats which they own."

Since the survey compares the cost of living for expatriates across different cities, it focuses on factors that do not affect the cost of living for Singaporeans.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam pointed out that the Singapore dollar has strengthened over the years, which means that the city is more expensive for someone who is paid in a foreign currency.

However, for Singaporeans, it improves their purchasing power, as it means imported goods are cheaper, and helps when they travel.

Indeed, a study by the Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy last year showed that while Singapore is the most expensive place in the world for expats, it is only the 60th most expensive for the average resident.

It came to this finding by taking into account, for example, the costs of hawker food, government schools and public hospitals.

But high-end goods and city apartments aside, the study has struck a chord with ordinary Singaporeans, who reckon that the prices of everyday goods have been rising too.

Sathiyasivan Balakrishnan, 25, who works in the hospitality sector, said: "Most of us, if we eat out, eat at hawker centres. But hawker food prices have been increasing every year too."

A measure of how much prices have risen is core inflation, which excludes the cost of private road transport and accommodation. It rose 1.7% last year on top of 2.5% in 2012.

Companies do feel that Singapore is an expensive place to conduct business, noted Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay.

"This might be negative to companies considering Singapore as a potential investment destination," he said, adding that the government should look at measures to stabilise business costs.

Studies such as this may also make it harder for Singapore to attract top talent from around the world, he said.

Still, economist Selena Ling said the study is unlikely to hurt Singapore's competitiveness.

"Singapore has never been a cheap place. So the question is whether the value that Singapore adds to your business outweighs the costs."

DBS economist Irvin Seah agreed.

"We know we can't compete on costs, and the cost of business here such as rental and labour is on the high side compared to regional countries," he said.

Sri Lanka warns developing nations

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka warned that US efforts to force an international investigation into alleged war crimes on the island could have an "adverse impact" on all developing nations.

The Colombo government told the ongoing UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that a draft resolution against Sri Lanka could set a "bad precedent".

The US has given notice of a resolution backing UN rights chief Navi Pillay's call for an external probe into charges that Sri Lankan troops killed up to 40,000 civilians while crushing Tamil rebels in 2009.

"Being intrusive, politicised and in clear contravention of accepted principles of conduct in the council, the resolution sets a bad precedent, and can in the medium-to-long term have an adverse impact on all developing countries in the council," Sri Lanka's envoy in Geneva, Ravi Aryasinha, said.

In his statement to the council, a copy of which was released in Colombo, Aryasinha said the draft resolution was also a violation of Sri Lanka's sovereignty as well as its constitution.

Dozens of pro-government women staged a demonstration outside the US embassy in Colombo, denouncing the US-led censure move at the UNHRC.

International rights groups and UN experts had said there are "credible allegations" that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed after government forces ordered them into a no-fire zone in 2009.

The US-led resolution asked Pillay to give an oral report on progress to the council at its 27th session in September, and provide a written report by March 2015.

The draft also called on Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of military excesses and expressed "serious concern" over continuing reports of human rights violations five years after the end of the decades-long separatist war. — AFP

US firm says 20 employees on missing Malaysia plane

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 04:33 PM PST

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Texas semiconductor firm said Saturday that 20 of its employees were confirmed passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines jet that has abruptly vanished.

Among the Freescale Semiconductor employees aboard Flight MH370 were 12 people from Malaysia and another eight from China, president and CEO Gregg Lowe said.

"At present, we are solely focused on our employees and their families," he added in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event."

Rescuers were still hunting for the whereabouts of the twin-engine plane that was carrying 239 people aboard as it traveled from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing more than 24 hours after it slipped off radar screens somewhere between Malaysia's east coast and southern Vietnam, triggering an international search effort.

The 153 Chinese passengers aboard the plane included an infant, while 38 Malaysians and seven Indonesians were aboard.

Six Australians, five Indians, four French nationals and three Americans, including an infant, were also among those listed and the Dutch Foreign Ministry said one Dutch passenger was on the plane.

"The entire Freescale Semiconductor community is deeply saddened by this news. The company is continuing to monitor the situation and will provide more information as it becomes available," the Austin, Texas-based firm said.

Freescale said it was making counselors and other professionals available to employees as part of "around-the-clock support for those impacted by this tragedy."

The company's products serve the automotive, consumer, industrial and networking markets.
They include microprocessors, microcontrollers and sensors, as well as analog integrated circuits and connectivity.

Freescale has design, research and development, manufacturing and sales operations around the world. - AFP


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