Real News‎ > ‎2014‎ > ‎November 2014‎ > ‎

3rd November 2014

Top Stories

MOM hiring external PR experts to convey policies

Hiring of outside help might be its first for 'strategic communication services'

Source: Straits Times / Singapore

IN AN unusual move, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is turning to public relations (PR) experts to help it communicate manpower policies in a strategic way.

It has asked for proposals for a plan to analyse public and online sentiments on manpower issues, and respond to them in an "integrated" way, using media stories, blogs and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

The services required include coaxing journalists to write one or two MOM stories a month, and getting MOM officials featured in live and recorded TV and radio programmes every three months, according to its letter to prospective firms, which The Straits Times has seen.

While MOM has previously hired external experts to organise events, print brochures and run public education campaigns, it is believed that this is the first time it has turned to them to provide such "strategic communication services".

This also goes beyond its hiring of a Singapore firm in June for $154,000 to monitor daily how local and foreign media are reporting news related to the ministry.

The year-long plan is expected to kick in next year.

When contacted, the ministry confirmed that it requested proposals from experts last week but declined to give details, including expected costs.

Its spokesman would only say: "MOM continually reviews our communication and publicity efforts for our announcements and policies.

"The request for proposals is part of our ongoing effort to enhance our communications, and explore new communication channels for better effectiveness."

Its letter to prospective firms also said the chosen company will have to write commentaries every two months, although it is unclear where these commentaries would be published.

The issues that the expert is likely to handle for the ministry include high-profile policies such as those involving the Central Provident Fund, the rehiring of older workers, and public sentiments against foreigners who are perceived to have deprived Singaporeans of good-paying jobs.

MOM's latest move gets the backing of some experts and industry watchers.

"It is a sensible thing to do," said MP Zainudin Nordin, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

"Public expectations have gone up and it is important for the Government to have its policies clearly communicated to the public," he said. "And ministries can tap experts with the skills to help them."

Human resource analyst Martin Gabriel from HRMatters21 said manpower issues are getting complex and it is natural for the ministry to turn to experts for help.

"But in the long run, it is better for the ministry to have its own in-house expertise rather than rely on external experts," he said.

"And the ministry also has to watch the cost of hiring these external experts because the public may question why the ministry is spending money in this manner."

-By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent

Singapore Real Estate

Aspial unit sells 69% of Australia 108 units launched

Units bought by fairly proportionate mix of S'poreans, foreigners

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

World Class Land (WCL) sold 69 per cent of the units released in its iconic Australia 108 launch over the weekend in Singapore. The Singapore developer confirmed with The Business Times that as at 5 pm on Sunday, it had sold 133 out of the 193 units that were released at a special Singapore preview showcase.

-By Malminderjit Singh

'Melbourne's tallest tower' piques buyers' interest

Source: Straits Times / News

There was no lack of interest at the sales launch of Australia 108, touted to be Melbourne's tallest building, yesterday.

When completed in 2019, the freehold, 1,105-unit project in Southbank, near Crown Casino, will stand tall at 319m. This is just 3m shy of the aviation limit for Southbank, said developer World Class Land, a subsidiary of Singapore-listed Aspial Corp.

The developer said 125 out of 193 released units were sold at prices from A$410,000 (S$463,000) to A$580,000 for one-bedders, which start from around 456.4 sq ft, and A$520,000 to A$899,000 for two-bedders, which start from 622.2 sq ft. Buyers were a mixture of Singaporeans and foreigners. Construction is expected to begin next year.

Australia 108's prices are comparable with Hiap Hoe's Marina Tower Melbourne in the Docklands, launched in July, consultants said.

At yesterday's launch, units on nine floors between levels 11 and 67, or the "Sky Residences", were released. These are the smaller units, of studio, one-bedroom, one-bedroom and study, and two-bedroom configurations.

The higher levels 72 to 97, or "Cloud Residences", offer larger units, including a 8,661 sq ft super penthouse on the 100th storey which is said to offer 360-degree views for a "top of the world sensation". These are expected to be launched in one to two weeks' time.

One buyer of a one-bedroom unit yesterday said Australia 108 was his first investment property.

"It's in the heart of the city and will be easy to rent out. It's also close to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and I'm interested in the sport," said a 42-year-old engineering firm director who wanted to be known as Nathan.

-By Rennie Whang

Two new blocks for the whiz kids

JTC LaunchPad @ one-north will enlarge and improve facilities for startups in Singapore's version of Silicon Valley by the end of the year

Source: Business Times / Technology

WHEN Block 71 - a drab, 1970s factory building on Ayer Rajah Crescent - was relaunched three years ago as a central office and incubation space for startups, many weren't sure it would work. Its neck of the woods, a good walk from any MRT station, made it hard to get to; its standalone, seven storeys of nondescript wall-to- wall units were hardly inspiring.

Yet, it has become the closest thing Singapore has to a Silicon Valley: the epicentre of Singapore's startup ecosystem, one of the most compact in the world, housing as many as 262 startups, 20 incubators and 1,000 talents. Observers believe it has the potential to produce a wave of tech superstars.

Building on its success, the JTC LaunchPad @ one-north was announced in March this year. It will comprise Block 71 and two more blocks, 73 and 79, as well as new amenities such as food kiosks, collaboration spaces, shared meeting rooms and sports facilities (See infographic here).

The expansion, delivering at least 12,000 square metres worth of additional space, marks an important milestone in Singapore's journey to build a vibrant and sustainable startup cluster, JTC told The Business Times.

By the end of this year, both new blocks will be completed, and the LaunchPad will see a 90 per cent occupancy rate, comprising some 31 incubators and 441 startups, of which 91 will have their own space and the other 350 will be housed in incubators, JTC said.

Accelerators, corporate partners (banks and law firms), venture capitalists, and community and social enterprises have also been urged to join the growing startup community at the LaunchPad.

At this time, major tenants include Infocomm Investments, Exploit Technologies, JFDI.Asia, SingTel Innov8 Ventures, NUS Enterprise, and the recently privatised ACE Ltd.

ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship), the country's flagship entrepreneurship agency, had in September announced plans to set up shop at the LaunchPad alongside news of its privatisation; it is now led by entrepreneurs and investors after the government's exit - a move welcomed by industry players.

And this is only one of the many ways the local startup scene has evolved since Block 71.

At least 27 Singapore-based startups have been acquired in the last three years, in buyouts totalling over US$500 million. There is also more money for startups in the pipeline; just this year, Golden Gate Ventures launched a S$50 million early-stage fund, Monk's Hill Ventures a S$100 million Series A and B fund, and Catcha Ventures a US$75 million growth-stage fund.

Moreover, the Entrepreneurship Review Committee, set up by ACE last year to recommend ways to enhance the entrepreneurship landscape, has unveiled its first set of results, calling on private sector players to do more to drive the spirit of enterprise here.

And they have. Local banks, for instance, have been eager to partner social media and mobile banking startups to reach their customers anytime, anywhere; OCBC Bank has even introduced a collateral-free loan that provides startups as young as six months old with easier access to funds up to S$100,000.

The government, too, has continued to play its part as facilitator, injecting some S$60 million to grow medical technology startups here from September, and enabling over 160 partnerships between large organisations and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) - startups included - under the Partnerships for Capability Transformation programme since 2013.

"The difference between us and Silicon Valley, New York City or others is the amount of government intervention," Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said during the LaunchPad announcement in March. He added that while the government used to play a big role in catalysing the startup ecosystem, moving on, it would take on a more supportive and strategic role, such as designing the LaunchPad.

"The LaunchPad is a milestone for us, but it is just a small step. We are . . . building the environment and the ecosystem for entrepreneurs . . . (who bring) to life new products, services and business models . . . that renew and re-energise the sectors," said Mr Teo. "If this is successful, we will build more of such clusters."

*More than one way to give startups that leg-up

*A home and a school for startups

-By Jacquelyn Cheok

Companies' Brief

Keppel T&T banking on growth from data centres

Company keen on acquiring more sites in S'pore, China

Source: Straits Times / Money

KEPPEL Telecommunications and Transportation (Keppel T&T) has been taking its fast-growing data centre business around the world and is now keen on entering the Chinese market.

The company is also looking to acquire more sites for data centres in Singapore, said Mr Thomas Pang, the new chief executive at the logistics, data centre services and investment firm.

Securus Data Property Fund, a Syariah-compliant fund jointly managed by a unit of Keppel T&T and AEP Investment Management, owns six data centre assets in Europe, Malaysia and Australia.

Keppel T&T also owns three centres in Singapore, where it is the largest home-grown player.

"We will continue to look at new sites to acquire in Singapore... In China, there are opportunities for upgrading or refurbishing existing facilities," Mr Pang, 49, told The Straits Times, in his first media interview since taking over as chief executive in July.

He is leading the company through a pivotal time. The firm announced plans in January to spin off its data centre business into a real estate investment trust (Reit) on the Singapore Exchange's mainboard.

The sizeable and highly anticipated listing, which could reportedly raise US$400 million (S$514 million), will be the first data centre trust in Asia.

On Jan 8, the company's stock jumped on an announcement about the listing to a six-year high of $1.87.

In an announcement on Thursday, the company said efforts to carry out an initial public offering "are currently ongoing" and various applications to the stock exchange and Monetary Authority of Singapore have been submitted.

The strong demand for data centre services has been driven by trends such as the rise of cloud computing and regulations requiring banks and financial institutions to back up client information.

Keppel T&T's recently released third-quarter scorecard attests to the segment's stellar growth: Revenue rose 30 per cent to $53.7 million, owing mainly to higher revenue from the data centre and logistics divisions.

The company also has ambitious plans for its logistics business both in Singapore and abroad.

"We hope to be able to grow revenue and cashflow beyond current Singapore-centric levels," said Mr Pang, previously chief executive of Keppel Infrastructure Fund Management. He has been with Keppel Corp for more than 12 years.

Business here has been dampened by ongoing economic restructuring and the tight labour market - which has also hit customers in industries such as manufacturing.

But Mr Pang said the company has been moving towards serving clients in higher value-added sectors such as medical technology, pharmaceuticals and aerospace. There are also plans to grow the offshore and marine segment of the logistics business, starting with providing services to sister companies such as Keppel Offshore & Marine, he added.

Keppel T&T is also expecting the logistics business as a whole to pick up next year when facilities in China, Malaysia and Vietnam begin contributing to revenue.

Mr Pang, who became chief executive following a spate of high-level resignations at the firm in April, also sought to reassure shareholders that the Keppel group has a "deep bench".

"Besides me, there would have been many other candidates who can take over immediately... Internally, we can fill positions very quickly."

The company's latest results show that "our operations teams have not missed a beat" despite the management changes, he added.

-By Chia Yan Min

Green architecture is good but silver architecture also needed

Source: Straits Times / Opinion

I HEARD about the new building for months before I saw it.

Part of a leading medical centre, its green architecture and design were getting a lot of attention, as was its integration of top-notch modern medicine with health and wellness spaces inspired by cultures from around the world.

My father's doctor had moved there, and driving to his appointment we looked forward to experiencing the cutting-edge new building.

Outside, I unloaded the walker and led my 82-year-old father through the sliding glass doors.

Inside, there was a single bench made of recycled materials. I noticed it didn't have the arm supports that a frail elderly person requires to safely sit down and get back up.

It was a long trek to the right clinic and I was double-parked outside. Helping my father onto the bench, I said "Wait here" and hoped he would remember to do so long enough for me to park and return.

He nodded. We were used to this. It happened almost everywhere we went: at restaurants, the bank, the airport, department stores. Many of these places - our historic city hall with its wide steps and renovated dome, the futuristic movie theatre and the new clinic - were gorgeous.

The problem was that not one of them was set up to facilitate access by someone like my father.

Current demographic realities are creating financial and practical reasons to build more homes, businesses, health-care facilities and public buildings that are well suited to older people's needs.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines help, but they do not ensure access or safety for this unique and rapidly growing population. Many buildings are ADA-compliant but still difficult to navigate for older adults who have one or more physical, sensory or cognitive challenges, and especially for the frail elderly who have many.

To some, this may sound like a small issue. It's not. More than 40 million Americans are 65 or older, and 11 million - the fastest-growing segment of the older population - are over age 80. Too often, current buildings turn impairments - a bum leg, less-than-perfect hearing, the inability to walk long distances - into handicaps.

Ironically, this includes not just restaurants, multi-level houses and large businesses, but most health-care structures. I hear about this regularly in my role as a doctor who makes house calls. While patients often end up in our Care at Home practice because they can no longer leave their homes, not infrequently the problem is at the other end: the hospital or clinic is too hard to navigate.

Still, it wasn't until I left my father at the much-lauded new green clinic that it occurred to me that the challenges that he and my patients faced navigating medical facilities were symptomatic of a larger societal problem.

Just as green architecture and design came into being in response to the energy crisis of the late 1970s, we in the 21st century have to start creatively building to meet the challenges of our ageing population. We need "silver" architecture and design.

What would a silver building look like? For starters, it would be well-lit, and offer easy, safe access that doesn't require pulling open heavy doors or remembering a key. Building materials would minimise noise, overstimulation, distraction and the risk of falls. Doors, rooms and public areas would accommodate walkers, wheelchairs and a person walking arm in arm with a caregiver. There would be sturdy, regularly spaced chairs where people could rest and regroup.

None of this is novel. These and other strategies are in use in many long-term care facilities and in specialised areas of hospitals, such as geriatric emergency departments or acute care of the elderly units. But they aren't nearly as prevalent as they should be.

Dr Diana Anderson, a resident physician at Columbia University Medical Centre who is also a licensed architect (she calls herself a "dochitect"), says that "despite the growing health-care specialisation in architecture, many spaces in health facilities are ill suited for their actual use". Health care might be the ideal sector to start developing design prototypes that could be applied to homes and even neighbourhoods, so people can stay active and grow older without having to move to retirement homes.

Over the next few years, we should begin to see prizes for excellence in silver design, just as there are awards for green buildings. When local communities review plans for new or improved buildings, they should start by asking questions not only about job creation and traffic flow, and, for green buildings, about sustainability and energy use, but also about how well the design meets the needs of residents and consumers of all ages.

In health care, leaders should examine the considerable data on how facilities harm and hinder older patients, and move forward only with buildings that prioritise equal access, health and safety.

Some might say that buildings can't cater to every group with special needs. But silver architecture and design aren't about indulging a special-interest group. They're about maximising quality of life and independence for a life stage most of us will reach.

Green architecture is good for the environment; silver architecture is good for humans. The best new buildings will be both.

-By Louise Aronson

One World Trade Center's opening caps Lower Manhattan's revival

The neighbourhoods around Ground Zero have blossomed, becoming an area where people live, shop and eat, rather than just hustle home from white-collar jobs

Source: Business Times / Real Estate

Bangkok's Super Tower to dwarf all others in S-E Asia

Source: Straits Times / Top of The News

A NEW "Super Tower" will dwarf the rest of Bangkok's skyline in 2019.

Standing at 615m, it will be double the height of Baiyoke II Tower, Thailand's tallest building. It will also surge past Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers, the tallest in South-east Asia, and come to a rest just 200m shy of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

The tower will house a six-star hotel and gleaming offices in a glass-and-steel frame resembling a more angular and blue-tinged version of London's Gherkin.

The man behind the project, Mr Yotin Boondicharern, is uncharacteristically blase when asked why he was constructing such a tall building.

"I wanted to fully utilise the construction permit. It'd be a waste if we didn't use it," said the 73-year-old chairman of listed developer Grand Canal Land.

While he hired American architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill - the same company behind Burj Khalifa - he gave it little by way of a design brief.

"I just told them how many hotel rooms I wanted to have and so on," he said.

Cheerleaders in Asean's second- largest economy will no doubt cite the Super Tower as another example of its good prospects, despite the Finance Ministry's projections of just 1.4 per cent growth this year and 4.1 per cent next year.

Thailand, which is still under martial law, is trying to regain its footing after the military coup in May that ended seven months of political turmoil.

"No matter what happens in politics, Thai businesses will move on as usual," Mr Yotin said.

Sitting upright, his black jacket resting uneasily over a crisp white shirt, Mr Yotin gives off the air of an old-school tycoon who steadily grew his empire by keeping a close watch on the bottom line.

His grandparents left the Chaozhou region in southern China to start a small business in Bangkok's Chinese-dominated Yaowarat district. At 13, Mr Yotin was sent to Hong Kong where he later studied civil engineering at the institute now known as Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

In the 1990s, he teamed up with Thai partners and the Chinese government to develop Shanghai's Pudong area, and later extended his interests to Shenzhen and Chengdu.

He also helped develop a hotel and retail project with a mall called Fortune Town in Bangkok's Ratchadapisek Road. These days, it is better known for its shops selling electronics or computer-related paraphernalia.

The father of three, who lives in a "little" 30-year-old house on a 400 sq m plot in northern Bangkok, said the cash flow from his other projects is enough to fund 40 per cent to 60 per cent of the 18 billion baht (S$709.9 million) Super Tower. The rest will be financed through a bank loan.

The skyscraper, also in Ratchadapisek Road, forms the centrepiece of a condominium, office and retail development spread out over 11.7ha of land he picked up cheaply after the 1997 financial crisis.

Despite being poised to leave what is yet the most dramatic imprint on Bangkok's skyline, Mr Yotin appeared reluctant to give his take on the aesthetics of its sprawling towers.

"High-rise is high-rise, they look the same to me."

In the next few years, his Ratchadapisek cluster of developments will include the future headquarters of Unilever, the global personal care product giant, as well as a 36-storey office block shaped dramatically like the letter G.

"The G tower looks like a dragon's head," he said, pointing at its scale model on a table. "The most prosperous part of this area will be the dragon's head."

Declaring he is not superstitious, he said: "It's just a coincidence the tower looks like a dragon's head.

"All I told the designer was to make it unique."

-By Tan Hui Yee, Thailand Correspondent in Bangkok

China's housing heads down

Source: Straits Times / World

BEIJING - China's housing market will continue on a downward trend in the fourth quarter, but at a slower rate, analysts say.

The average price of a new home in 100 major cities in October fell for the sixth straight month, reaching 10,629 yuan (S$2,222) per sq m, down 0.4 per cent from September, data from China Index Academy showed.

Prices in these cities fell 0.52 per cent in October from the same month last year, ending 22 straight year-on-year increases.

-From Xinhua