Saturday, May 24, 2008

四房式组屋的红黑世界

《联合早报》May 24, 2008

黑与白向来是家居设计十分讨好的颜色,许多现代都市人在为自己装点新居时,常会倾向于营造一间看起来较为静谧幽雅的黑白居。

但这间坐落在盛港一带的四房式组屋,其屋主却舍黑白而取黑红,以火辣的红与深沉的黑,为自己营造了一个红与黑参差对照的居家空间。

不同于黑白居的简单明净,红与黑的视觉效果,多了几分神秘与野性,也别有一种暧昧的魅力。

为盛港一间四房式组屋提供设计的Altered Interior Workshop设计师邓俊杰说,屋主其实更喜欢红色,因为爱红色,他特地为自己选购了一套十分惹火的橘红色L型沙发。

邓俊杰说,因为这一套火辣辣的橘红沙发占据了客厅主要位置,接下来的色彩运用就不得不小心翼翼,再三考量下,为了不叫整个家居空间显得过于俗艳,他决定以黑色相搭配,既“镇”住红色的光芒,也碰撞出红与黑的特殊火花。

小面积镜面装点

大厅处处可见红黑配。

大厅处处可以看到华艳的红黑配,例如红色沙发配上黑色皮质餐椅、黑玻璃餐桌;即便是窗帘,也是红黑两层,外一层是红色纱质日帘,内一层的夜帘则取黑色。

除了在色彩上精心营造红黑世界之外,大厅也适当地运用了镜子来装潢。但不同于一般设计师爱用大幅镜子,邓俊杰在墙壁镶上长线条的小面积镜面。

邓俊杰说,在装潢设计上,镜子的作用是使到空间经由反射,看起来较原来的宽阔,但是如果千篇一律采用大幅镜面,或是大面积使用镜子,看起来并没什么特别,而一小片一小片的小面积镜子,反射出来的人与物,不像大幅镜面那么完整和清晰,但也因此更具神秘感和情调。

主人房:用壁纸营造典雅效果

主人房也是个充满神秘感的红黑世界:红色枕头、红黑相间的小枕头、灰黑色的棉被,最特别的是从墙壁到天花板的壁纸。

主人房也是个充满神秘感的红黑世界,红与黑的明显混搭,来自红色枕头、红黑相间的小枕头、灰黑色的棉被,连壁纸的花色也是黑色的。

目前有不少壁纸图案漂亮,也富有艺术性,屋主能随自己的喜好,选出适合的壁纸,装点出不同的居室风格,体现个人品味。这间四房式组屋的主人房,就用壁纸营造出别有特色的效果。

邓俊杰说:“由于这间组屋的屋主偏爱古典情调,我们特地为他们寻找了花色典雅,又充满英式古典情调的壁纸,从床头一直黏贴到天花板,使得整个房间看起来古典而不老土。”

厨房最明亮

整间组屋最明亮的地方该属厨房了,在这里,高高低低的橱柜都采用了十分亮眼的银色,黑色反而沉重不起来。

(Altered Interior Workshop供图)

Billionaire Fails To Block Ouster Vote

Source : TODAY, Weekend, May 24, 2008

A BILLIONAIRE Hong Kong developer may face a vote to oust him as chief executive of his own firm on “mental health” grounds.

Sun Hung Kai Properties’ (SHKP) chief executive officer, Mr Walter Kwok, has failed in a court bid to block the firm’s directors from holding a meeting to decide on his role.















“Whether to remove the chairman and chief executive is a matter for the board of the company to decide,” Justice Kwan said in Hong Kong’s High Court yesterday.

“I have no reason to question why the directors will not vote in accordance with the best interests of the company.”

Mr Kwok last week won a temporary injunction to stop a SHKP board meeting his brothers Thomas and Raymond had scheduled to vote on removing him.

The combined US$24 billion ($33 billion) wealth of Walter, Thomas and Raymond Kwok ranked them second on last year’s list of Hong Kong’s richest people, according to Forbes magazine.

Mr Walter Kwok, who has been on leave for personal reasons since Feb 18, is also suing his two brothers for libel, according to a separate court filing this week. They denied the allegations.

Shares in the firm have fallen 10 per cent since SHKP announced Mr Kwok’s leave, compared with a 4.9-per-cent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index. — BLOOMBERG

A Poke From Public Enemy No. 1

Source : TODAY, Weekend, May 24, 2008

Inflation hits new record high, prompting Govt to raise target

Singapore's economy is growing slower than expected, with inflation overtaking the United States sub-prime crisis as public enemy number one.

Inflation hit a new 26-year high of 7.5 per cent last month, prompting the Government to raise its full-year inflation target to 5 to 6 per cent, from a previous range of 4.5 to 5.5 per cent.



















"Inflation is like somebody poking your rib with a pencil. Now, the pencil is getting sharper with more pencils poking you," said CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun.

With exports slowing, first-quarter GDP growth came in at 6.7 per cent year-on-year, below the Government's earlier flash estimate of 7.2 per cent.

"We are facing risks on both fronts, but probably the balance of risks has shifted towards inflation," said Mr Ravi Menon, second permanent secretary with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

Singaporeans are being hit by price rises on many fronts — especially food, housing and fuel.

To help keep import prices down, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has allowed the Singapore dollar to rise by over 5 per cent against the US dollar so far this year.

However, this comes at a cost. That's because a strong currency makes Singapore exports less competitive abroad.

For now, the authorities appear to believe domestic inflation concerns outweigh fallout from the US sub-prime crisis on the global economy.

"The downside risk of a deeper than expected US recession … remains on the horizon but has lessened slightly in the wake of recent strong actions taken by the Federal Reserve to restore market confidence," said MTI in a statement.

MTI has maintained its 4 to 6 per cent full-year GDP growth forecast for this year, despite a slower-than-expected first quarter start.

Mr Kit Wei Zheng, a Citigroup economist, said: "While the US outlook has improved slightly, higher inflation is now adding a new dimension to the growth risk."

OCBC economist Selena Ling says exporters are facing a "double whammy". Inflation erodes consumers' purchasing power and adds to business costs, which in turns hurts corporate earnings at a time when external demand is slowing.

Still, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) yesterday said it currently has no plans to review its monetary policy stance after two rounds of tightening to combat inflation.

"We are watching the numbers closely, but at this point of time, there is no inter-policy meeting planned," said MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee.

The Government still believes inflation will moderate in the second half of the year as the impact of last July's two percentage point increase in Goods and Services Tax wears off.

New Office Space Will Be Snapped Up: Mah

Source : TODAY, Weekend, May 24, 2008

Don't worry. The looming flood of new office space will be snapped up so Singapore won't suffer from over-supply, says National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

"We take a medium-to-long term view of projections,'' said Mr Mah. "All the supply will be taken up."

As much as 10 million square feet of new office space could be available from 2010 to 2012, said Mr Donald Han, managing director of Cushman and Wakefield in Singapore, citing research from the Urban Redevelopment Agency.

However, annual demand for new office space over the past 10 years was 1.8 million to 2.2 million square feet, Mr Han said.

At the moment, demand is high and supply low. But this is about to change.

Occupancy costs rose to a record last year, boosted by demand from banking and business services and the limited supply of top-tier office space.

High rents prompted the Government to release more land for offices and developers to build as much as 6.5 million square feet of space that will be available in 2010 and 2011.

Despite the slowing economy and high inflation, CapitaCommercial Trust chief executive Lynette Leong said demand for office space remains strong.

"We have tenants who want more space but we can't give it to them,'' said Ms Leong. Most of these are financial institutions looking to expand, she said.

"The big question is really what happens after 2010,'' said Cushman's Mr Han. "I think as long as developers and owners of office projects are realistic in terms of rents, there will be take-up, but the pricing will be on the side of the tenants.''

Landlords may have to settle for office rents as much as 20 per cent lower than the $18 to $20 per square foot currently paid for so-called Prime Grade A office space, Mr Han said. — Bloomberg

Remaking Kallang

Source : TODAY, Weekend, May 24, 2008

BEFORE Changi International Airport came along, there was Singapore's first civil airport that was hailed at its 1937 opening as the "best airport in the British Empire" — and went on to serve in World War II as the principal airfield for the Allies' fighter jets.

More than half a century on, the old Kallang Airport, which has since been converted into the People's Association's (PA) headquarters, is set to charm its way back into Singaporeans' hearts — complete with al fresco eateries and spa resorts, under the new name of Old Airport Square and retaining its Art Deco facade.






















The PA will shift its HQ to Tyrwhitt Road next year. And come 2020, the former airport would be part of the new Kallang Riverside precinct, a key proposal in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's latest Draft Masterplan.

Unveiling the blueprint for Singapore's urban planning for the next 10 to 15 years, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said on Friday: "Together with the Sports Hub, Kallang Riverside will be a significant sports and lifestyle cluster with a slice of history, supported by beachfront hotels."

Bounded by Nicoll Highway, Kallang Road and Sims Way, Kallang Riverside would see 64 hectares of land developed into retail and food and beverage shops and a residential enclave flanking the Kallang River.

A network of walkways will serve the area, including an elevated pedestrian path linking Kallang MRT station to the Sportshub.

A new park connecting Lavender MRT station to the waterfront would also be developed.

Some 600,000 sq m of commercial space would be set aside for development, with 3,000 hotel rooms expected to be built. In addition, 4,000 new private waterfront homes would offer "more opportunities for Singaporeans to enjoy city living", said Mr Mah.

Developers gave the proposal the thumbs up with some describing it as the jewel in the latest Draft Masterplan, given its "great" potential.

Mr Simon Cheong, president of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, described the timing of the proposal as "fantastic", given that Singapore's waterways would be cleaned up by then with the construction of the Marina Barrage.

Housewife Molly Tan, who lives near the Indoor Stadium, said: "It's a bit too quiet and it's time we have a shopping mall or something."

However, Knight Frank's research director Nicholas Mak noted that it would take "at least five years" for Kallang Riverside developments to take shape — although a buzz would be generated in the next few years by the Youth Olympics.

Jones Lang Lasalle head of research Chua Yang Liang noted that the concept of urbanising Singapore's waterways has been "given a greater push" by the strong positive market response to similar developments in Sentosa.

Dr Chua felt that providing more waterfront homes would "greatly enhance social equity by making such homes more affordable".

The Draft Master Plan would be exhibited at the URA Centre from now until June 20.


THE BUSINESS OF PAYA LEBAR CENTRAL

The growth of Paya Lebar Central as a suburban commercial zone would be the latest step to ease congestion in the Central Business District (CBD), as urban planners address the imbalance in the ratio of jobs to homes in the various parts of the island.

Since 1991, Tampines, Jurong East and Woodlands have been developed – with varying success – into regional commercial centres as part of a “decentralisation” strategy.

On Friday, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan announced that 12 hectares of land in Paya Lebar Central – which translates to more than 500,000 sq m of commercial space – would be made available for office, retail and hotel developments.

The area would retain its distinctive Malay character with a new civic centre to replace the Malay Village – a private venture that failed to take off – next to the rebuilt Geylang Serai market. The Geylang River would also be realigned to run through commercial developments along Tanjong Katong Road.

CBRE Research executive director Li Hiaw Ho said Paya Lebar Central would be a “commercial corridor that geographically bridges the CBD and Tampines Regional Centre”.

Mr Mah said: “In the west, traditionally, we have more jobs than homes. In the east, especially in the north-east, we have more homes than jobs.” He added that more jobs will be created in areas such as Sengkang and Seletar while more homes are being built in the western and central regions.

S'pore Gets Pedra Branca

Source : TODAY, Weekend, May 24, 2008

Rocky outcrops for Malaysia, ICJ rules

AS THE International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered on Friday a near two-hour verdict to end a three-decade dispute over Pedra Branca, it seemed for a time the decision would go to Malaysia.

But just as the ICJ concluded that sovereignty of Pedra Branca had passed to Singapore over time, the judgment presented in The Hague eventually swung the Republic's way.














At the end, 12 judges found in favour of Singapore, while four dissented.

They had heard arguments from both countries based on early 18th-century history to more recent times.

Six months after hearing the case, the ICJ distilled these arguments into an 84-page judgment, which its acting president presented to the two parties.

Malaysia had based its case on the weight of history, and Singapore on acts of sovereignty. Beginning as he did in chronological fashion, Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh revealed that the former had made its case about its original title.

"Malaysia has established to the satisfaction of the Court that ... in 1844, this island was under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Johor," he said.

The argument was enough for Malaysia to get Middle Rocks, one of two nearby rocky outcrops that were also under contention, by a count of 15 to one. But the argument was not strong enough to win the case on Pedra Branca. Sovereignty of the latter hinged on what happened from 1953 onward, according to the ICJ judgment.

Going by correspondence between both countries over Pedra Branca, as well as the actions taken by Singapore on the granite rock and the general lack of response by Malaysia to those actions, the ICJ decided that sovereignty had passed to Singapore.

And Singapore is "pleased" with the judgment, even if it was "not totally in Singapore's favour", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press statement.

At The Hague, Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar told reporters: "We would have been happier if the Court had awarded all the three features in Singapore's favour, and we have argued before the Court that all these other features were part of Pedra Branca, but the Court has found otherwise and we accept the judgment of the Court."

But Pedra Branca was the key feature in the dispute, noted Prof Jaya and the MFA.

Singapore Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh said that the ratio of

12 to four judges was a good one.

Judges Gonzalo Parra-Aranguren of Venezuela, Bruno Simma of

Germany, Ronny Abraham of France and John Dugard of South Africa, whom Malaysia had nomnated to sit on the panel, dissented.

Prof Koh declined to speculate on what could have swayed the ICJ in favour of Singapore, but he did admit that the "first one to one-and-a-half hours were a bit of a cliffhanger".

He added: "We have made a strong argument in favour of the view that in 1847, Pedra Branca and the two related features were terra nullius (no man's land). The Court found against us. That of course, was a great disappointment."

The ICJ had added to the nerves of the Singapore team - led by Prof Jaya, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Prof Koh, who was serving as the Agent of Singapore to the ICJ for this case - by revealing that no conclusions about sovereignty could be drawn based on the construction and commissioning in the 19th century of the Horsburgh Lighthouse, which Singapore had used in its case.

"Fortunately, the rest of the judgment was in our favour," said Prof Koh.

In a media statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also welcomed the result. "I will be writing to (Malaysian Prime Minister) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to express my thanks to him that both our countries have been able to work together to resolve this problem, and we can now go on to develop our cooperation in many areas, such as the Iskandar Malaysia project.

"I am glad that this problem is now cleared."

There is one outstanding issue left to resolve, though.

Other than Middle Rocks, the ICJ ruled that South Ledge, an outcrop that is elevated above water only on low tide, belongs to the state whose territorial waters in which it is located. Both the waters of Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks overlap South Ledge.

According to the MFA, "the Court was not asked to determine such questions of maritime space or boundary delimitation. Singapore's rights and interests on these matters will be pursued in accordance with international law".

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, who was also at The Hague, told reporters that the Joint Technical Committee set up by both countries to implement the ICJ's verdict could "go through the judgment in detail and come up with suggestions".

Law academic Simon Tay said what was important now was for "the two governments need to sit down to ensure how the safety of the ships can be ensured. When that is figured out, the issue of South Ledge will not be so important".

A Good Ruling, For Both

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

Singaporeans are naturally pleased that the International Court of Justice has ruled that Pedra Branca 'belongs to the Republic of Singapore'. They would have preferred if the ICJ had ruled the Middle Rocks belonged to Singapore too, but Pedra Branca was always the main issue in dispute. The confirmation that it is Singapore's means that its strategic and maritime import will remain unchanged.

The chief significance of the ICJ ruling, however, is that both Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to submit this dispute to the court - and abide by its decision. Not a single shot was fired in resolving this territorial dispute; it did not occasion an irretrievable breakdown in relations; dealings, exchanges and talks on a whole host of other matters did not screech to a halt because of this one dispute. Both countries submitted their legal arguments to an independent arbitrator and agreed to abide by the dictates of international law.

Upholding international law is crucial for small states. Both Malaysia and Singapore are small. Malaysia is less tiny than Singapore, but it too is small in the larger scheme of things. If there is no respect for international law, Malaysia would not have been able to go to the ICJ to settle its dispute with Indonesia over Sipadan and Ligatan islands. The ICJ ruled in Malaysia's favour in that instance. If international law had no standing, Malaysia would have been 'crushed' at its inception, as Sukarno intended it should. Malaysia survived and Sukarno fell from power. The existence of small states depends crucially on respect for international law. Since they don't have might on their side, they must lean on right.

That, among other reasons, is why Singapore and Malaysian leaders agreed to submit this dispute to the ICJ. There were risks in doing so. Politically, it would have been easier for both if they had stood pat and continued quarrelling. Politicians on either side of the Causeway could have garnered votes that way. Instead, the two governments, over four premierships - Tun Mahathir Mohamad's and Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi's in Malaysia's case, and Mr Goh Chok Tong's and Mr Lee Hsien Loong's in Singapore's - agreed to submit this dispute to the ICJ. In doing so, they upheld international law, secured the long-term interests of small states and showed the way to the rest of Asean.

Asean cannot become a community unless it becomes rules-based and develops mechanisms to settle disputes. As the two most economically advanced states in the grouping, Malaysia and Singapore have shown others how mature states settle their differences. Singapore retained a strategic islet; Malaysia gained rocks; both upheld the law.

HDB To Be Flexible On New Rules For First-Timers

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

It assures those at the back of queue with good reasons for rejecting flats

FIRST-TIME buyers can be assured that they will get to select new flats from a reasonable pool before they are sent to the back of the queue, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday.

And, in a separate assurance, the Housing Board said it may exercise flexibility if applicants at the back of the queue have good reasons for rejecting available flats.

The comments came after HDB changed application rules on Thursday, leaving some first-timers worried that buyers offered leftover flats by the HDB will effectively be penalised.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Mah said that for first-timers, a new home is a 'big investment, so you don't want HDB to say take it or leave it...This is also why HDB will make sure there's a reasonable number of flats for couples to select, and it's not the last flat in the whole development'.

The new rules are aimed at tightening HDB's application process to deter first-timers from applying frivolously.

A first-time buyer who rejects an offer to buy a flat twice at HDB's build-to-order or balloting sales exercises will now lose his first-timer priorities for a year.

That effectively puts him at the back of the queue with the second-timers.

HDB's move came after recent reports highlighted the relatively low take-up rate of new flats despite thousands of applications.

The problem is that more serious buyers in the queue are being pushed further back. For the HDB, a lot of time and effort is wasted on administering and managing these people, said Mr Mah.

'We're trying to move those with urgent needs to the front of the queue,' he said.

Some first-time home buyers whom The Straits Times spoke to, however, were concerned that the rules were too strict.

Technical support engineer Sharlina Mohd Sahak, 28, said it was unfair if only leftover flats were on offer or if they were in an undesirable location. 'There are pros and cons to this new rule as it sieves out insincere buyers, but overall I find it a bit harsh,' she said.

When contacted, the HDB said it expects genuine buyers to book a flat if there is still a unit available.

Even if they do not, they are given a second chance to buy before stringent measures are applied, said HDB. 'For applicants at the bottom of the queue, HDB may exercise flexibility if they have very good reasons why they did not select any of the last few available flats.'

Housing experts, such as PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail, said the latest changes were 'timely, given the increasing number of unsuccessful take-ups'.

But others, such as Chesterton International head(research and consultancy) Colin Tan, said there could be other reasons such as higher prices to explain higher dropout rates.

Mr Mah said there was 'no evidence' to support this argument. It was not likely, he said, because prices are publicised before buyers make their applications.

PM Lee's Comments On ICJ Judgment

Source : Prime Minister's Office, Sat, May 24, 2008

I am pleased with the result. We fully accept the judgment of the ICJ. I am glad that Malaysia has also consistently said that it will accept the ICJ judgment. This is a good way for us to resolve disagreements or problems while maintaining good relations with each other.

Pedra Branca has been a longstanding issue between Malaysia and Singapore. Former Prime Ministers Mahathir Mohamad and Goh Chok Tong agreed to send the dispute for adjudication at the ICJ in September 1994 and to abide by the ICJ's ruling. I remember many years ago in 1995 I visited Malaysia, and spoke at INTAN, their Institute of Public Administration. PM Abdullah Badawi, who was then Foreign Minister, chaired my talk. I was asked whether if the ICJ awarded Pedra Branca to Malaysia, Singapore would accept the judgment. I replied immediately yes of course, and PM Abdullah chipped in to assure the audience that naturally Malaysia would also do so if the judgment went the other way.

I am glad that this problem is now cleared. I will be writing to PM Abdullah to express my thanks to him that both our countries have been able to work together to resolve this problem, and we can now go on to develop our cooperation in many areas, such as the Iskandar Malaysia project.

I would especially like to thank the Singapore team at The Hague. They did a magnificent job in preparing and presenting our case before the ICJ. DPM Jayakumar, Ambassador Tommy Koh, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, our foreign counsel, and many officials from our ministries and agencies have worked very hard on this case for a long time - in DPM Jayakumar's case, for 29 years. On behalf of Singaporeans, I thank all of them for their contributions and efforts.

UP: Govt Raises Inflation Forecast For This Year

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

Consumer price index at high of 7.5% last month; full-year outlook now 5%-6%

INFLATION is now public enemy No. 1 in economic terms, as fast-rising prices replace slowing growth as the Government's main worry.

'We are facing risks on both sides, but the balance of risk has shifted towards inflation,' said Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) Second Permanent Secretary Ravi Menon at a press conference yesterday.

'We expect food and oil prices to remain elevated in the near term and to feed through into domestic prices,' he said.















The MTI released figures yesterday showing that the consumer price index (CPI) had reached a fresh 26-year high of 7.5 per cent last month. The CPI is a key inflation indicator.

The ministry also yesterday raised its inflation forecast for this year.

Its full-year forecast range for CPI inflation is now 5 per cent to 6 per cent, up from 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent. This is the second time it has revised its forecast since the start of the year.

Mr Menon said the revised forecast is still consistent with earlier expectations of a moderation in inflation during the second half of the year, particularly as the impact of last year's increase in the goods and services tax wears off.

When asked if he expected inflation to climb higher than last month's 7.5 per cent or if it had peaked, Mr Menon said global uncertainty made it difficult to be sure what will happen.

'We feel inflation is peaking around current levels, but global trends such as oil prices are still uncertain, so we cannot say if it has peaked yet.

'However, we don't see it going much higher than it is today.'

He explained that the MTI had based its forecasts on an expected average oil price of US$110 a barrel for this year.

'This is significantly higher than for last year and will feed into domestic inflationary pressures here, but we do not expect major upwards spiralling of oil and food prices, and have not built a major correction into our forecast.'

Crude oil prices have been trading this week at record highs of about US$135 a barrel.

Mr Ong Chong Tee, the deputy managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said the central bank's monetary policy stance of an appreciating Singdollar, adopted last month, is still appropriate given the current scenario.

The bank's chief tool for tackling inflation is its monetary policy, which is implemented by steering the exchange rate of the Singdollar against the currencies of Singapore's major trading partners.

When asked if the new inflation expectations would necessitate a policy change or an interim meeting ahead of the bank's planned October meeting, Mr Ong said such moves would not be necessary.

'The policy stance taken in April was not a knee-jerk response but a carefully calibrated decision, and there are no plans to adjust it or for a meeting before October.'

Mr Menon said that if inflation surges past current expectations, it could have a long-term impact on growth.

'But we do not expect this to happen this year. We are maintaining our gross domestic product growth forecast at 4 per cent to 6 per cent, and this is predicated on global expectations.'

Singapore Economy Faces Triple Threat

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

# RISING INFLATION
# SLOWER GROWTH
# WEAKER EXPORTS


SINGAPORE is facing a triple whammy of economic threats in the form of surging inflation, slower-than-expected growth and weaker exports, the Government has warned.

In its Quarterly Economic Survey, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said yesterday that first-quarter economic output had grown by 6.7 per cent compared to the corresponding period last year.

Rising Inflation

That fell short of a flash estimate of 7.2 per cent released last month, which was based mainly on January and February data. Analysts say the key manufacturing sector stumbled in March.

The figures look better when compared to the preceding quarter. Economic output jumped 14.6 per cent in quarter-on-quarter terms, rebounding from a 4.8 per cent contraction in the fourth quarter of last year. But even that figure fell short of expectations.

Another key worry is rapidly rising global oil and food prices. Singapore's inflation rate rocketed to a new 26-year-high of 7.5 per cent last month, continuing its recent rampaging form that shows little sign of easing in the next two months.

In response, the MTI and the Monetary Authority of Singapore revised the full-year inflation forecast to 5 per cent to 6 per cent, from 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent earlier - the second time the forecast has been raised this year.

Slower Growth

Casting a further pall, International Enterprise Singapore announced yesterday that it was cutting its growth forecast for non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent, from the previous 4 per cent to 6 per cent projection.

And while this year's projected total trade growth is still 6 per cent to 8 per cent, the lower Nodx forecast signals flagging demand for Singapore products.

MTI Second Permanent Secretary Ravi Menon said at a press conference yesterday that the global slowdown was not a surprise.

'Consensus forecasts for countries such as the US, European Union and Japan have come down, with the US most likely in or near recession. Asian economies such as China and India are expected to continue growing at a healthy rate, albeit slower than last year.'

The impact on the Singapore economy will be mixed, Mr Menon said, with export-oriented and sentiment sensitive sectors worse hit, while domestic-oriented industries will perform better.

Weaker Exports

Therefore, the MTI had maintained its economic growth forecast for this year at 4 per cent to 6 per cent.

Mr Menon said the downside risk of a deeper-than-expected US recession seemed to have lessened slightly, thanks to strong actions by the Federal Reserve to restore market confidence.

Of greater concern to the MTI is rising prices.

Mr Menon said inflation risks had overtaken slowing growth as a worry. However, he expects inflation to hover at current levels and does not believe the central bank's monetary policy stance, last modified last month, needs to be tweaked for now.

Economists were mixed in their views of how Singapore would be affected for the rest of the year.

CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun said things were 'not doom and gloom, but more cloudy than a year ago' because of the heightened inflationary risks.

But Deutsche Bank's chief Asian strategist, Dr Chua Hak Bin, was more optimistic. 'A major positive is that the Government is in a strong fiscal position to respond, with tax cuts or higher spending, if the economy stalls.'nicholas@sph.com.sg

New URA Masterplan: Kallang, Paya Lebar The New Stars

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

Over 10 years they will become lifestyle and commercial hubs

GOOD news, Kallang and Paya Lebar: It is your turn to shine.
The two sleepy industrial estates have been identified as Singapore's next big urban hotspots, as the nation's land planners draw up blueprints for the next 15 years.

Now colourless and underdeveloped, these towns will burst into full bloom over the next decade. Paya Lebar will be transformed into a thriving commercial and civic centre, while Kallang will become a residential and lifestyle hub with homes and offices set among green parks and sandy beaches.

'To make Singapore an endearing home, the Draft Master Plan will seek to retain places of identity and heritage.' (Above) an artist's impression of the beaches at Kallang Riverside. -- PHOTOS: URA

They are the stars of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) highly anticipated Draft Master Plan, which was released by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday.

The Master Plan, which guides Singapore's land use over the next 10 to 15 years, is revised every five years to provide more housing and leisure options and ensure that sufficient space is set aside to support a growing population.

The plan also continues a sustained effort to decentralise and reduce congestion in the Central Business District by building offices all across the island, bringing jobs closer to homes.

Some of the plan's highlights, such as the new Jurong Lake District and the new MRT lines, have already been revealed.

Other plans were more fully fleshed out yesterday, such as the expansion of the city's commercial centre, which will double in size to include Marina Bay and Tanjong Pagar, as well as the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor corridor.

The Government also announced that it has earmarked enough land for 328,200 new homes around the island. More than a third will be in the central region bordered by Bishan, Sentosa, Marine Parade and Queenstown.

'We have seen significant transformation of our city over the past 10 years,' said Mr Mah yesterday.

'The next 10 years can be just as exciting, if not more. Despite the current economic uncertainties, I am optimistic that we can grow from strength to strength.'

Property players were impressed by the new Master Plan, saying it proves Singapore can remain a sustainable global city and a promising investment destination.

Equally importantly, there is 'a piece of action for every developer, no matter what kind of homes or offices or hotels they build', said Mr Simon Cheong, chief of developer SC Global and president of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore.

Pedra Branca Belongs To Singapore

Source : The Straits Times, May 24, 2008

World court ends 28-year dispute, declaring main island is Singapore's; Malaysia gets Middle Rocks

AT THE HAGUE - A LONGSTANDING tussle for sovereignty over Pedra Branca and its outcrops came to an end yesterday when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the main island to Singapore, and two smaller outcrops nearby to Malaysia.

HISTORIC ISLAND: Pedra Branca, the size of a football field, is 40km east of Singapore. Horsburgh Lighthouse, built over 150 years ago, is the oldest here. In the background, at left and right, are a pair of outcrops called Middle Rocks. -- PHOTO: GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE

The court did not make a definitive ruling on the third rock of contention, South Ledge, which is visible only at low tide. It belongs to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in, said the court.

BUT WHO OWNS THIS?: The world court did not make a definitive ruling yesterday on South Ledge, another rocky outcrop near Pedra Branca. It said that the outcrop, which is visible only at low tide, belongs to the country that owns the territorial waters it sits in. -- PHOTO: GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE

The judgment was telecast live in both countries, and when Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh concluded his two-hour statement at 6pm, Singaporeans and Malaysians alike applauded the decision.

Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar told reporters at The Hague: 'We are pleased with the judgment because the court has awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca, which is the main feature in dispute, to Singapore.'

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Rais Yatim described it as a 'win-win' judgment and said that both countries would 'forge ahead' in their bilateral relationship.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared that he was pleased with the result, saying that resorting to the ICJ was 'a good way for (the two countries) to resolve disagreements or problems while maintaining good relations with each other'.

In Malaysia, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak called it a 'balanced decision', with Malaysia 'partly successful' in its territorial claims.

FRIENDLY TIES: Malaysia's Foreign Minister Rais Yatim (left) meeting Singapore's DPM S. Jayakumar (right) and Ambassador Tommy Koh yesterday before the world court issued its ruling on the territorial dispute between the two nations. Both sides had said the verdict would not affect ties. -- MAARTJE BLIJDENSTEIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The two hours at the ICJ were suspense-filled and had the Singapore delegation, led by Professor Jayakumar, on the edge of their seats for much of the time.

For the first hour, it actually seemed as if the court would find in Malaysia's favour.

Reasoning from various historical writings, treaties and letters relevant to the case, the court decided that these showed that the Sultanate of Johor possessed original title to the island, dating back to the 16th century.

This meant that the court rejected Singapore's argument that Pedra Branca was terra nullius, that is, belonged to no one, in 1847 when the British took ownership of it and built Horsburgh Lighthouse there.













But things started looking up in the second hour, when the focus shifted to the various activities that Singapore had carried out on the island in the latter half of the 20th century.

These included its investigation into marine accidents in the waters around Pedra Branca, control of visits to the island, plans to reclaim it and installation of military communications equipment there.

The court found that all these activities were carried out a titre de souverain, that is, in a manner that conferred title on the state responsible.

It also noted Malaysia's failure to protest against these acts, all of which - except for the installation of military equipment - it had noticed.

The court also highlighted as of 'major significance' a 1953 letter from the Johor Acting State Secretary informing the colonial authorities in Singapore that Johor did not claim ownership over Pedra Branca.

The reply made clear that in 1953, Johor understood that it did not have sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

That reply would also have left the authorities in Singapore with no reason to doubt that Britain had sovereignty over the island, the court concluded.

The court thus judged that although Johor had possessed an original title to Pedra Branca, that title subsequently passed to Singapore.

The dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over sovereignty of the island arose in February 1980, when Singapore protested against a 1979 Malaysian map that placed Pedra Branca within its territorial waters.

The court ruled that by that critical date, sovereignty over the island had already passed to Singapore.

'The court concludes that sovereignty over Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore.' As Judge Al-Khasawneh pronounced these words, smiles broke out on the Singapore side of the Peace Palace's Great Hall.

The 16 judges of the ICJ voted 12 to four in Singapore's favour.

On the issue of Middle Rocks, the court said that Malaysia's claim of original title still held, as there had been no activities on Singapore's side which made it pass to Singapore.

While the ICJ ruling has settled sovereignty issues, other issues remain.

For one thing, Singapore and Malaysia have to discuss how to delimit the territorial waters in the Pedra Branca and Middle Rocks area.

There will have to be 'sensitive management' of navigational rights, said Mr S. Kesavapany, a former Singapore high commissioner to Malaysia.

'For instance, both our navies will go through the waters, so you need clear understanding of the circumstances under which this can be done,' he said.

A joint technical committee is already in place to discuss these and related issues.


IN SINGAPORE

'For Singapore this is clearly a victory...

'For Malaysia, this was a decision of an international court and turned primarily on the acts of colonial administrators - it may be a face-saving way of resolving the question of Pedra Branca, particularly since it can point to the decision over Middle Rocks.'

DR SIMON CHESTERMAN, director of the New York University School of Law Singapore Programme and associate law professor at NUS

'It was a little strange that they left it open. So the lawyers will have to sit down and define what that particular judgment means.'

MR K. KESAVAPANY, director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, referring to the court's leaving unsaid who owns South Ledge.

'One should not see this in terms of ?I won, you lost'. The approach should be one of gladness that the issue is resolved and a source of friction removed.'

MP INDRANEE RAJAH

'I am glad that this problem is now cleared. I will be writing to PM Abdullah (Badawi) to express my thanks to him that both our countries have been able to work together to resolve this problem, and we can now go on to develop our cooperation in many areas, such as the Iskandar project.'

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a statement last night.


IN MALAYSIA

'Some people are viewing this as a win-win situation.'

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK, who was in Johor Baru

'I hope the opposition will not try to politicise the outcome. Malaysians can accept the decision of the ICJ.'

JOHOR MP PUAD ZARKASHI, who said that the decision should not affect stability and unity, although the people of Johor will not be happy

'Hopefully, Singapore will not be arrogant over the latest decision.'

INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND INDUSTRY MINISTER MUHYIDDIN YASSIN, a former Johor menteri besar, who said he was saddened by the outcome but nevertheless urged Malaysians to accept the court's decision

'Will we lose more than this rock outcrop? I hope we'll do all that we should to ensure that we don't ever lose sovereignty over the Iskandar Development Region.'

PROMINENT MALAYSIAN BLOGGER AHIRUDDIN ATTAN, who goes by the pseudonym Rockybru

Industry Players Upbeat About Plans For 2 New Commercial Hubs

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

Industry players are upbeat about the plans for two new commercial hubs, noting that both Kallang and Paya Lebar have great potential for growth, given their close proximity to the city.

However, they said the timing of the various projects will have to be calibrated carefully, so as not to place additional strain on the construction sector.

In the next 15 years, Singapore will have three new commercial hubs. Jurong Lake District, Paya Lebar Central and Kallang Riverside will cost billions of dollars to develop.

According to the National Development Minister, Mah Bow Tan, one or two sites in these new regional centres will be released for sale fairly soon. But market demand will mostly dictate the pace of the developments.

Industry players warn against over-developing and easing plot ratios, which they said could trigger another wave of en-bloc sales.

Simon Cheong, President, Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, said: "We are one of the highest in the world - higher than Dubai, Tokyo, Sydney, New York and Hong Kong - in terms of construction costs. By not increasing the plot ratio, I think the government is giving some relief to the construction industry."

The government has already announced that it will defer some S$3 billion worth of public sector projects. Other projects may also join the list.

Mr Mah said: "I've asked the public agencies to consider deferring more projects if necessary. It makes good sense, (with) construction cost being so high, you won't get as much value for money.

"It also helps to even out the cycles - when construction demand in other areas goes down, this is one way for us to even out the cycle."

Some infrastructural works have already started at the Jurong Lake District, which is being transformed into a regional centre for the western part of Singapore. - CNA/ms

Mah Bow Tan Says Revised Application Rules For New Flats Are Fair

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has said that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has no intention to raise the administrative fee for the application of new flats.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Draft Master Plan Exhibition on Friday, Mr Mah said the fees will remain at the current S$10, so as not to deter genuine flat buyers.

He also justified the need to revise the application rules for new Build-To-Order flats.

Mr Mah said, "In HDB's case, we are selling heavily subsidised flats; we need to make sure that those who need the flats, first-timers, young couples getting married, do get a chance to own the flat.

"They are given two choices; if they still don't take it up, I think it's only fair that we move them to the back of the queue.

"We are not even saying 'don't come back', we are saying 'please move to the back of the queue', because obviously your need is not so urgent." - CNA/ms

Kallang, Paya Lebar To Be Developed As New Commercial Hubs

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

Kallang and Paya Lebar will be developed into new commercial hubs, just like the Jurong Lake District. This is part of the government's Draft Master Plan, which charts land use over the next 10 to 15 years.

Marina Bay and the city centre will continue to be the key commercial node in Singapore. New growth areas like Tanjong Pagar, Beach Road and the Ophir-Rochor corridor will also be developed.

However, more commercial hubs will be needed outside the city, to offer alternatives to businesses and bring jobs closer to homes.

Related Video :- http://tinyurl.com/4murmf

One regional centre will be in Paya Lebar. About 12 hectares of land are available for development, and half a million square metres will be set aside for office, hotel and retail spaces.

At least 1,400 hotel rooms can be built at the regional centre in Paya Lebar

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said at least 1,400 hotel rooms can be built in the area. And in the near future, residents will be able to shop and dine by the Geylang riverfront.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said: "When the Marina Barrage is completed some time later this year, we will be able to stabilise the water levels in Geylang River.

"Around the Geylang River area, we will be able to integrate very attractive public spaces, malls and so on. The plan is to realign the Geylang River so that it runs through the new commercial developments."

The proposals will build on the area's distinctive Malay identity, so there will be a new Geylang Serai Market and Civic Centre. The Civic Centre will house a Community Club, community development offices and even a library.

Bazaars can be staged at the proposed new plaza next to the upcoming Paya Lebar MRT interchange

More activities and bazaars can also be staged at a new plaza, next to the upcoming Paya Lebar MRT interchange.

As for Kallang Riverside, it has been earmarked as the next lifestyle precinct. Urban planners said new parks, waterfront residences and recreational spaces can be developed at the 64-hectare area.

Kallang Riverside

About 600,000 square metres of land will also be devoted to commercial use, with 3,000 new hotel rooms in the pipeline.

About 4,000 waterfront homes have been planned for the area. And the new properties will have a variety of storey heights, stepping down towards the waterfront. This will allow those living further inland to also enjoy the views of the waterfront.

Parts of the historic Kallang Airport will also be conserved and redeveloped into a new entertainment and retail attraction. Also in the works are an integrated second-storey linkway to connect Kallang MRT station to the Old Airport Square and the future Sports Hub.

All in, URA said there are plans to add 327,200 new homes around the island over the next 15 years.

Members of the public can send their feedback on the Draft Master Plan through the URA website.

The Master Plan 2008 will be gazetted after incorporating views from the public at the Draft Master Plan exhibition at the URA Centre. - CNA/ms

Singapore Inflation Rate Hits New 26-Year High Of 7.5% In April

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

Singapore's annual inflation rate rose to a new 26-year high of 7.5 percent in April as food, housing and transportation costs soared and is now a risk to the economy, the government said on Friday.

Food prices alone rose 8.5 percent, transportation and communication were 7.0 percent higher and housing costs became 11.8 percent more expensive, the statistics department said.

It said April's inflation rate is the highest since February 1982, when it stood at 9.0 percent.

"External price pressures have continued to contribute significantly to our domestic headline inflation numbers," the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a separate statement.

"Oil and food prices have risen more rapidly and are expected to remain elevated over the near term."

Related Video:- http://tinyurl.com/6xc74r

Oil prices surged to unprecedented record peaks of more than US$135 a barrel on Thursday and analysts said it could still go higher.

MTI and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have bumped up their forecast for inflation this year to 5-6 percent from 4.5-5.5 percent.

Ravi Menon, second permanent secretary at the trade ministry, said inflation is emerging as a bigger risk to the economy than growth.

"Inflation has been running ahead of what we expected... We are facing risks on both fronts but the balance has shifted towards inflation," Menon told reporters.

"We expect food and oil prices to remain elevated over the near term and filter through into domestic prices."

Singaporeans and residents have become creative in adjusting to higher living costs, adopting such measures at taking fewer taxi rides to eating out less and shortening shower time to save on water bills.

Local charities said rising food prices are also driving more Singaporeans, especially poor senior citizens, to join queues for free meals.

The trade ministry said inflation should remain around the current levels for the next two months and ease in the second half of the year.

Analysts said the central bank could further strengthen the Singapore dollar in a bid to tame inflation.

Tiny Singapore, Southeast Asia's most advanced economy, imports most of its needs because it lacks the natural resources and agricultural base of its much bigger neighbours.

MAS, Singapore's central bank, deals with inflation by weighing the Singapore dollar against a basket of currencies.

It tightened its foreign exchange policy at its last meeting in April and policy makers said they have no plans to review the policy until the next meeting in October.

"Looking at the mix of risks to both inflation and growth, our assessment is that it remains appropriate given the mix of uncertainties and the forecasts that we are projecting," said MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee.

"There are no plans now to adjust the policy stance. Obviously we will be looking closely at the numbers over the course of the next months, and review this again in October," he said. - AFP/so

PM Lee Pleased With ICJ's Ruling On Pedra Branca

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he is pleased with the judgement made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Pedra Branca.

He said Singapore fully accepts the ruling and he is glad that Malaysia has also consistently said that it will accept ICJ's judgement. Mr Lee said this is a good way to resolve disagreements or problems while maintaining good relations with each other.

He added that Pedra Branca has been a longstanding issue between Malaysia and Singapore.

Former Prime Ministers Mahathir Mohamad and Goh Chok Tong had agreed to send the dispute for adjudication at the ICJ in September 1994 and to abide by the ICJ's ruling.

PM Lee remembered that when he visited Malaysia in 1995 and spoke at INTAN, Malaysia's Institute of Public Administration, Abdullah Badawi - who was then Foreign Minister - chaired the talk.

Mr Lee recounted, "I was asked whether if the ICJ awarded Pedra Branca to Malaysia, Singapore would accept the judgement. I replied immediately 'yes of course', and PM Abdullah chipped in to assure the audience that naturally Malaysia would also do so if the judgement went the other way."

PM Lee is glad that this problem is now cleared. He will be writing to Prime Minister Abdullah to express his thanks to him - that both countries have been able to work together to resolve this problem "and we can now go on to develop our cooperation in many areas, such as the Iskandar Malaysia project".

He said he would especially like to thank the Singapore team at The Hague. PM Lee said, "They did a magnificent job in preparing and presenting Singapore's case before the ICJ.

"Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar, Ambassador Tommy Koh, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, our foreign counsel, and many officials from our ministries and agencies have worked very hard on this case for a long time - in Professor Jayakumar's case, for 29 years. On behalf of Singaporeans, I thank all of them for their contributions and efforts." - CNA/ms

MFA Says ICJ's Judgement On Pedra Branca Brings Closure

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it is pleased with the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which awarded sovereignty of the Pedra Branca island to Singapore on Friday.

But the ministry said the judgement is not totally in Singapore's favour as the court has awarded Middle Rocks to Malaysia and has decided that South Ledge belongs to the country in whose territorial waters it is located.

Singapore's legal team at the ICJ (from left) Professor Tommy Koh, Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar and Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Even though Singapore had argued that these features are part of Pedra Branca, MFA said it accepts the court's decision.

The ministry added that the judgement brings closure to a longstanding territorial dispute between Malaysia and Singapore.

Both countries will discuss the steps and procedures to implement the court's decision. Officials from both sides had already been in discussions prior to the announcement of the judgement.

Responding to queries on the implications of the ICJ's decision regarding Singapore's entitlement to territorial maritime zones around Pedra Branca, an MFA spokesman said that the court was not asked to determine such questions of maritime space or boundary delimitation.

However, Singapore's rights and interests on these matters will be pursued in accordance with international law.

A 1980 press statement from MFA had said that Singapore has an Exclusive Economic Zone and a territorial sea limit that extends up to a maximum of 12 nautical miles. This is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982.

Singapore's foreign ministry said the precise coordinates of Singapore's territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone will be announced at an appropriate time.

Should the limits of its territorial sea or Exclusive Economic Zone overlap with claims of neighbouring countries, Singapore will negotiate with those countries with a view to arrive at agreed delimitations, in accordance with international law.

Law Minister K Shanmugam said the Singapore team at the ICJ had put in a lot of effort. He praised the group for being "very professional, very thorough and totally prepared."

Speaking on the sidelines of an event on Friday evening, the law minister said the Pedra Branca issue is a long-standing dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, and agreeing to resolve it through the ICJ is a very responsible way of dealing with it. - CNA/so/ls

Singapore Delegates Pleased With World Court Ruling On Pedra Branca

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2008

THE HAGUE: Singapore is pleased to be awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca island, while Malaysia calls the judgement by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) a win-win outcome.

The world court's 16-member bench voted 12-4 to give ownership of Pedra Branca to Singapore, while it voted 15-1 to award Malaysia the sovereignty over Middle Rocks, a maritime feature 0.6 nautical miles from Pedra Branca.

M'sian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim (L), S'pore's DPM Jayakumar (R), S'pore's Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh (C)

As for the island's other maritime feature, South Ledge, Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, the Acting President of International Court of Justice, said: "The court has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area in question.

"In these circumstances, the court concludes that for the reasons explained above, sovereignty over South Ledge, as a low tide elevation, belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located."

Related Video :- http://tinyurl.com/4z2jcy

Delegates from Singapore and Malaysia, who were present at The Hague to hear the ICJ verdict, were on tenterhooks just before the final judgement was announced.

The Singapore team, led by Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar, heaved a sigh of relief when the court awarded Pedra Branca to the city-state.

The first thing Prof Jayakumar did was to inform Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the judgement. Prof Jayakumar said Mr Lee was in a Cabinet meeting and keeping a close watch on the judgement.

Prof Jayakumar added: "Of course, we would have been happier if the court had awarded all the three (maritime) features in Singapore's favour. We've argued before the court that all these other features were part of Pedra Branca, but the court has found otherwise. But we accept the judgement of the court."

Singapore's Ambassador-At-Large, Professor Tommy Koh, said the ratio of 12 to 4 judges voting in favour of Singapore is a good one, adding that he is personally happy with the outcome.

He said: "The first one hour to one-and-a-half hours was a bit of a cliffhanger, because we had argued very strenuously against Malaysia's primary argument of its original title.

"We had a strong argument in favour of the view that in 1847, Pedra Branca and the two related features were terra nullius. The court found against us and that of course was a great disappointment. Fortunately, the rest of the judgement was in our favour."

Both countries agree the judgement brings a closure to the territorial dispute that has dragged on for 28 years, and are keen to move on to implementing its terms.

Prof Jayakumar said: "I think Malaysia and Singapore, by resolving this dispute in an amicable manner by recourse to the ICJ, or third-party dispute settlement, have in fact shown our peoples as well as the region that this is a way of resolving intractable issues, and I think it's a model for resolving other issues."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said: "Primarily, Singapore and Malaysia should take this as a point of strength, a point of coordination and a point of deeper understanding..."

A joint technical committee has been set up to implement the terms of the ICJ judgement. Dr Rais said one of the tasks of the committee would be to come up with suggestions on the South Ledge issue.

He said: "Having said (the judgement is) the win-win situation, the only remaining issue to be resolved is apparently the South Ledge. (It) has got to be subject to further determination, although the court said South Ledge belongs to the State for which the territorial waters are under it, meaning that whichever state has the right of territorial waters will also have jurisdiction and sovereignty over South Ledge.

"But that's not clear under the judgement, and since we've established the understanding with Singapore to create a special committee, that committee will first, perhaps, go through the judgement in detail and later on, come up with suggestions."

Now that the international court has decided, both Singapore and Malaysia said they respect the judgement. The next move forward is for the two countries to forge ahead with continued cooperation as good neighbours with long-standing relations.

Separately, former High Commissioner to Malaysia, K Kesavapany, said relations between the two countries have been improving in the last six years, and this bodes well for settling future disputes in a more rational manner. However, he said this does not necessarily mean all such cases should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

"For example, in the case of water, the Water Agreement specifies how the issue can be addressed. In the case of the railway land, we have what's called the Points of Agreement. Now, it's up to both parties to see whether they could sit down and use the Pedra Branca example to move forward." - CNA/ir

ICJ Awards Pedra Branca's Sovereignty To Singapore

Source : Channel NewsAsiam, 23 May 2008

THE HAGUE: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in the Netherlands has awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca island to Singapore, while the sovereignty of Middle Rocks has been awarded to Malaysia.

The world court delivered the judgement on Friday, after several rounds of written and oral pleadings by the two disputing countries. The ICJ last heard arguments from both sides in November 2007.

For Pedra Branca, ICJ's 16-member bench voted 12-4 in favour of Singapore. Ownership of Middle Rocks, a maritime feature 0.6 nautical miles from Pedra Branca, was voted 15-1 in favour of Malaysia.

As for the island's other maritime feature, South Ledge, Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, the Acting President of ICJ, said: "The Court has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area in question.

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ICJ awards Pedra Branca's sovereignty to Singapore - http://tinyurl.com/5j9dph
Law professor Simon Tay analyses the ICJ ruling -http://tinyurl.com/4fjh8p


"In these circumstances, the Court concludes that for the reasons explained above, sovereignty over South Ledge, as a low tide elevation, belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located."

The verdict brings to a close a 28-year row between the two neighbours. The dispute arose in 1980 when Singapore protested against a new Malaysian map of its maritime boundaries, which claimed the islet for itself.

Years of bilateral talks failed to resolve the matter and the parties agreed to seek the intervention of the UN court.

Pedra Branca, which Malaysia calls Pulau Batu Puteh, is located some 24 nautical miles to the east of Singapore and it commands the entire eastern approach to the Singapore Strait, through which almost 900 ships pass daily.

Pedra Branca also houses the Horsburgh Lighthouse, the oldest feature on the island which was built by the British between 1847 and 1851.

Leaders from both Singapore and Malaysia had said they would accept the ICJ's decision and stressed that whichever way it went, it would not affect bilateral ties.

A joint technical committee has been set up to implement the terms of the judgement.

Dean of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Barry Desker, said the judgement indicates that Southeast Asia is moving to accept the broader norms of international law.

He added that it augurs well for the dispute settlement mechanism of the ASEAN Charter and will set precedence for the way Singapore and Malaysia deal with their other outstanding bilateral issues.

Mr Desker said: "In the past, the tendency in ASEAN was to try and resolve issues purely by mediation or negotiations between two parties. The result was that issues or disputes between parties in the region tended to go on and on without completion, without successful negotiation.

"I think we are now moving in the direction of accepting a turn to international law – a willingness to accept international arbitration and this bodes well for issues in which there are bilateral differences."

Mr Desker also described the verdict as a "win-win" outcome for both sides because no party can claim it has won everything.

Moving forward, he said the technical committees of both countries will need to put into action the decision of the International Court of Justice. These include working out the necessary protocols to ensure the navigation safety of fishing vessels and pleasure crafts around Pedra Branca. - CNA

首次购屋者若两度放弃购新组屋 优先权将取消一年

《联合早报》May 23, 2008

今天起公众向建屋发展局申请购买新组屋时必须考虑清楚,不能再抱有“抽中了再说”的侥幸心态。 

建屋局即日起调整预购组屋(BTO)和抽签选购计划的措施,确保不急着购屋的公众不会剥夺真正想要买组屋者的机会。

在新措施下,两度获邀选购组屋但放弃机会的首次购屋者,接下来一年内无法享有首次购屋者的优先权,如同坐一年的“优惠监”。他们可继续申请新组屋,但将被当作一般的购屋者看待。 

第一次购屋者的优先优惠是比别人多一个抽签机会,建屋局也会保留高达90%新组屋单位供他们选购。  

另外,对于屡次想购买组屋,却无法获得选购机会的申请者,今后也会有较多抽签机会。在新措施下,有至少2次失败经验的申请者,会有较多抽签机会。不过这些额外机会只限于未完全发展组屋区的新组屋。  

盛港榜鹅预购组屋已实行

新措施即日起生效,建屋局昨天在盛港和榜鹅推出的预购组屋“Compassvale Pearl”和“Punggol Sapphire”就采用了新措施。

去年的组屋走势强劲,转售组屋价格屡创新高,建屋局推出的新组屋也获得热烈反应。虽然申请新组屋的人往往比所推出的单位多,看起来好像供不应求,但实际上总有不少单位没卖出。这显示一些申请者并不真正想要购买组屋,才会放弃选购机会。

建屋局数据显示,在去年第四季推出的4个预购组屋计划中,约两成的申请者在获得两次选购的机会后,还是没有购买组屋。

国家发展部长马宝山上个月在建屋局常年工作计划研讨会上说,建屋局会检讨作法,确保不是真正想买组屋的人不会随便提出申请,影响了其他急于购屋者被抽中的几率。

建屋局是在去年8月调整新组屋配额,保留高达90%新组屋单位给第一次购屋者,提高他们成功购买组屋的机会。有至少4次失败经验的申请者,也会获得更多抽签机会。

为什么屡次失败者的额外机会只限于选购未完全发展组屋区?建屋局表示,这是因为往后推出的预购组屋将主要集中在这些组屋区,申请者有更多选择的机会。

建屋局房地行政与产业处处长叶振铭昨天在记者会上说:“完全发展组屋区的土地有限,在那里推出的预购组屋及抽签选购计划往往会获得非常热烈的反应,建屋局不会也不能满足每个人的要求。”

为了确保有迫切购屋需要的公众才申请购买组屋,建屋局曾考虑调高10元的申请费,不过最终没有这么做,因为这个欠缺针对性的作法将影响所有申请组屋的人,并给公众留下当局趁机牟利的错误印象。一些公众也反映,调高申请费的成效有限。

建屋局也考虑恢复过去的排队购屋制,可是这将使当局难以估计实际的购屋需求。上世纪末亚洲金融风暴后,原本有意购屋的公众都打退堂鼓,导致建屋局一度有2万多间新组屋滞销。

Sun Hung Kai's Chairmain Losses Legal Battle

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

HONG KONG - The chairman of one of the world's largest property firms lost a legal battle in Hong Kong against his brothers on Friday, the latest twist in a long-running feud that could result in his ouster.

A High Court judge turned down an application from Walter Kwok, chairman and chief executive of Sun Hung Kai Properties, for a permanent injunction order preventing the directors of the family-run firm from voting on his removal.

Judge Susan Kwan said the court would not interfere with matters concerning internal company management.

'The directors have a duty to exercise their discretion and decide what is in the best interest of the company from time to time,' she said, adding it would be 'irrational and unjustified' for the court to interfere.

The feud at the firm, whose most famous building is Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper, the International Finance Centre Two, has been splashed across local media since February.

The rift is reportedly caused by Walter's involvement with a female friend whom it is alleged has become increasingly influential on the married tycoon and his firm.

The judge noted that the legal battle had created a lot of uncertainty about Sun Hung Kai, dragging down its share price and those of other developers.

Sun Hung Kai closed down 2.14 per cent at HK$123.50 (US$15.80) on Friday, and a number of other Hong Kong-listed property firms were more than 1 per cent lower.

Mr Kwok's barrister Ronny Tong said in court on Friday that his client would appeal against the ruling.

The two younger Kwok brothers, Thomas and Raymond, both vice-chairmen and managing directors of Sun Hung Kai, moved to reassure investors after the ruling that the court case would not affect the company's prospects.

'Since our father established Sun Hung Kai, we have experienced numerous ups and downs. But together our management and staff overcame the obstacles every time,' Thomas Kwok told reporters.

The legal battle between the Kwoks, reportedly the second richest family in the southern Chinese city, began after Walter Kwok filed a writ earlier in May - an hour before the company's board was due to meet to vote on his dismissal.

He said his brothers had tried to get a doctor to make a false assertion that he had a mental disorder. The court granted Mr Kwok an interim injunction order, which lasted until Friday's full hearing.

Mr Kwok also filed a writ on May 21 to sue his brothers for libel.

He argued they had falsely claimed in letters sent to Sun Hung Kai directors that he was mentally ill and had made unwise and undesirable decisions for the company without consulting them.

Media reports have said that Walter's octogenarian mother had ordered him to step down.

Sun Hung Kai made its fortune from investing in the southern Chinese city's property market, and in recent years has expanded its operations into the mainland. -- AFP

US Home Sales Slow Less Than Expected In April

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

WASHINGTON - Sales of existing US homes, the largest segment of the housing market, fell 1 per cent in April from March, a real-estate industry group said on Friday, citing tighter lending practises.

Existing-home sales slowed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units from an upwardly revised pace of 4.94 million in March, the National Association of Realtors said in a monthly update.

The pace was stronger than expected, with most analysts banking on a rate of 4.85 million units.

On a year-on-year basis, sales were 17.5 per cent below the 5.93 million units sold in April 2007. -- AFP

Singapore Property Prices Have Peaked: MTI

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

Singapore's booming property market has peaked and will continue to moderate over the next two years, the country's trade ministry said on Friday.

Singapore's central bank said that while the financial services industry could face some slowdown there was no evidence of a large job cuts.

'There could be some slowdown, but not major slowdown. Anecdotal evidence shows that while financial institutions are reviewing headcounts and business lines, they are also looking at several areas of growth,' Monetary Authority of Singapore Deputy Managing Director Ong Chon Tee told a news conference. -- REUTERS

S'pore Q1 GDP Fastest Since '05

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

Singapore's economy grew in the first quarter at its fastest pace since 2005, but slightly below market expectations, and the government raised its 2008 inflation forecast and warned of increased US recessionary risks.

Singapore's trade-dependent economy expanded at an annualised rate of 14.6 per cent in the first quarter

Singapore's trade-dependent economy expanded at an annualised rate of 14.6 per cent in the first quarter after seasonal adjustments, as a recovery in drugs production boosted growth, the government said on Friday.

'The higher growth has chiefly reflected a strong surge in biomedical manufacturing, coming on top of the sharp contraction in the last quarter when there was a major plant shutdown for maintenance and change in product mix,' the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement.

First-quarter economic growth was below an advance official estimate of a 16.9 per cent expansion. A Reuters poll estimated the economy would grow an annualised 15.9 per cent in the January-March period.

Singapore's export-driven economy is seen by analysts as a barometer of demand for Asian goods. Exports were worth twice the Southeast Asian nation's S$229 billion (US$169 billion) economy last year.

From a year earlier, the city-state's economy expanded 6.7 per cent in the first quarter, compared with an advance estimate of 7.2 per cent. The Reuters poll forecast growth of 7 per cent.

Sectoral growth
Manufacturing expanded 12.4 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, while construction grew 14.7 per cent. The financial services sector grew 13.4 per cent.

Economies across Asia are expected to slow this year as a stumbling US economy cuts demand for the continent's exports, a key driver of growth, but evidence of a slowdown has been mixed so far.

Growth in Japan, China and Hong Kong were surprisingly resilient in the first quarter, although South Korea's economy grew at its slowest quarterly pace in more than three years in the January-March period.

The government reiterated on Friday that the Singapore economy is expected to grow between 4-6 per cent this year, well below an average growth rate of 8.1 per cent in the last four years.

Analysts said the economy's surprisingly strong growth in the first quarter gave Singapore's central bank room to tighten monetary policy in April by allowing the Singapore dollar to rise further.

However, some economists said the strength of the Singapore dollar would crimp exports growth at a time when demand in the key US and European markets are weakening.

United States and Europe buy about a third of Singapore's non-oil domestic exports.

Singapore's growth is largely fuelled by manufacturing of goods such as electronics, drugs and oil rigs. However, the economy is leaning more on other sectors such as tourism, financial services and construction to underpin growth. -- REUTERS

S'pore Sets Sights Firmly On Fighting Inflation

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

Singapore's inflation hit a fresh 26-year high in April and the government joined the Philippines and China in saying that fighting rising prices is now the country's number one economic priority.

The government raised its 2008 inflation forecast to 5-6 per cent from 4.5-5.5 per cent on Friday, citing high oil and food prices

'The balance of risk has shifted towards inflation,' Ravi Menon, a permanent secretary at the Ministry for Trade and Industry, told a news conference. 'We expect food and oil prices to remain elevated in the near term and feed through into domestic prices.'

Both the Philippines and China have highlighted that inflation is their top economic priority as countries globally feel the brunt of record crude and food prices.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said on Friday its monetary policy stance of an appreciating Singapore dollar was appropriate and the currency was its key tool to fight inflation.

'The pressure will be on to keep the currency strong. The MAS has been forced finally to raise their inflation forecast range,' said Robert Prior-Wandesforde, an economist at HSBC.

The central bank conducts policy by steering the Singapore dollar within a secret trade-weighted band against a basket of currencies, not by adjusting interest rates. It tightened policy at its last policy meeting in April.

The Singapore dollar firmed to 1.3590 to the US dollar by 0310 GMT, compared with 1.3599 before the release.

Inflation peaking
The government raised its 2008 inflation forecast to 5-6 per cent from 4.5-5.5 per cent, as the annual inflation in April jumped to a higher-than-expected 7.5 per cent, matching a level last seen in March 1982 on higher housing, food and oil prices.

The trade ministry said inflation was peaking around current levels but may go higher over the next two to three months.

The April CPI rose 1.2 per cent over March, pulled higher by a 2.9 per cent advance in housing cost, following dearer electricity tariffs and accomodation costs.

'Housing cost was also affected by service and conservancy charge rebates which were given in March 2008 but not in April 2008,' the Department of Statistics said in a statement on Friday.

Food prices increased by 0.8 per cent due mainly to more expensive cooked food, rice and other cereals, milk products and cooking oil.

Reflecting higher car prices and dearer petrol, costs of transport and communication went up by 1.1 per cent. -- REUTERS

ICJ Rules For S'pore On Islet Dispute With Malaysia

Source : The Business Times, May 23, 2008

THE HAGUE - The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday in favour of Singapore in a 28-year sovereignty dispute with Malaysia over a tiny but strategic uninhabited island the size of half a football field.

The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday in favour of Singapore in its 28-year sovereignty dispute with Malaysia over Pedra Branca.

'The court, by 12 votes to four, finds that sovereignty ... belongs to the Republic of Singapore,' Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh said.

Malaysia claimed original title to Pulau Batu Puteh, while Singapore, which knows the islet as Pedra Branca, argued that sovereignty had passed to it tacitly, having operated the Horsburgh Lighthouse on the island for more than 130 years without any protest from its neighbour.

As for the island's two rocky outcrops, the court ruled that sovereignty of Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia, while that of South Ledge had yet to be determined as it fell within overlapping territorial waters.

The granite island is considered important for its strategic position and impact on territorial marine boundaries. It lies 7.7 nautical miles off Johor on the eastern approach to the Singapore Strait from the South China Sea.

The court found that the Malaysian sultanate-turned province of Johor had held the original title but had taken 'no action at all' regarding the island for more than a century.

'The court concludes ... that by 1980 sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh had passed to Singapore,' Mr Al-Khasawneh said.

The dispute arose when Singapore protested in 1980 against a new Malaysian map of its maritime boundaries which claimed the islet for itself.

Years of bilateral talks failed to resolve the matter and the parties agreed to seek the intervention of the United Nations' highest court.

As for Middle Rocks, the tribunal found that original title to the feature should remain with Malaysia as the successor to the Sultan of Johor.

But South Ledge, a feature visible only at low tide, would now fall 'within the apparently overlapping territorial waters generated by the mainland of Malaysia, Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, and Middle Rocks', said the judges.

'... the Court has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area in question'.

Both countries have said Friday's ruling would not affect relations. -- AFP