Singapore offers solutions for social woes
Published: Aug 08, 2013 07:38 PM Updated: Aug 08, 2013 09:24 PM

Prior to the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Singapore on Friday, Minister Grace Fu Hai Yien, from the Prime Minister's Office of Singapore, talked with a group of 10 visiting Chinese journalists on Monday on issues of China-Singapore relations, the haze problem affecting the island state and the region's latest campaign against it, as well as Singapore's policy on online news sites.

Fu, the Second Minster for the Environment and Water Resources and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, shared her country's experience in improving the country's drainage system to curb flooding in its streets, and the nation's success in managing street vendors. Fu also reiterated the importance of striking a balance between sustainable developments of the country and the conservation of the environment.

Fu told the journalists that Singapore never regards China's rise as a threat. She mentioned that when a new country is rising economically and politically, there will be a power imbalance as opposed to the previous political situation. China's rise is just the latest case.

Singapore has been striving to be a garden city since its foundation. It enjoys a good reputation for being a clean city with little pollution.

In June, Singapore drew international media attention as it was hit by a haze which caused its residents to wear face masks outdoors.

To some extent, there was even public panic over possible health hazards as the country faced the worst air pollution in 16 years. The haze was caused by forest burning in its neighbor Indonesia.

Fu told the journalists that a two-way solution is underway.

One is through bilateral diplomatic negotiations and dialogues with Indonesia. Singapore has also brought the issue to the ASEAN platform, since it is not only an issue that involves Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, but also a concern among other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand given different wind directions and climate conditions.

A ministerial steering committee has been set up to discuss the issue. A specialized haze monitoring system has also been set up to detect any burning spots as early as possible with the support of advanced technologies such as satellite imaging and software prediction tools.

Talking about the challenges Singapore is facing, Fu mentioned the influence of new media on the younger generation.

Individual influence has been expanded to a much larger scale compared with the previous era. Fu said that the new media is changing the traditional social framework and the way the government communicates with the people.

When asked about the control over the new media, Fu pointed out that the country's new licensing rules for online news sites stipulate that local news sites with a significant reach will require individual licensing. They will be held responsible for the accuracy of their news reports.

These news sites need to put up a performance bond of S$50,000, and will need to comply with any takedown notice from the authorities within 24 hours.

When asked about the conflicts between chengguan and street vendors in China, Fu told the journalists that the city-state has nearly 50 years in handling the street vendors. Due to pollution and hygiene concerns, street food vendors were relocated to vendor centers in different fixed locations, where a license was required. These licenses are only granted to citizens. At the same time, inspections are conducted by government officials to make sure that hygienic standards are met. Based on the performances of the vendors, an annual rating system will determine whether a vendor's license will be renewed. Vendors are also subject to tax.

Fu shared with the journalists that Singapore has installed closed-circuit cameras and sensors in drains to monitor the drainage system in the city-state as the tropical country experiences large amounts of rainfall.

An application will keep the public and government officials informed about the live situation in the sewage and drainage system. This will facilitate a rapid response to floods.

Fu stressed that sustainable development of the country is the top priority. The development must never be achieved at the expense of ecological balance and the environment.

As a mother of three children, Fu changed her role from a business executive to a politician in 2006. She told the journalists that it is a challenge for a female politician to divide her time between her family and her career since it is still uncommon for a husband to quit his job to support his wife in Singapore.

Asked about the differences between a successful business woman and a politician, Fu said that for a business executive, it is acceptable to turn down business proposals. However, as a politician, she is responsible and answerable to all members of the public.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai. fengyu@globaltimes.com.cn