Sunday, September 20, 2020

Appoint Volunteer Fire Safety Officers (VFSOs) in Housing Estates – public and private housing

The elderly 81-year-old Madam Lim Ee Chin who helped her neighbour during a fire deserves full praise, and I am glad that the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) promptly recognised her civic mindedness by presenting her with the Community First Responder Award (“Neighbourly help during fire transcends language barrier” – The Sunday Times, Sunday 20th September 2020).


A friend showed me a video clip on Sunday 20th September 2020 that revealed two vehicles, one a taxi, that caught fire at the car park near Block 201 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 last night. Under such circumstances, if the fire is not put out quickly, there is a real danger that it can spread to the flats just above the carpark as the incident took place at the void deck of a HDB block.

By 2030, there will be 1.8 million people in Singapore who are aged 65 years or older - making up about 28 per cent of the total population.

With a large number of these seniors living in private and public housing, some of whom may have mobility issues, there is need to provide them with a safe environment.  There is also the need to take care of those who are handicapped.

Fires can break when you least expect it.

As a preventive measure, I propose that the government appoints a Voluntary Fire Safety Officer (VFSO) in each block of the HDB estates, and in private housing, the management committee can appoint a couple of them to look after a few blocks.

These VFSOs can be sent for training using the skills credit at SCDF centres. So, for example, if the volunteer is living in Ang Mo Kio, he/she gets the training from the Bishan Fire Station; if they stay in Aljunied or Paya Lebar vicinity, the training can be conducted at the Geylang Fire Station.

The SkillsFuture Credit aims to encourage individual ownership of skills development and lifelong learning. Introduced in 2015, all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive an opening credit of S$500.

Pay these VFSOs an allowance to encourage participation.

We must all look out for one another, adopting the Japanese “Can-do’ Attitude that says – “If one can do, I can do. If no one can do, I must do.”

These proposed VFSOs can work closely with the respective Member of Parliament (MP) and his/her grassroots leaders to enable the idea to succeed.  All seniors and those who are handicapped can be identified through a floor plan and handed in confidence to the appointed VFSO who can also carry out monthly checks to ensure the elderly or the handicapped  are not at any risk. This floor plan should be maintained in a database by the MP’s office.

Should a fire break out, the VFSO can guide the firefighters straightaway to the identified elderly or handicapped households who need to be rescued first as they are not so abled-bodied. 

Another advantage is that social connection between the management at constituency level that includes support from the MP and the residents can be developed over time, and that will surely well for the government of the day. 

Let’s take the cue from what Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once said: "Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, "We have done this ourselves."

With COVID-19 causing people to lose their jobs and to keep our citizens actively engaged, it would be an ideal time to consider this scheme.


Raymond Anthony Fernando






Friday, September 18, 2020

Feedback to NEA, HDB & Health Ministers: Managing noise pollution and cleanliness in housing estates

A reader, Dinesh Subramaniam wrote to the Straits Times to highlight his displeasure over excessive noise in Fernvale where he resides. His letter “Review rules on noise levels in housing estates” published on 16th September 2020 in the ST forum page, is true on many accounts. It’s a sensible letter. 
I stand alongside Mr. Subramaniam as I and many of the residents in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 also face the same nagging problem of noise pollution which, regrettably, is poorly managed.
There is a dire need for proper coordination between the town councils and its partners, including government agencies.
In my proposal, I will highlight the issues we are facing and provide practical and workable solutions. I trust the issues I raise will be viewed as constructive feedback – to improve the lives of all that live, work and play here.
Noise pollution – poorly managed, can lead to serious health issues such as ear problems, heart diseases and even mental illness.
Currently, contract workers in the area where I live are tasked to cut the grass about two to three times in a week. After that they will use the leaf blowers to clear the pathways. These leaf blowers are put at full speed to hasten the work, and they do so in front of the block, at the back of the block and the surrounding areas. You can hear the noise even if it is about 200 metres away.  It is well and good to clear the grass given that dengue fever is on the rise, but there needs to be some consideration for the residents. 
Children need to study, the sick need to rest, and with workers having to work from home now in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is no way to create a conducive environment.
If the leaf blower is put at a slower speed, the noise can be bearable. Alternatively, NTU or NUS students studying engineering or engineers from DSTA or ASTAR could develop a device that allows for leaf blowers to operate at a much quieter volume.    
Excessive noise from renovation of flats
Forum writers, myself included, have brought the issue of flyer litter in the press, and still the problem persist.
While the newsletter from the CDC is mailed, the one from the community club is placed at the door.
If a family or a resident is away for various reasons including having to be quarantined, then the uncleared material can tempt robbers to enter the flat. Because for every action – there is a reaction. 
With people losing their jobs and trying to cope with financial hardships, many residents are selling off their flats, as property agents are often placing their flyers on doors and gates of residents to ‘lure’ people into taking that route. There is a flat at Block 602 undergoing renovation currently (directly opposite my block), and the noise is deafening. 
No one checks on this.  
I am fully aware that everyone, property agents included, need money to survive, and thus one way to resolve this perennial problem of flyer litter is for the HDB or town council to fix a small flyer hanger on the wall at the side of the gate or door.  
Noise from the MRT works and wakes
With the resumption of construction work on the MRT at Lentor, the noise coming from the work is just as disturbing.
Then wakes at held opposite by block – regularly. 
How can anyone have any peace of mind when noise pollution is coming at you from all corners – all at the same time? Seriously!
Surely there need to have better coordination among agencies.  For example, if a wake is held where prayers and chanting is part and parcel of the funeral rituals, then the contractor doing the renovation work must stop work during the period when the wake is at the same block.
Alternatively, if there is renovation at a particular block, then the wake can be held in another nearby block.  But not at the same block.  With proper management of HDB areas, residents can live in a much more peaceful environment.
Double glazed windows can reduce noise
These double-glazed windows which cost around $1,000 per rom can help reduce noise from about 50 percent to 80 percent, depending on the proximity.
The HDB might want to consider installing this feature at the flats – either at current homes, during upgrading programmes or at new housing estates. 
Bird droppings brings about unhealthy environment, grow shorter trees
I raised the issue of endless bird droppings on my windows and on the newly installed clothes hanger as it is most unhealthy; and I can’t be closing my windows during the day when the birds fly into my kitchen to steal food, as I can’t breathe.
With this pandemic, air has to be circulated. When we leave our homes, we have to wear masks which makes breathing difficult so when we come home, then surely, we need some fresh air.  We need to breathe at home.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) wanted me to trap the bird but I was not in favour of this; as I was told that the trapped bird/s would be culled.
The solution is to grow smaller trees or cut down the bigger trees to smaller ones so that these hungry birds who rest at the trees at night will not enter flats and dirty them.
We cannot stop redevelopment or religious practices, but we take proactive measures to ensure that we all live in a safe, healthy and conducive environment – to experience better days.
I look forward to your support and reply. Do give me an interim response if it’s going to take some time to study my proposal.
Thank you.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Rebuilding the image of Changi Airport to pave the way to open the skies

The case of the Indonesian maid, Ms Parti Liyani acquitted by the Singapore High Court after being convicted of stealing from Changi Airport boss Liew Mun Leong has, unfortunately, put Singapore in the spotlight.  And I read of most disturbing reports, it certainly does not augur well for Singapore and our airport.  


Raymond Anthony Fernando

There is a way to turn this negative incident into a positive one. And given that our newly appointed Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung is forward-looking, and receptive to the suggestions, I sent this proposal to him on Monday 14th September 2020. The minister’s response is given at the foot of this proposal.


That said, we should never, never, allow circumstances to dictate our lives– because all of us face challenges in life. Bear in mind what the famous American author Oscar Wilde once said of the human race: "All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. "


Often one idea can springboard to yet another idea.   And I got the idea while looking at the stars at night in mid-September.


Be aware that the stars from above give us hope – down below.


The idea of Singapore Airlines (SIA) to allow a 3-hour flight to nowhere can be expanded to include inviting persons with special needs on any of these flights – at no cost. It can be sponsored by SIA and her partners.  

Special needs persons can include people with mental illness who have recovered, caregivers who have ‘weathered storms’, senior citizens and those in the lower income bracket. Well trained healthcare workers can be on hand to assist. This is yet another good way to accord recognition and appreciation to our hard-working front-liners.


A little souvenir from SIA can be a good remembrance for the ‘adoptees’ to treasure.  Think about it!


Meals can be sponsored either on the plane OR at Jewel. The underlying message is to show the world that both SIA and Changi Airport are excellent corporate citizens who give back to society – both in good and bad times. 


Then highlight this in the media, and see how we can turn a crisis into an opportunity.   


Need not necessarily show the faces of those with special needs, but a sharp producer or journalist can bring out the story in a creative way that ‘moves’ people.


The marginalised who may not have been given the opportunity to travel, for whatever reason, will be delighted with this possible once-in-a-lifetime experience.


However, as the aviation industry is facing financial challenges, perhaps sponsors or philanthropists can tie-up with our national carrier to undertake this community outreach.   Even ordinary citizens can offer to sponsor a seat/s for special needs citizens, and this gesture will help build a truly united Singapore where everyone looks out for one another

SIA has put Singapore on the world map, and we all can play a part to let it take to the skies – once again. With positive publicity, we can turn a crisis into an opportunity. 


Given the negative publicity of the Indonesian maid, Ms Parti , Indonesia  could be watching this case closely, and it can affect bilateral ties. We need to go into damage control.


Thus, to debunk any notion that Singapore does not treat her hired helpers well, why not those with special needs like the elderly could be accompanied by their helpers as per my proposal. It is a good way to turn a negative situation into a positive one. And that will help to send a clear message that Singapore does care for the welfare of its maids.


Reply from Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday 15th September 2020


Hi Raymond,

Thanks for your suggestions. These are interesting ideas, will share them with SIA.


Ong Ye Kung


Ray of light

Why like that


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Catholic church services: Exercise sensitivity, accord respect and be mindful of safety

29th August 2020 The COVID-19 Ministerial Task Force CC: DPM Heng Swee Keat Dear Ministers, Reference: the above matter. During this pandemic, we all need God in our lives to lift the human spirit. For God is often our only hope during most challenging times. While it is a good move on the part of the task force to allow the resumption of mass at churches, I am uncomfortable and deeply concerned with the stringent CB measures imposed which lacks sensitivity. We are asked to sanitize our hands just before receiving Holy Communion. Let’s be sensitive and respectful to the Lord as the Eucharist is the Body of Christ. Sanitizing the hands before receiving the Body of Christ is being disrespectful to God as He is pure and clean. The Body of Christ is clean, not dirty. Secondly, is taking Eucharist from the hands that has just been sanitized, healthy? What is MOH’s take on this? Surely if all parishioners wash their hands with soap and water before the commencement of the mass at the chapel, it is good enough. Let’s not go overboard on CB measures. A reader wrote in to MediaCorp’s Today newspaper expressing deep concern that there is only one entrance to get in/out of malls – with all the other entrances and exits locked. He questioned what would happen if a fire breaks out. Sensible letter. It is the same arrangement at churches, with only one entrance/exit allowed. Again, what would happen if a fire breaks out in the church compound during mass? Additionally, the elderly who have mobility issues will most certainly find it taxing walking in and out of the church. If a fire breaks out, how will the elderly escape? Getting to and from the Catholic church where I worship – Church of the Holy Spirit, simply means I have to walk one big round (which is a long distance) as all the gates are shut – with the exception of only one entrance/exit. To make matters worse, with the construction of the MRT, there are barricades put up along the path to only one gate. With cars and buses moving all the time, often speeding, one has to be extremely careful while making their way to and from the church. With arthritis causing me nagging problems, some consideration has to be shown to the elderly. Let’s not cut corners on safety – just because it is difficult to secure volunteers and staff. I do not stand during mass as its painful for me to do so. Trying being a caregiver for 4 decades and you’ll know what I mean. You get worn out and some understanding must be shown to people like us who despite their disability, make every effort to pray at church. Also, let’s adopt a ‘talk to’ attitude, rather than a ‘talk down’ attitude when encouraging people to attend mass or pray. For its not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that makes the big difference. I go to this church only once a month, and its also to pray to my 3 immediate relatives: My mother, my wife and my only sister at the columbarium where their ashes lie. The departed must be honored – to the full extent. I used to go there every day or at least every other day, but because of reasons mentioned above, and with short opening hours, I cut down on the visits. My twin brother is in the nursing home, and I used to call on him at least twice a month; and spend one hour or so with him to give him that much-needed emotional support. Social isolation can do a lot of damage. Now with only half an hour allowed once a month, I don’t visit him. There is just too much restrictions that makes it daunting to provide the elderly with that much-needed support, empathy and compassion. In closing, let’s not view issues raised as complaints, but rather as constructive feedback – to improve lives. I await your response, and if the matter needs some time to evaluate, kindly let me have an acknowledgment or an interim reply – so that I don’t have to send a second email. In short, keep the communication lines open. Thank you. Sincerely, Raymond Anthony Fernando

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Open public suggestion to Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung: Transit budget hotels at affordable rates can be a ‘home away from home’ I I applaud your efforts to exempt leisure travelers from having to serve a 14-day quarantine on arrival, and vice versa. It is sensible and is one way to bring back traffic to Changi airport (“Leisure travel green lanes can help Changi Airport regain some lost traffic amid Covid-19 outbreak, says Ong Ye Kung “, Aug 15, 2020, The Straits Times With airlines losing millions in revenue, it is timely to re-open the skies to save the aviation industry from going bankrupt and saving jobs. To ensure that COVID-19 does not make a second wave, there must still be some measures to suppress its spread. Rather that place travellers in isolation centres which will deter people from travelling, the Transport Ministry can work with the Tourism Board and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to request the transit hotels to offer affordable room rates to guests for a specific period. Some rooms can be hived-off for this purpose. The room used can ne thoroughly sanitised and spruced up after they have left. If the setting is conducive, these hotels can be like a ‘home, away from home’. COVID-19 tests can be carried out here and once cleared of any infection, the traveller can go on his/her holiday. Shopping at Jewel, other shops and dining at eateries can be allowed with temperature taking and safe distancing measures in place. Singapore, as with other countries cannot afford to be held ‘ransom’ by pandemics as the economy will take a beating and the people will suffer. Additionally, Mr Ong, we must create a conducive environment where free flow of ideas that are practical and workable be presented, and not toss it into the back-burner. For in doing so, Singaporeans who make the effort to help the government of the day, will be demotivated. With the media having the power to sway people’s thinking because of its outreach, it is vital that journalist do not overplay the COVID19 pandemic. I have read disturbing reports from the mainstream newspapers, in particular –The New Paper that often highlights the downside of the virus. Who will one to invest in Singapore or visit out country when such negativity prevails? Think about it! I trust you will give me a reply as I have taken pains to draw up this idea to you, Mr Ong. If it takes some time to give me a full answer, an interim reply should suffice. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your response, shortly. Raymond Anthony Fernando

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Public suggestion: Beneficial for Singapore when the government is open to alternative voices


The frank assessment by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on the results of the General Elections sends a clear signal that many Singaporeans desire to have alternate voices/views in Parliament (PAP spells out reasons vote fell below expectations, July 18, 2020, The Straits Times).

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s magnanimous gesture to provide the appropriate staff support and resources to Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, the government can take further steps to embrace alternative views and suggestions, which in the long run will be beneficial to Singapore and her people.

Given that COVID -19 will take a long time to go away and with the worry that a second wave will occur anytime, it is prudent to strengthen the COVID-19 Ministerial taskforce by inviting Dr Paul Tambyah who is an expert in disease management to share his knowledge, wisdom, expertise and directions to tackle the virus which is causing havoc.  Dr Tambyah is the first Singaporean to head the International Society of Infectious Diseases and his knowledge needs to be valued and appreciated. Let’s not see him as a member of the opposition, but one who can make a healthy contribution to this pandemic.

If the government views other political parties as partners rather than adversaries, then Singapore will see far better days.

Finance Minister and DPM Heng Swee Keat

Despite the close contest at the General Elections in July 2020, I am encouraged and impressed by Mr Heng’s compassion and care for all Singaporean, especially the vulnerable in our society. This is the kind of leader Singapore needs to take our country forward – and we must all, in big and small ways record our love and support for Mr Heng. It is no easy task having to produce several budgets in a space of 3 months, more so when he has recovered from a life-threatening   stroke.


Raymond Anthony Fernando