47 year-old American illusionist David Blaine has once again pushed boundaries on 2 September 2020 by ascending nearly 7,600 metres with just about 52 helium balloons.
In his Youtube live-streamed stunt termed “Ascension”, Blaine took off from the Arizona desert (United States) and had to gradually drop small weights to speed his ascent. The entire feat took about an hour from lift-off to landing, where he free-falled for 30 seconds before activating a parachute to secure his landing.
Blaine is no stranger to triggering a series of high-profile and high-risk feats of endurance performance in the past. He was buried beneath a three-ton water tank for a week in 1999 and subsisted with only a few tablespoons of water daily. He also tried encasing himself in ice for 72 hours in 2000 but that attempt was unsuccessful.
“Ascension” is his most ambitious feat to date, where his original plan was to float across the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York. But this was foiled due to unforeseen weather conditions. Nonetheless, Blaine said “this feels like a dream so vivid (that) it had to be real.”
The event hit a record as the most-watched Youtube Originals live event that garnered over 770,000 viewers.
Catch his feat here:
Japan’s longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced his departure from office last Friday, citing his health as the main problem. His abrupt resignation sent shock waves throughout the world, especially Japan as they ponder about the great strides Japan has taken since Abe’s presidency. Throughout the 8 years in power, this premier has rendered a paradigm shift in the Japanese society through its economic, political and social reforms.
Commentators have noted that his loss of popularity as a prime minister in recent months was also the prime reason he is deciding to leave after serving Japan for many years. Despite having steady support from its citizens for seven years, Abe saw a steady decrease in support for his cabinet in 2020.
When the pandemic swept in, Abe was criticised for the way he handled the whole situation.
Who is Shinzo Abe?
Abe, 65 was initially elected to Parliament in 1993 after the death of his father, who was a foreign minister. However, he only started serving as a prime minister in 2006, but stepped down the following year after a scandal broke out.
In 2012, Abe became the country’s leader once again where he made key promises such as fixing the besieged Japanese economy and also amending Japan’s pacifist constitution, which will allow for a full-fledged military.
Abe first exited the office in 2007, after nearly serving for eight years due to his ailing health — a relapse of a bowel disease.
Throughout his time at office, Abe’s presence has definitely left an indelible mark on Japan’s defence policies and economy. Not only that, he also managed to maintain high profile relationships with foreign allies from all over the world.
However, Abe has said that he will continue to serve as a prime minster until his successor is chosen.
Here is a walk-through of Shinzo Abe’s prominent legacy.
Since coming into power for the second time, Abe has changed its international affairs approach. The highly contested Yasukuni Shrine which was dedicated towards war casualties ruffled the feathers of regional countries like China and South Korea. Although Abe visited the shrine in 2013, which created much public outcry, he has thoroughly refrained from visiting the shrine, knowing all too well that it will sour the relationship with South Korea — a huge departure from his predecessors. Similarly, Abe has radically changed the interpretation of Article 9 constitution, which originally renounced the right to go to war. Instead, the reinterpretation of Article 9 allowed Japanese forces to fight alongside overseas allies, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea while simultaneously receives blessings from U.S. This move has allowed U.S. to continue developing good relationships with Japan.
While regional countries like China continue to drive a wedge with the hegemon U.S., Japan under Abe has made great investments in forging closer relationship with President Donald Trump to benefit from economic investments such as trade. For example, Abe has hosted President Donald trump in high-profile summits in Japan. Their intimate relationship, as seen in their close interactions through 32 phone calls and 5 rounds of golf, has allowed Abe to pursue Japan’s interests such as keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive even after America’s withdrawal.
Aside from international or political affairs, Abe has also managed to move Japan’s society towards an inclusive and diverse one with an open market that embraces migration into Japan. He has reformed unproductive corporate culture by creating a new form of corporate governance code and investor stewardship code that aims to increase shareholder control and profitability. Meanwhile, the power of the traditionalist managers weakens. Additionally, Abe has also sought to punish the toxic corporate culture where workers had to endure unproductive overtime hours. Of particular importance, while his party had long resisted Japan’s movement towards gender equality and immigration, Abe has nudged companies to hire more women and minimise gender inequality through the provision of funded daycare centers, encouraging more men to take paternity leave as well as provide companies incentives if they hire women.
Abe will leave behind his biggest legacy, Abenomics, which was aimed to curb the threats of deflation and an aging work force through fiscal spending, corporate deregulation, and cheap cash.
Abenomics delivered great results in the early years of Abe’s term which lifted Japan’s economy immensely and at the same time, lifting Abe’s profile as a prime minister. However, in 2019, the steady growth suffered due to the trade war between United States and China. It then took a further downfall when the pandemic hit Japan, causing its economy to hit a slump.
Who will take over Abe?
Certainly, Abe has done pretty well in his political and public policy approach during his 8-year long term. However, Abe has not groomed a successor during this time, and this creates anxiety for Japan; some scholars have argued that with Abe stepping down, Abe’s rival, Shigeru Ishiba who is the most popular politician will take over. What lays ahead for Japan and its society? It would be tough for the next prime minister to match Abe’s legacy on economic, political, and social policies where he brought the country out of recession and diversified Japan’s labour force.
Ishiba will have a tough challenge ahead as it tries to win the support of its party members as well as Abe’s party who regards him as a political foe. With this tussle ahead of him, one wonders his plans for the future and if he is able to charismatically deliver policies despite the constant tension within the cabinet.
Social and cultural issues drive the need for transparency.
On the ground, sentiments regarding Japan’s new transparent toilets have been a mix of privacy concerns and praises for safety; on Twitter, most Japanese netizens have felt that they were impractical due to fears of malfunction.
But what exactly are these transparent toilets?
THE TOKYO TOILET Project
These transparent toilets are part of a new project unveiled by The Nippon Foundation in early August. As part of this project, three conjoined transparent toilet cubicles were installed in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and three other in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.
The main aim of these installations is to address two main concerns surrounding public toilets, especially those located in parks: cleanliness and safety. They come amidst stereotypes among the Japanese public that public toilets are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary”.
These stereotypes could be caused by mysophobia and sexual harassment.
A cultural phenomenon in Japan, ‘keppekishō’, could be one possible cause of the nation’s fear of using public toilets. Roughly translated, the term means “fastidiousness” or “phobia of dirt”.
From antibacterial products to squat toilets, Japan’s obsession with cleanliness has always been fascinating.
Yet, it has also been a sign of a serious mental epidemic. According to an anonymous 52-year-old Japanese reporter, his fear of contamination by germs in toilets became so extreme that he would avoid public toilets in train stations altogether.
Of course, he isn’t the only one suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are many more like him.
Sexual harassment and perverts
The Japanese social phenomenon of ‘sekuhara’ could be another possible cause of the fear of using public toilets. The term is an abbreviation of ‘sexual harassment’. In a country where sexual harassment and public indecency are grossly under-reported and under-criminalised, public toilets are hotspots for sexual predators to lurk in.
In 2018, two men were arrested on the same night for willfully entering a Sapporo supermarket’s women’s toilet. One of them was caught secretly filming a female supermarket employee from a neighbouring stall while the other was wearing women’s clothing and occupying a stall. Both of them were middle-aged men.
Public harassment faced by Japanese women has been reported to be much more common than that faced by Japanese men. 47.9% of Japanese women surveyed in 2019 claimed that they had been touched inappropriately before, while 41.9% of them claimed that they had experienced close physical contact (presumably unwarranted).
Similar campaigns in other countries
In a bid to weed out voyeurism, Seoul’s government dispatched 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades”.
In the West, the British Toilet Association (BTA) had implemented the “‘Use Our Loos’” campaign in the same year to have more toilets in businesses open to non-customers, following a 39% decrease in the number of public toilets. The aim of this campaign was to make public toilets more accessible to the general public.
Would Japan’s transparent toilets campaign work in Singapore?
Unfortunately, no. This is simply because the Singaporean government’s focus has always been on keeping local toilets clean and improving mass awareness of good toilet etiquette since 1982, when the first “Keep Public Toilets Clean” campaign was launched. Therefore, a campaign like THE TOKYO TOILET would be highly irrelevant to the imperative needs of our nation in its current stage of development and would not soothe Singaporeans’ fears of public toilets being dirty.
A step forward in the right direction
While these newly-sprung toilets continue to garner attention from both Japanese and international news media, unwelcome fundamental issues have also been brought to light. Thankfully, The Nippon Foundation has acknowledged the presence of said fundamental issues.
Still, the country lacks legislative safety nets for sexual abuse as well as public awareness of and treatment for mysophobia.
On the governmental level, women’s sexual rights protection is nonexistent. In fact, Japan is the only high-income country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a law prohibiting sexual harassment.
On the social level, sufferers of mysophobia (and OCD in general) normally delay seeking treatment until their conditions become severe. Moreover, the lack of trained therapists has prevented diagnosed patients from receiving the proper treatment they need.
The transparent toilets are a step forward in the right direction. Thereafter, the real work begins.
The recent incident regarding Tangs department store and its dress code guidelines has sparked a public furore. A part-time promoter at a pop-up booth in Tangs was reportedly informed to remove her hijab, a religious head covering scarf, as part of the grooming standard to maintain professionalism. In the Islamic religion, the hijab is worn by women to protect their modesty and privacy, especially from unrelated males.
The business owner, Ms Chin, was selling handmade leather bags in a pop-up booth in the department store and had hired Ms Nurin Jazlina Mahbob as the part-time promoter. On her first day at work, Ms Nurin was told by Tangs staff to remove her hijab to be allowed to continue working on the premises. This incident has escalated with Ms Chin deciding to end her lease early with Tangs, despite having weeks left on her contract, while investigations are being made by Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep).
As per the guidelines handed to the tenants of Tangs, the “grooming standard” had stipulated wearing black polo T-shirt and long black pants while religious headgear and accessories were not allowed. Ms Chin was appalled at the rationale for the removal of hijab which Tangs had cited was for ‘professionalism-sake’. This lack of tact and sensitivity touching on race and religion has ignited a public outrage with many coming forth with their opinions.
The Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Mr Zaqy Mohamad urged employers to review their workplace policies. “Religious attire should generally be allowed at workplaces, unless employers have uniform, or dress code requirements which are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons.” Moreover, Ms Nadia Samdin, the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, stated that discriminatory hiring practices – including those against age, gender, ethnicity or religion – do not have a place in Singapore.
“Discrimination of any form has no place at all in our society and, most certainly, not at the workplace.” The President Halimah Yacob had also heavily accentuated her views in a Facebook post, adding on that “people should be assessed solely on their merits and their ability to do a job and nothing else”.
While the above statements made by various political officeholders are valid and reasonable, this progressive belief does not seem to resonate with a few employers. In 2016, a similar incident had occurred when Ms Sharifah Begum was told that she could not wear a hijab for work during an interview for the role of administrative assistant at a preschool operator. Meanwhile, in 2014, Isetan was under a negative spotlight when a sales assistant was allegedly told by the managers to end her shift early and leave their premise for wearing a hijab. Although, since then, Isetan has adopted a new guideline for female Muslim staff to don the hijab during work.
Ultimately, Tangs has since removed such restrictions and will allow the hijab to be worn at work, releasing a statement, “As a Singaporean company with a diverse, and multi-racial workforce, we must respect cultural and religious practices and requirements on all accounts. We have made an immediate change to ensure a policy that uniformly respects all our employees and our brand partners.”
Both the business owner and staff, Ms Chin and Ms Nurin respectively, are heartened to receive the support of the community, especially the strong voices of the Members of Parliament and Mdm Halimah. Ms Nurin added that she is excited that there is a [positive] change happening, hoping that nobody should experience what she had gone through.
As quoted from Ms Chin, who is highly commended for standing by her staff, “I am hoping to bring to the attention of all workplaces [especially] the frontline that there should be no reason or logic for this kind of discrimination, and they really need to review their skewed practices if they are practising it.”
On a darker note, although Tafep has stated that religious wear should be allowed in the workplace unless specific dress code guidelines are stated, employers may use the latter to enforce on the removal of religious wear. While many have expressed shock and disbelief at this incident, especially in a well-known establishments such as Tangs, a number has shown support that it is fair for companies to have their own dress code guidelines.
In Singapore, the embrace of multiracialism and meritocracy is strongly advocated in all ages and all walks of life. However, the discriminatory practice illustrated in this post may serve to be the tip of an iceberg as racial and cultural differences are deep-rooted in the minds of many. Despite Singapore’s continuous efforts on racial and religious harmony, racism is a profound issue where most have experienced discrimination at one point in life. It seems that more work needs to be done to encourage acceptance in this day and age.
As the pandemic continues to affect Singapore, the government has stepped in once again to relief the burden of its people who are struggling in these unprecedented times.
On 17 August, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the COVID-19 grant will be extended to the end of the year. In his ministerial statement, Mr Heng said the COVID-19 scheme have been given to 60,000 Singaporeans so far with a total pay out of more than $90 million.
The grant aims to help those who are unemployed or have suffered significant income loss due to the pandemic.
However, to qualify for the grant, those who are unemployed must prove job that they have searched for employment or training efforts. Further details of the grant will be announced early next month.
According to Mr Heng, it is likely that Singapore’s job market will continue to remain weak beyond this year. Observers have said that more businesses will be closing and retrenchment will be apparent in the coming months due to the impact of the circuit breaker.
Mr Heng said that they are researching on how to continue to support employees and self-employed who are currently the most vulnerable group.
He also pointed out that they government will pay attention to low-wage workers as many of them are essential workers who have kept Singapore going through these tough times.
Those on the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme for work done in 2019 are also eligible for the payout. In addition, those who were not on the WIS list last year but who have already received or will be receiving WIS for work done this year can also be qualified for the grant.
In times like these, it is extremely important for Singaporeans to have support from every avenue to cushion the fall that they are currently facing. But has the grant been helpful to aid Singaporeans through this though times?
Irfan, 26, fresh graduate from The University of Sheffield
The pandemic has certainly impacted the lives of fresh graduates around the world who now have to face the uncertainty of their future.
Their dreams of jumping straight into employment and kick starting the new part of their life seem rather bleak at the moment. As the job market continues to weaken, so are the hopes and dreams of the fresh graduates who are now struggling to make end meets.
Sheffield University graduate, Irfan who returned home from the UK in March, has certainly felt the pinch of the pandemic. He is currently seeking graduate opportunities and traineeships but has admitted that he is struggling in getting a job despite the government’s attempt to help fresh graduates through the implementation of the traineeships.
He said, “I feel like there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment surrounding today’s job climate with COVID-19, particularly among fresh graduates. I am slightly concerned about my career prospects and its implications in the long run due to the pandemic”
Over the past few months, Irfan has applied for hundreds of jobs only to find himself in a cycle of not hearing back from the employers.
Despite his positive outlook on the whole situation, it is not a surprise that this fresh graduate have great worries about his future which includes the salary gap between his first and next job, the high cost of living in Singapore, job stability especially in this current climate and last but definitely not least, providing for his family.
But the sociology graduate continues to remain hopeful in these tough times, and has said that he will brave through the upcoming challenges. Though the whole situation frustrating, he is determined that the right job will come for him soon.
The 26 year-old have also shared that the pandemic have opened up his eyes to a lot of things — something that he might not have taken great notice if the pandemic hasn’t happened.
He said, “The virus has definitely allowed me to broaden my perspective and outlook in life, especially in terms of adaptability. I believe that right now, it is important to develop industry and career-oriented skills that would improve my chances of securing my dream job in the future, despite whatever the role or job might be.”
However, Irfan has admitted that the government has certainly eased a lot of his burdens more so with the new announcement of the extension of the COVID-19 support grant. He believes that the Singapore government have been working hard to cushion the fall of Singaporeans.
“In comparison to other countries, I do believe that our government has implemented practical policies and strategies to assist fresh graduates in these trying times. For example, setting up traineeship opportunities and providing allowance during that period,” he said.
Irfan also shared that the grant will significantly help him a lot as he tries to navigate his way to secure a full time job.
He said, “I think $800 seems like a fair amount, particularly when it was handed to more than 60,000 residents. It would be great if the amount it higher, but we should be grateful and try out best to sustain the help given, or even make some adjustments to our lifestyle and balance it out.”
As Singapore tries to navigate its way through this pandemic, it might have overlooked, certain part of the society, who is equally struggling like the rest of Singapore.
Shawn, 48, business owner of a construction company
Construction business owner, Shawn*, was forced to stop all his site work due to the surge of cases in dormitory. Due to that, he found himself in a difficult position where his monthly income had been severely affected.
Being in one of the most affected industry, he believes that the government might have overlooked on the fact that they, too, are struggling.
He said, “I have lost a significant amount of my income since the circuit breaker and was still denied any grant because of the annual income of my house. I don’t think this is necessarily fair, because what does my property annual value have got to do with the eligibility of the grant? It’s hard. Just like every other Singaporean, I, too lost a significant amount of income.”
Though the odds are against him at the moment, Shawn believes that there is a light at the of the tunnel. Since the dormitory have cleared not too long ago, things are slowly getting better for the businessman.
“To be honest, I am still frustrated that I was denied the grant. I had no help all because of my annual house value. But, is it really fair? Being in the most affected business, my income wasn’t stable at all.
“If I was lucky, I would take $500 home, but some months, I didn’t even had anything to take home. But since they cleared the dorm, things are picking up slowly and I am so excited to start work again.”
The 48 year-old have said that he is thankful that the government is helping low wage workers but he wished for the help to be extended to every Singaporean despite the annual house value.
He said, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful and I know that there are people out there who are struggling more than me, but all I’m trying to say is that, I wished help was there for me when I needed it.”
Applications for the support grant are now open till December. To apply, please visit https://msf-csg.gov.sg/preinstruction/csg from 9am to 6pm daily.
Processing time will take about two weeks upon submission of supporting documents.
*not real name
Governments have been actively seeking to regulate the internet which has yet to mature into a safe and fair place. Laws have been introduced around the world to tackle the Wild West elements on the internet from cyber bullying to online child exploitation to legal and illegal harms. In Singapore, our own Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) came into effect on 2 October 2019 to fight the scourge of fake news. The law targets the spread of malicious falsehoods and the use of fake accounts and automated bots that spread fake news rapidly through various social media platforms.
The law ignited fierce debate over its necessity, and since its launch, POFMA has been issued a total of 55 times. The use of POFMA during the recent General Election sparked concerns of regulatory overreach and its effect on freedom of expression and speech.
Through the use of POFMA, the government has been able to stop the possible spread of falsehoods that would have impacted on Singapore’s public interest and peace, such as inciting hatred between different groups of persons and undermining the confidence of the Government and its entities. Correction orders have been issued to owners of websites, Facebook, and YouTube accounts for content that has been deemed false by the relevant authorities.
POFMA provides the government and its entities a means to tackle and take down falsehoods, but what about ordinary individuals? What recourse or platforms do they have against, predators, cyberbullies, and criminals? Individuals are increasingly turning to the internet to voice their opinions and causes that they believe in. Although signifying the maturing of the Singaporean population that is not afraid to share openly their beliefs, there is also the ugly side where opinions are forced onto others — digital lynch mobs and vigilantes that flagrantly seek to amplify mistakes and stir discourse on issues they know would cause hurt and rile specific communities.
There is, however, space and a need in the digital sphere for proper dialogue and conversations. Former Paraplympian Theresa Goh aptly summed this up when asked about the areas that she thinks the country can improve on, “I think when wanting to do right by a group of people, we could do better at listening to what that group of people need rather than assuming we know what they need.” She added that, “I think we need to learn to be better at having conversations, and that means being open to different views and not just being open to discussions that we are accepting of because that’s not how we grow.” Being open and humble is important in any conversation.
With increasing digital penetration among the young, the incidence of cyber bulling has also increased with 3 in 4 youths reporting incidents of being bullied online. Defined as electronic communication with the intent to intimidate and hurt a person or a group, intentionally or otherwise, sending hurtful messages, spreading rumours online, and circulating humiliating or degrading photos or videos of someone — these would be considered acts of cyber bullying. The rising online vigilantism approach of revealing the identity and personal information of a victim (doxxing) with the intention to harass is now illegal in Singapore. The act criminalises the publication of personally-identifiable information with the intention of harassing, threatening, or facilitating violence against a person. Predators can face fine up to S$5,000 and a jail term if found guilty.
Has the introduction of POFMA and amendment of the Protection from Harassment Act tamed the internet? Is there a need for more regulations or should extreme opinions be countered and checked by more moderate and fair-minded individuals? To answer the first question – yes, I believe regulations has brought to mind the need to be factual and accurate in the expression of statements and views as false statements and harassment can cause irreparable damage to personal reputation and loss of life during an emergency. As to the need for more regulation, I feel the laws are presently sufficient with legal recourse available for doxxing, online defamation, digital impersonation, and cyberbullying. But more can be done to educate individuals on the incidence of cyberbullying and how to better cope or respond to it. In addition, more can be done to champion the need for proper dialogue and respecting differences between individuals and groups.
We are also increasingly witnessing social or online justice being dispensed in the court of public opinion. Coordinated community movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movement have been able to bring causes and injustice to light and provide spaces for individuals to come together. These movements have helped to build equity for minorities and underrepresented individuals and groups in society. There are however dangers of mob justice where sometimes the lives of the innocent are affected and even ruined. Take the recent case of a women in Singapore who claimed to be “Sovereign” and did not need to follow the law on wearing masks when outdoors. Doxxers had wrongly targeted an innocent individual by identifying her as a chief executive officer of a tech company. There are many more examples where mistaken identity, false accusations, or the act of forwarding a controversial image have caused individuals to lose their jobs and affected their family life.
Here in Singapore, there has been a lot of discussions on cancel culture and about woke mobs demanding accountability for a controversial tweet, video clip or post. Very often, when an individual’s misdeeds or action fail to conform to progressive views and beliefs, they are often attacked and ‘cancelled’ on social media. Cancel culture basically refers to a concerted effort to withdraw support for an individual or business that has said or done something objectionable until they either apologise or disappear from view. Academics have supported the view that activism on social media can be constructive and legitimate but have also warned that if the aim of the movement was to harm others then it is less positive. The ease at which an individual can be attacked, or have a petition circulated to have them fired or ostracised can be easily used to limit discussions and the free exchange of ideas and information.
The cancel culture has often been criticised for being mob like and seeking to punish their target until they are totally destroyed, leaving no room for offenders to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. In the past few months, influencer Xiaxue had challenged the mob approach following calls for her sponsors to drop her after some of her old racist tweets resurfaced. Mediacorp Channel 8 drama My Guardian Angels had been called out for their stereotypical negative characterisation of gays. Mediacorp and the artists Chase Tan, Kym Ng, and Brandon Wong who were involved in the series were slammed online for their involvement. Mediacorp issued a statement that there was “no intention to disrespect or discriminate against any persons or community in the drama”. Chase Tan apologised for his role in causing distress to the LGBTQ community and promised to do better.
Australian fitness guru Chloe Ting, whose YouTube channel has 13.6 million followers recently stood up in a 17-min video titled “time to talk” to address a Singaporean man’s criticism of her as he sought to defame her and make a profit through a series of 62 Instagram stories about Chloe that were entitled, “The Scoop on Chloe Ting”. These stories was a blatant attempt to profit at the expense of Chloe and were quickly taken down following her video.
Influencer Joanna Theng also experienced backlash for her scripted comments on the LGBT community in a Christian group’s video post. Despite apologising for the comments made in the video, a vocal minority continues to inflame the situation. She continues to be attacked online and the attacks have also extended towards her family members. The online vigilantism also attempted to impersonate her online with the aim of perpetuating the incident and using it to create further discourse among the various communities. Why? What purpose does such action serve but a misguided attempt to milk more followers? Whilst Joanna champions and supports open mature discussions, a line needs to be drawn when comments become defamatory, especially to family members.
Joanna Theng will learn from the incident and will emerge more mature and aware that as a public figure, her words matter. She, as well as other public figures, will certainly thoroughly vet scripts given to them and will not participate in any reading unless they truly agree with the content being said. We hope aspiring influencers and online personalities would take away the positives from these incidents and emerge as positive change individuals for the community. Joanna has clarified that she is not homophobic, and many friends, I believe, have and will step forward to attest to this. The numerous sharing and comments on the incident displays an underlying desire for greater dialogue and understanding of various communities here in Singapore. A 2015 forum article in the Straits Times titled “Agreeing to disagree on LGBT issues” called for Singapore to cultivate a culture in which we are able to both articulate our views as well as respect the views of the opposing camp. The writer rightfully stated that contentious issues should not be hidden from students but instead, encouraged to be debated, with emphasis on respect for the opinions of both sides. She added that such a culture of understanding cannot be cultivated overnight and is certainly not simple to bring about. Yet, she felt that being able to succeed in nurturing such a culture would put Singapore in stable hands for the future.
As we understand the views and feelings of various communities better, we echo Pink Dot’s statement and solidarity with the many individuals who have stepped up to share their struggles and experiences with the intention to educate and correct misinformation on their community. Misunderstandings will definitely surface from time to time and it is the collective responsibility to engage in constructive dialogue and activities that will help navigate the differences and make space for everyone to peacefully and respectfully co-exist.
Through better understanding of issues at hand, being better listeners, and humbleness to deferring views, I believe these will help make the wild wild west a little less wild and more welcoming.
This week Pison Investments Pte Ltd extended their offer for senior creditors to accept their buyout offer of Hyflux Ltd that was launched through their invitation memorandum on 9th July 2020. The offer for unsecured debts, contingent debts, and/or trade, and other debts of Hyflux Ltd, Hydrochem (s) Pte Ltd, Hyflux Membrane Manufacturing (s) Pte Ltd, and/or Hyflux Engineering Pte Ltd was set to expire on 17 August 2020. However, positive submissions and responses from creditors seeking additional time to submit their application saw the deadline extended to 4 September 2020. Pison Investments will have till 25 September 2020 to accept or reject the offers.
The invitation memorandum outlined that each eligible creditor may only submit one bid for an amount of all or some of the eligible debt. The discount set out in the tender application form highlighted that the offer must not be less than 91% on the Offered Debt.
As part of the company’s reorganization process under a Scheme Of Arrangement, Hyflux updated SGX on Pison Investments’ offer extension and will make appropriate announcements as and when there are any further material developments on this matter. Should sufficient creditors step forward and accept Pison Investments offer, Hyflux may just get that lifeline needed to reorganise and start rebuilding the company.
On 13 August, Hyflux announced that an unsecured working group of bank lenders (UWG) has filed its application for a judicial management order, following an extension of the deadline from 7 August to 12 August granted by the Singapore High Court.
Justice Aedit Abdullah gave the green light for the filing of the judicial management order last month, taking into consideration UWG’s case that they could no longer trust Hyflux’s management for any restructuring efforts. Justice Aedit Abdullah had previously rejected the judicial management order, but reiterated that the application could be revived if needed. He stated during a hearing last May, “A moratorium is meant to be a temporary solution to allow a company to put something together… but it doesn’t mean I can give a blank cheque for the moratorium going forward.”
If given the go ahead, this order would allow the group of bank lenders — Mizuho, Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, CTBC Bank, KfW, Korea Development Bank, and Standard Chartered Bank — to carve out their respective shares from Hyflux’s debt moratorium.
This is the second time that the UWG has applied for a Judicial Management Order. The first was done in May 2019, but was met with resistance from Hyflux, which refuted that judicial management applications often lead to liquidation of a company.
Hyflux had its break in 2001, when it became the first water treatment company to be listed in Singapore, and secured the water treatment project to supply and install the process equipment for the Newater plant in Bedok. The company then went on to clinch other major projects, such as the third Newater plant in Seletar, the SingSpring Desalination Plant.
Another success came a decade later, when Ms Olivia Lum, CEO of Hyflux, became the first Singaporean and the first woman to win the Ernst & Young (EY) World Entrepreneur of the Year award. That year, Hyflux also won Singapore’s second and largest seawater desalination project, which led them to propose building an on-site 411 megawatt combined cycle power plant to produce electricity for the desalination plant and power grid — the Tuaspring Integrated Water and Power Project, which formally began its operation in 2016.
However, Hyflux’s foray into the energy business did not go as well as predicted.
With the dip in electricity prices in Singapore, the Tuaspring Integrated Water and Power Project registered a net loss of S$81.9 million at the end of 2017.
The loss of profit can be attributed to various factors. According to Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, Director of the NUS Business School’s Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations, Hyflux’s risk management committee met only once in the 2017 financial year — a red flag considering the high-risk nature of their business.
There have also been questions raised about the management practices within the company. In an interview with TODAY, NUS corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen, pointed out that Hyflux’s board of directors may not have adequately questioned Ms Lum’s decisions, as the latter is known to have a strong personality.
Another problem could be due to the fact that the eight-member board includes two former employees — which present a level of conflict of interest. Non-executive independent director Christopher Murugasu was Hyflux’s senior vice-president for corporate services and Mr Gary Kee, a non-executive non-independent director, was its executive director overseeing areas such as corporate finance and information technology. Having ex-employees on the board could be problematic, as boards are meant to represent shareholders’ views and monitor the management.
As such, after reporting a year of consecutive profit loss in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, Hyflux decided to appeal to the High Court for a supervision of business and debt reorganisation. A 6-month debt moratorium — filed under Section 211B of the local Companies Act — was also granted, hence protecting Hyflux from court proceedings from creditors and investors while restructuring was underway. This would allow Hyflux to focus on discussion with investors, optimise operations and complete ongoing projects to generate some cash flow.
The moratorium has since been extended multiple times to accommodate Hyflux’s efforts to restructure — much to the frustration of more than 34,000 investors, who have been seeking reprieve since 2018.
To add on to their problems, Hyflux’s restructuring process has also been shaky, as a significant portion of local bonds have been bought by individual investors, leading to difficulties in uniting investors when it comes to decision making.
Amidst these troubles, another stumbling block appeared in late January 2020, when Hyflux’s legal advisor expressed intent to resign, owing to a “lack of confidence”. The company has retorted by saying that they too have lost confidence in their existing legal advisors, and have since appointed new ones.
So, what’s next for Hyflux?
Hyflux has undergone negotiations with various investors in a bid to save their business. Some of these entities include Middle Eastern utility firm, Utico, Pison Investments led by Johnny Widjaja, Unilegend Investments, and Aqua Munda.
Out of all these potential suitors, Utico and Johnny Widjaja through Pison Investments have been touted the ‘white knights’, as both have outlined their desire to save Hyflux from its financial troubles. In an agreement which took months of negotiation to materialise, Utico offered to take a 95% stake in Hyflux, in exchange for a $400 million ‘rescue’ deal whilst Pison Investments have set aside $200 million for debt repayment and working capital. Mr Widjaja believes in the potential of Hyflux and aims to integrate Hyflux’s water treatment services with the coastal industrial estate he plans to build in Java .
As the possibility of judicial management looms, Hyflux has to choose on a rescue package soon or face the prospect of liquidation which often happens to companies under judicial management. The fate of many retail investors numbering close to 34,000 and their prospects of recovering any part of their investments will be known in the coming weeks.