Best of our wild blogs: 14 May 14

Campaign Leader, Shark Savers [Job]
from Green Business Singapore

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (13 May 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Oriental Pied Hornbill sighted in Sin Ming Avenue, Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Ubin Tua Pek Kong Celebration - Day 1
from Peiyan.Photography

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Can civil society influence policies?

Leonard Lim The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 May 14;

The large, spreading banyan tree once had such a thick canopy that little sunlight could filter through, hindering the flourishing of any plants below.

But, to borrow this metaphor of the State made famous by former minister George Yeo in 1991, it has been pruned somewhat in the past couple of years.

Consultation and engagement have become the buzzwords of government policymaking in a changed political landscape, with a more well-educated, well-travelled populace becoming more assertive and vocal.

There may be no better time for civil society - the wide spectrum of organisations operating outside the government and business sectors - to test this pledge to listen more, and in the process carve out a more influential role for itself.

They can take heart from the naming of Mr Tan Chuan-Jin last year as the Government's unofficial point person for engaging with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Mr Tan is Manpower Minister and a member of the fourth-generation leadership.

In 2012, Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam met gay activists to discuss matters such as discrimination and the anti-gay sex law Section 377A.

The State's engagement with other interest groups on animal rights, heritage and conservation as well as environmental awareness has also increased.

Civil society has scored significant victories recently as well, influencing legislation and government policy.

Since the start of last year, foreign maids - either with a new work permit or a renewed one - have been entitled to a day off every week, or must be paid a day's wages in lieu.

As contracts last two years, all maids will, by next January, be on new contracts that have to abide by the rule. The change came about after a decade of lobbying from groups championing the rights of migrant workers.

Laws on sexual crimes have also been repealed.

It started in late 2011, after an article highlighting a little-known section of the Evidence Act was put up on website The Act allowed a man charged with rape to discredit the victim by digging into her sexual history, and showing she is of generally immoral character.

Mr Andrew Loh, who runs the site, circulated the post to several ministries to get a response.

He received a call from the Law Ministry suggesting a meeting, but turned it down as he felt the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) was the expert on the topic.

Mr Shanmugam eventually met representatives from the women's rights advocacy group and later started the process of amending the Act.

Nature lovers, who in 2001 succeeded in getting the reclamation plans for the Chek Jawa wetlands area shelved, also extracted concessions on Bukit Brown cemetery recently.

Several nature and heritage groups opposed the construction of a road that would slice through the historic graveyard.

It is the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, and among the thousands of graves are those of philanthropist Gan Eng Seng and Lee Hoon Leong, grandfather of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

After months of engagement, a compromise was reached and the authorities changed the road's design so that the number of graves exhumed fell from 5,000 to 3,746.

But there are also many examples where civil society's push for change was not successful.

Earlier this year, several activists took issue with the Government's tabling of proposed legislation to keep the peace in Little India following last December's riot.

They argued that the parliamentary Bill placed too much focus on alcohol as the cause of the riot, and this might influence a Committee of Inquiry's deliberations.

Several non-partisan Nominated MPs criticised aspects of it. But it was passed, with the Government explaining that the new laws would give the police powers in the neighbourhood for a year until longer-term measures could be enacted.

Other recent civil society proposals that were rebuffed include calls to introduce a poverty line to reduce income inequality, and the withdrawal of licensing regulations of news websites, which some saw as onerous and curbing free expression.

But groups can take heart that "the Government has and will continue to engage civil society as an essential partner in dealing with the important issues that face Singapore", as Mr Shanmugam's press secretary wrote in a letter to The Straits Times Forum page last November.

Still, even as the political leadership indicates a greater willingness to engage, there is always the lingering question mark over whether a civil society group's actions or statements are deemed to have crossed into the political arena, thus risking censure from the Government.

This longstanding stance of politics and political comment belonging only in the realm of party politics can be traced back to the fledgling days of the People's Action Party.

In the 1960s and 1970s, leftists used trade unions and cultural groups to garner support against the party.

A recent incident involved activist Nizam Ismail.

In April last year, the lawyer was accused by the Government of using the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) as a platform for pursuing partisan and racial politics, a claim which he denied.

He resigned from his AMP leadership positions, saying he was told the Government had taken issue with his online comments and participation in political events that he said he did in his "personal capacity".

In the wake of the furore, Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said in May last year that the Government welcomes feedback on policies even if they may be critical, as this helps improve public policy for the benefit of all Singaporeans.

But NGOs "should not be used as a cloak for partisan political objectives", he stressed.

"Similarly, while individuals in the NGOs are free to express their views, they should not use their organisations to pursue a partisan political agenda," he added.

The goals of civil society in wanting social transformation, however, mean these limits will inadvertently be tested on occasion.

Still, if the saplings under the banyan tree are to take root and thrive, much will depend on how willing Singapore's civil society is to push the boundaries and extend its reach in this new landscape.

Race, religion still sensitive issues

As the fairways for public discourse and debate are widened, one marker will continue to stay out of bounds: race and religion.

In multicultural and multiracial Singapore, politicians have always emphasised that social cohesion is critical to the country's long-term success.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also singled out racial and religious divides as the "most visceral and dangerous fault line", potentially worse than the rich-poor gap or any divide between Singaporeans and foreign residents.

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam made clear at a civil society conference in November last year that the Government should not roll back its out-of-bounds markers on race and religion.

This is because such discussions can still threaten the social fabric.

Replying to a question on whether the State should step back to let citizens acquire the skills of civil debate, Mr Shanmugam said: "At a very philosophical level, you could say we should be able to talk about each other's racial and religious issues without having to really damage society.

"Often you will have a group of people who will debate it at that level, but then you will have probably a larger group, in any society, for whom this becomes very visceral and impacts on their perception of another race.

"I'm not saying these are the only viewpoints. But in that context, I would advocate (that) the Government... intervene, and say what the terms of those sorts of debates should be.

"That's been our position in the past and I don't see that changing in the context of the Internet, (which is) just a means of expression."

Bukit Brown: No consultation to extract concessions
Straits Times Forum 15 May 14;

THE article ("Can civil society influence policies?"; Monday) said civil society groups "extracted concessions on Bukit Brown cemetery".

As key players in the civil movement trying to protect and preserve Bukit Brown, we are unclear what "concessions" the article referred to.

In 2012, the decision to build a highway through Bukit Brown had already been made before the official announcement. We were present at a briefing by the Ministry of National Development, but there was no consultation or protracted engagement thereafter to extract any concessions. We issued a call for a moratorium and moved on.

The article said the number of graves planned for exhumation was reduced from 5,000 to 3,746 as part of a compromise reached with civil society. This was not the case.

The number of graves finally affected was 4,153. The figure cited in the article was from a Land Transport Authority (LTA) statement on March 19, 2012 on the realignment of the road. The final tally of affected graves was in an Aug 5, 2013 statement by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and LTA to announce the award of the contract for the road.

Also, both statements clearly attributed the road realignment to an engineering decision. The decrease in the number of graves affected had nothing to do with consultations with civil society.

The LTA statement that announced the road design included a plan for a bridge over several creeks in Bukit Brown, rather than a design that would see the filling up of these natural drainage networks with soil.

There was no consultation on the original design or its changes. It is not clear if the adjustment was a result of a yet-undisclosed but limited-scope biodiversity impact assessment that the LTA conducted in early 2012.

Regardless of the reason, this change in design was not a result of a "compromise" with civil society.

To date, there has been no consultation on the zoning of the greater Bukit Brown area in its entirety for residential use in the 2013 Draft Master Plan released by the URA. This area includes the larger cemetery complex comprising Bukit Brown, Seh Ong, Lau Sua and Kopi Sua.

We would like to focus on the present. We have been meeting the National Heritage Board since the middle of last year and hope to make more progress in protecting Bukit Brown.

Chua Ai Lin (Dr)
Singapore Heritage Society

Claire Leow (Ms)
All Things Bukit Brown

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More Singaporeans using solar power to trim bills

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 May 14;

SINGAPORE - The air-conditioning bill of Ms Jeanne Phua's family was burning a hole in their pocket as they tried to stave off the heat.

That is until they turned to an unlikely remedy: the sun.

The 28-year-old bar owner, who lives in a four-storey house in Pasir Panjang with her husband and her parents-in-law, is one of a growing handful of Singaporeans who are tapping solar energy these days to cut their bills.

Since they installed photovoltaic (PV) panels on their roof terrace last year, the family's monthly electricity bills have fallen from $1,000 to $850.

"We thought the savings would add up to a lot in the long term," said Ms Phua, adding that they use air-conditioning for almost the entire day.

They forked out $7,500 for a 2.2 kilowatt-peak (kWp) system after a friend who did the same raved to them about his savings. And neighbours have been clamouring to find out more, she said.

In total, between 15 and 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power is installed in Singapore today - about five times that in 2010 - according to industry estimates.

Industry observers whom The Straits Times spoke to expect the figure to double by the year end.

The spike in interest, as more people are aware of the falling cost of using energy from the sun, has led to some solar energy companies here reporting exponential growth in the past two years.

Last year, Phoenix Solar connected to the power grid here more than triple the amount of solar power capacity that it did in 2012. And although it is just midway through the year, it has already exceeded the 1,800 kWp that it installed last year.

Over at Sunseap, which has installed the bulk of the nation's solar power, the 18 megawatt peak (MWp) it has so far installed this year easily dwarfs the 10MWp it did last year and the 3MWp in 2012. Singapore gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from natural gas and about 18 per cent from fuel oil.

In March, the Government said that it plans to install 350 MWp of solar energy by 2020, about 5 per cent of electricity demand.

Despite the growing interest in solar power, commercial and industrial properties still form the vast majority of orders for PV panels. And the overall use of solar energy makes up only a tiny fraction of Singapore's electricity demand.

Phoenix Solar's managing director Christophe Inglin expects that to change in the years ahead.

"Cost is no longer a significant barrier," he said, adding that solar energy became commercially viable here last year, making electricity produced from the sun as cheap - or even cheaper than - conventional sources.

He believes that is why more clients are installing "as much as their roofs can take". They can typically recoup their investment cost in six to 10 years at current electricity prices, said Mr Inglin.

Despite the potential savings they could enjoy, many private home owners still think that prices are high. A typical system for a landed home now costs less than $30,000 - much more affordable than the $90,000 it would have cost in 2007, he added.

A Sunseap spokesman said that despite receiving many inquiries, many home owners are still put off by the upfront cost involved and are waiting for solar leasing schemes to become available.

Educating the public about solar power is one aim of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris). Next year, it will release an online map revealing the solar potential of every rooftop in Singapore, and the cost of installing panels on them.

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Monastery encourages people to be kind to animals on Vesak Day

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 13 May 14;

SINGAPORE: Some monasteries often get requests to take in abandoned pets.

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery is one of them.

As its premises are not suitable for keeping pets, it has put up 30 abandoned dogs for adoption at a shelter in Pasir Ris.

On Vesak Day, the monastery took the opportunity to encourage devotees to be kind to animals.

Volunteers were on hand to explain that helping all sentient beings to be free from suffering is one of the core principles of Buddhism.

But apart from releasing animals into the wild, protecting their lives is another way people can do so.

Volunteers also helped to raise funds for abandoned animals on Vesak Day.

This is the second year that the monastery is holding such activities on Vesak Day.

Last year, it raised a few thousand dollars for abandoned pets at nine temples.

Some devotees think that handing their pets to the monastery is a liberation of life.

But the monastery points out that this is a misconception.

Venerable Chuan Guan, spiritual adviser (Dharma Propagation Division) at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, said: "Life liberation is different from owners discarding their pets. It is a religious practice stemming from love and compassion. The focus is actually to give those animals, which are doomed to die, a chance to live, and to adopt the right practices that actually do help them."

- CNA/ir

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Indonesia: Oil spill of Petro Selat pollutes environment

Antara 13 May 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The oil spill from a leaked well of PT Petro Selat, in Siak District of Riau Province, has polluted the environment in the area.

"The leak occurred when the company was drilling a new oil well. The gas pressure combined with the oil and mud inside the well and gushed out into the air and polluted the surrounding area," the Head of Environment Agency in Siak District, Sadikin, told Antara, on Tuesday.

The oil had been leaking in Bakau Area 07 of the concession area since 4.00 PM last Thursday. The preliminary information said the height of the spill was 15 meters.

The company managed to stop the blowout on Monday evening. That, however, did not stop the oil spills from polluting the environment, added Sadikin.

"The oil and mud spill had flown into the River Rawa located three kilometers from Malaka Strait," he said.

The blowout also polluted sago plantations and water sources near the oil well.

"The oil and mud that flew into the air was blown along by the wind and polluted the local water wells," Sadikin said.

The locals are angry because of the pollution in the area. The special team from the agency has calculated the environment damage and public loss due to the oil spill.

"The people are upset and are in a panic due to the incident. I have asked the Head of the Sub-district and Head of the village to calm their fears. We have also asked the company to compensate the people in anticipation of further unwanted action," Sadikin said.

PT Petro Selat had anticipated the oil spill by operating an instrument to stem the pollution from spreading further into the river and flowing into Malaka Strait, he added.

Sadikin predicted that the total oil spill in the river could reach hundreds of barrels.

"The preliminary information stated that at least 200 barrels of oil have been collected from the river," he said.

The Siak Regent, Syamsuar, visited the site on Monday to instruct the company to take the oil spill seriously, according to Sadikin.

"The company should also immediately report the cause of the incident, and whether it is negligence or there are any other causes," Sadikin said.

The company has not yet given a formal statement relating to the blowout and their efforts to prevent the pollution.

The Upstream Oil and Gas regulatory special task force was informed and is conducting investigations into the incident.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Indonesia intensifies marine research in Eastern Indonesian waters

Antara 13 May 14;

Ambon, Maluku (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has been intensifying deep sea research in eastern Indonesian waters which could give significant contribution to the worlds marine science.

The number of human resources including researchers and administrative staff, was increased to support the research program, LIPI Chairman Lukman Hakim said here on Tuesday.

The facilities and infrastructure to carry out deep sea research have also been improved, according to him.

LIPI has upgraded the status of Ambons marine biota conservation office into a Deep Sea Research Center for eastern Indonesia.

Hakim recalled that the then president Soekarno had planned to set up the largest oceanography institute in Southeast Asia, in Ambon, Maluku Province, with the assistance of Russia. But the plan had been cancelled due to the communist coup in 1960s.

In 1971, LIPI set up a research station in Ambon and upgraded its status into a marine resource research office in 1998.

Head of the Ambon Marine Resource Research office Augy Syahalaitua said that Malukus waters was a foundation of Indonesias marine science because of its abundant marine biota.

"The Maluku and Ambon waters have contributed to the worlds marine science significantly," he said.

Eastern Indonesian waters consisting of vast deep seas, are mostly unexplored.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Women are Encouraged to be Involved in the Marine Conservation

Antara 13 May 14;

MANADO, North Sulawesi, May 13, 2014 (ANTARA) -- Six countries of the World's Coral Reef Triangle, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and East Timor, are agreed to encourage the involvement of women in protecting and conserving the world's marine natural resource. This was declared in the Women Leaders Forum held in Grand Kawanua Center (GKICC), in Manado, on May 13.

The Secretary-General of The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Sjarief Widjaja, who acts as the Chairman of Interim Regional Secretariat (IRS) of CTI-CFF, stated that women are necessary to take part in the marine conservation initiatives, particularly in the marine and coastal resource conservation, post-capture fish handling, and the trade.

Sjarief continued that the Forum has set a number of year-round activities, including the study visits, the leader forums, and the activity aiming to reach and influence the decision-making women in the governments.

Sjarief said, "the mission is to build capacity of women throughout the Coral Reef Triangle's countries, so that the women leaders can play significant roles in protecting and conserving the marine and coastal resource."

The Executive Director of Coral Triangle Center, Rili Djohani, who co-pioneered the women leadership program in the Coral Reef Triangle, remarked, "The women leaders, particularly in the society level, has always been actively participating in the marine and coastal resource protection. Somehow, they are less-rewarded and less-recognized. Therefore, by initiating such a forum, we expect to inspire and encourage women be more involved in the sustainable management, conservation, utilization of the natural resource."

The CTI-CFF Women Leaders Forum is organized by CTI-CFF IRS and supported by the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia, National Coordinating Committee (NCC) Indonesia, USAID, the Coral Triangle Center, US Department of Interior, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and Asian Development Bank. The Forum is concurrently held with Special Senior Officials Meeting of CTI-CFF and the 5th CTI-CFF ministerial meeting as well as the World Coral Reefs Conference (WCRC).

During the Forum, six Coral Reef Triangle's countries' women leaders received awards and grants to support and bolster their activities for the society back in their countries. Those women leaders are Martha Lotang from Indonesia, Francesca Ngo Winfield from malaysia, Piwen Langarap from Papua New Guinea, Alma Bool from the Philippines, Moira Dasipio from Solomon Islands, and Robela Mendes from East Timor.

For more information, please contact:

Anang Noegroho
Head of Statistic and Data Center
The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries

Editor: PR Wire

The Equilibrium of Environment and the Coastal Community Welfare Set to be the Main Agenda of Coral Triangle Initiative
Antara 13 May 14;

Manado, May 13, 2014 (ANTARA) -- In the framework of establishing the better marine and coastal zone management and reservation, all of the state members of the Coral Reef Triangle have composed the framework and the action plan called Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area System (CTMPAS). In addition to increase the the marine and the coastal zone condition, CTMPAS also aims to elevate the equilibrium between the environment and the welfare of the coastal community in the Coral Reef Triangle's countries.

CTMPAS is expected to ensure the coastal community welfare by providing the sustainable economic benefit for the community living around the coastal zone. This is in line with the vision of the CTMPAS establishment which is to create new livelihood and to provide the marine-based food source for the community, as well as conserving the diversity of the natural resource.

The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Sjarief Widjaja, who acts as the Chairman of the Interim Regional Secretariat (IRS) for the CTI-CFF held in Manado, on May 13, said, "Technically, CTMPAS will provide the added value for the community, socially and economically, through the elevation of the education capacity, the alternative livelihood source, and ultimately, to enhance the quality of life."

Sjarief continued that the CTMPAS is planned to be widely implemented by the CTI-CFF's state members on 2020. "However, each country has their own way to implement and manage the CTMPAS, depending on the bioecologic, social, economic, and cultural potensials as well as their ocean governance," said Sjarief.

The Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a marine or coastal zone where the coastal community depends on as the livelihood source as well as the marine conservation zone.

CTMPAS was launched today (May 13) preceding the inauguration of the World Coral Reef Conference (WCRC) which will be held on May 14-17 in Manado, North Sulawesi.

Contact Media:
Anang Noegroho
Head of the Statistic and Data Center
The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries

Editor: PR Wire

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