Best of our wild blogs: 16 Jul 15

Checking out Changi
wild shores of singapore

Nesting bulbul: 2. Adult feeding 2 days old chick
Bird Ecology Study Group

Four introduced species, gone, maybe extinct locally
Singapore Bird Group

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Singapore must plan for 10 million population: Ex-HDB chief

CNBC AsiaOne 16 Jul 15;

Singapore must start planning for a population that could possibly hit 10 million, Liu Thai Ker, the man often credited as the architect of modern Singapore, told CNBC.

The bold number suggested by Liu, who served as the chief executive of the Housing Board from 1979-1989 and then as CEO and chief planner of the Urban Development Authority from 1989-1992, is nearly double the current 5.3 million population and significantly higher than the 6.9 million figure proposed by the Singapore government in its 2013 Population White Paper.

In the white paper, the government described its vision of raising the country's population by as much as 30 per cent in the next two decades to ensure the economy remains dynamic. However, the move sparked strong objections amid rising discontent in the land-scarce nation over soaring housing costs and an influx of immigrants.

But Liu stands by his theory, saying that population growth is pivotal to Singapore's future.

"One fundamental thing about urban planning is, don't try to stop or control or curb population growth," Liu, who is now chairman at the Centre for Liveable Cities and senior director at RSP Architects Planners and Engineering, said.

"We should allow Singapore to grow and plan for a much bigger population… like 10 million people. We should ask ourselves: How long do we want Singapore to remain as a sovereign country? Even at 10 million people and assuming a population growth rate of 1 per cent, we will only last slightly over 100 years and that's not a long time," he added.

The country, which is battling worrying demographic changes, also needs immigrants to keep its economic engines running. With a fertility rate of only 1.2, far below the replacement rate of 2.1 and one of the lowest in the world, an ageing population would lead to profound problems for Singapore, the country's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a conference earlier this month.

Liu agrees: "Being such a tiny place, there is a propensity toward homogeneity of ideas and concepts. For us to nurture a creative society, we need people from outside. In fact, one of the reasons why Singapore could succeed was because we were a heterogeneous society at the beginning, with people from all over the world."

But even as population numbers accelerate, Singapore's achievements in urban development and innovation must be maintained.

"We must continue to keep the city green and attractive for businesses, as well as good talent to come," Liu told CNBC.

Lessons from Singapore

Apart from being well-known as a 'garden city' where flora and fauna is weaved into the urban fabric, the stability and efficiency of Singapore's urban infrastructure serves as a role model for many developing nations.

To emulate the success of the Southeast Asian city-state, governments in these developing countries will need to take the lead, according to 77-year-old Liu.

"It may not sound democratic in a Western sense but in Asia or even Africa, the government must play a big role when there's a great need for development. Because if you leave it to the businesses or private sector, they will inevitably focus more on the business side of things."

For that reason, it is imperative that government leaders educate themselves on urban development, the architect-planner added.

"Leaders must be humble enough to learn what makes a good city. Mr Lee understood what made a good city from his days in Cambridge, but he spent all his life learning from urban success stories," said Liu, referring to Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

"Leaders must also be ruthlessly rational... and I often explain to foreign dignitaries that the highest authority in Singapore is something called the truth. The Prime Minister and President will listen [even if it was] a lowly civil servant who said the truth. That, to me, is an important aspect of Singapore's success story."

Liu retold the story of Lee 's decision to construct low-cost flats in high-rise buildings - known as HDBs - even though such high-density housing was condemned by experts in the 1960s. Towering skyscrapers have since become a symbol of the nation's successful public housing strategy and urban landscape.

"We must subscribe to 'clarity equals courage.' It is not good enough to have courage and charge ahead blindly. it is also not good enough to just follow the world. You need to think what your city needs and have the courage to move ahead even [if it is] against the world's trends," he added.

Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore's first and longest-serving prime minister, who oversaw Singapore's transformation from a sleepy British colonial outpost into a global metropolis within a single generation. He died on March 23 at the age of 91.

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NEA’s rodent control plan 'could raise overall cost'

LYNETTE TAN Today Online 16 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — How the National Environment Agency (NEA) structures and manages its rodent surveillance and control programme has been criticised by the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) for potentially increasing the overall cost of licking the rat problems.

The NEA required its contractor to destroy rodent burrows only in areas under its purview, even though the contract it tendered out — at a value of S$4.19 million over two years — did not state this, said the AGO in its latest audit report released today (July 15).

The NEA told the AGO the contract was not accurately worded to state its intent, which was that, for burrows found in other areas, it would inform the relevant public agencies in charge of those spaces for them to take care of the problem themselves. The NEA added that it had made the requirements clear at a briefing it held for interested tenderers for the contract.

The AGO said this led to 115 burrows being found but not destroyed from September 2013 to January last year. As a result, 17 burrows in seven locations had increased to 32 burrows in a span of two to six months after the burrows were first detected. In addition, 16 burrows in nine locations had remained active for two to four months after they were found.

“In this regard, AGO observed that NEA had not actively followed up with the public agencies on actions taken to treat the active burrows detected,” the audit report said.

In response to media queries, the NEA said it has taken steps to address the observations made by the AGO. In its latest tender to procure services for the programme, contract specifications on the scope of work have been more clearly spelt out. The agency will also review procedures to improve coordination with owners of premises and public agencies to ensure that rat control efforts by all stakeholders are conducted effectively.

In December last year, a forested hill next to Bukit Batok MRT station made headlines for a rat infestation problem that saw more than 300 rats being killed by pest controllers after nearly three weeks of extermination operations. The following month, there were reports of rodent activity detected in the false ceilings of 14 food and beverage establishments at Marina Square and at one of its bin centres after a customer found a rat in a tray of vegetables at Hotpot Culture, a restaurant at the shopping centre.

Speaking in Parliament in January, Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Ms Grace Fu, told Parliament that 35,000 rat burrows were detected and treated by the NEA in the first 11 months of last year.

NEA addresses report on pest control
Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Jul 15;

Pest control contractors engaged by the National Environment Agency (NEA) will continue to tackle only rat burrows that fall under the agency's purview. But to address observations in the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report on Wednesday, the NEA will spell out the "contract specifications on the scope of work" more clearly, the agency said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

In its report, the AGO said it found "gaps" in the programme.

The statutory board paid its contractor $4.19 million over two years to perform routine surveillance on rodents in public areas. The contractor was required to treat rat burrows in areas under the agency's purview.

This meant some burrows were detected but left untreated, which could lead to higher costs, said AGO. Between September 2013 and January 2014, some 115 active rat burrows were not treated as they were in areas outside NEA's purview. This led to a rise in the number of burrows, from 17 burrows in seven locations to 32 burrows, in the two to six months after being detected.

Under the surveillance programme, which began in 2011, the NEA gives other public agencies information about rat burrows in areas under their charge.

"The respective stakeholders will then follow up to inspect and control the rat population in their areas," said the NEA yesterday.

The AGO observed that NEA "had not actively followed up with the public agencies on actions taken to treat the active burrows detected".

Said an NEA spokesman: "NEA will also review our procedures to improve coordination with other premises owners and public agencies to ensure that rat-control efforts from all stakeholders are conducted effectively."

But the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment, Ms Lee Bee Wah, said she was "disappointed" that public agencies draw such boundaries.

"I think the system should change," said Ms Lee.

"Diseases know no boundaries."

Ms Lee also pointed to the Municipal Services Office, which was set up to improve government coordination and delivery of municipal services, including pest control.

"I believe they should look into how the NEA interprets its responsibilities," she added.

Separately, Singapore Polytechnic (SP) issued a statement saying it acknowledged and accepted the AGO's findings and was taking immediate steps to address them.

The AGO took issue with related-party transactions that were not carried out "at arm's length".

To the Singapore Polytechnic Graduates' Guild (SPGG), SP had sub-leased land at nominal rent and waived a substantial amount that was due, without proper evaluation.

SP also failed to recover significant costs for seconding staff to fully owned subsidiary Singapore Polytechnic International (SPI). SP said it was reviewing the land lease to SPGG and will work with the guild to review the loan repayment arrangement.

SP and SPI are also taking action to formalise the secondment.

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Indonesia: 21 hotspots detected in W. Kalimantan

Antara 15 Jul 15;

Pontianak (ANTARA News) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has detected some 21 hotspots in West Kalimantan Province on Monday, indicating the presence of wildfires.

The provinces Sintang District had five hotspots; Ketapang four; Sambar, Kubu Raya, and Sekadau, with two hotspots respectively; and Kapuas Hulu, Pontianak city, and Singkawang, with one hotspot each, Sustyo Triyono, the head of the West Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Office (BKSDA), stated here.

The number of hotspots in West Kalimantan had significantly dropped following a recent visit by Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, he noted.

"We, with the support of other government institutions and the private Fire Brigade Foundation, have jointly put out fires in several hotspots detected by the NOAA Satellite," he remarked.

He urged farmers and plantation owners to not use fire to clear land for farming or plantation activities.

Earlier, Deputy Governor of West Kalimantan Christiandy Sanjaya emphasized that fire setters must be given harsh punishment to serve as a deterrent.

Since January, the West Kalimantan authorities have launched a public campaign on the governments regulation that bans setting fires in plantation and forest areas, he added.

The West Kalimantan Police have detained six suspects charged with setting plantation fires. Three were arrested in Landak, and the others were apprehended in Pontianak.

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