Top 10 Singapore Headlines

As 2015 nears its end, Yahoo Singapore looks back at some of the year’s top headlines.

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Singapore F1 Grand Prix night race circuit in Singapore on September 14, 2015. Image: Reuters/ Edgar Su

10.The haze

Though skies are clearer now, transboundary haze was a real bugbear for Singaporeans this past year.

The haze – caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan – affected most of Indonesia from June, and quickly spread to the rest of South East Asia by September.

Prevailing winds sent denser haze into Singapore by Sept 24, causing the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to peak to a hazardous reading of 313.

It rose even further in the days that followed. Outdoor activities were postponed and schools closed as a result.

Conditions have improved, however. On Nov 15, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said frequent showers at the end of October signaled the end of the traditional dry season in the region. This also helped to ease the haze situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

9. Dan Tan

It was a ruling that made headlines around the world. On Nov 25, alleged kelong king Dan Tan Seet Meng was freed from a two-year detention under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions Act).

Why? Because Singapore’s highest court found his detention without trail was unlawful.

Tan was arrested in September 2013. A month later, the Home Affairs Minister detained him without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA).

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the grounds for Tan’s detention was fixing football matches in countries including Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Turkey and that “while … these acts are reprehensible and should not be condoned, there is nothing to suggest whether, or how, these activities could be thought to have a bearing on the public safety, peace and good order within Singapore.”

There was an immediate uproar in international circles. Not surprising since Interpol once called 51-year-old Tan “the leader of the world’s most notorious match fixing syndicate”.

Posting on Twitter after the judgment was released, former Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble wrote: “Singaporean’s corruption of sport and business outside of Singapore does not affect its good order. Wrong!”

But on Dec 1 – less than a week after his release – Tan was re-arrested.

In a Facebook post on Dec 2, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam wrote: “The police have arrested Dan Tan for investigations. If he is detained under the CLTPA, the Detention Order will set out the grounds in full, as advised by AGC, and will comply with the terms of the Judgment.”

8. LionsXII booted out of Malaysian Super League

This year, they won their first ever Malaysian FA Cup title.

But despite being one of the most talked about teams on the Malaysian football circuit, LionsXII is now out of the game.

On Nov 25, the Singapore football club, which made history by returning to the Malaysian football scene after leaving the Malaysian Cup in 1994, was booted out of the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

In a blow to the Singapore club’s 2016 plans, 12 members of the Football Association of Malaysia’s executive committee “unanimously voted against renewing the club’s stay in MSL”.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has since disbanded the LionsXII team, with most of the players now signed to teams in the S League.

7. Public Transport

The frequent MRT train disruptions were a real talking point this year - not surprising, given the many disruptions in the last 12 months.

Let’s also not forget the breakdown on July 7, which affected more than 413,000 passengers, and was severe enough to warrant a reprimand from the Government.

In September, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) found transport operator SMRT responsible for the lapse, and fined the latter S$5.4 million.

Meanwhile, there are hints that the privately run train operations could be nationalised.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the LTA must be ready to take over the privately run rail service if necessary.

At a recent forum on infrastructure maintenance, Mr Khaw was quoted as saying: “Creating an excellent rail system requires an integrated approach, from design and construction, right through to actual operations and maintenance.”

6. SG50 – What worked, what didn’t

It was a year-long hug out celebrating Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

Many attractions offered free entry. Every household received a SG50 goodie bag. Meanwhile, the three hour long National Day parade on Aug 9 was also a suitably grand affair, celebrating the achievements of the nation.

But there were cases where this overwhelming sense of patriotism went overboard.

For example, we got SG50 fishcakes (fishcakes with the number 50 carved out of it, which essentially means you get less for more). And who can forget McDonald’s SG50 Hello Kitty play sets?

But our pick for the lowest SG50 moment? This frankly horrendous SG50 costume.

5. The AHPETC Saga

On Nov 27, the Court of Appeal ordered the Aljunied-Hougang Punggol East Town Council Town Council (AHPETC) to appoint accountants and make all outstanding sinking fund transfers within three months.

It is the latest chapter in the long-running saga, which began in February 2014 when the Ministry of National Development (MND) expressed concern over the town council’s accounts.

At the hearing, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon rejected the authorities’ application to appoint independent accountants to the town council.

AHPETC was instead ordered to appoint independent accountants to assist in identifying any oustanding non-compliances and to advise on the steps necessary to remedy them.

AHPETC was reformed into Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) after the September general election when the Workers’ Party lost the Punggol East single member constituency to the People’s Action Party.

To ensure transparency, these appointments will be subject to the consent of the Housing and Development Board (HDB). The agency applied to be the co-plaintiff in the MND case against AHPETC in June.

On Nov 27, Yahoo Singapore reported that AHTC chairman Pritam Singh said it “fully accepts and respects” the Court of Appeal’s judgment, and will comply with “all the orders made by the court”.

He said it would also work with MND to facilitate the prompt transfer of the outstanding grants to AHTC.

4. Amos Yee

His expletive filled video aimed at former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – days after the latter’s death on March 23 – raised the hackles of Singaporeans.

Titled “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!” the video, which was uploaded onto YouTube, questioned Singapore’s prosperity under Mr. Lee’s leadership.

It also got 17-year-old Amos Yee into trouble with the law: He was arrested on March 29 on the grounds of “deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings”, “threatening, abusive or insulting communication” and obscenity.

His detention and subsequent trial attracted international attention, with some observers – like The Wall Street Journal – noting that the case showcased “Singapore’s struggle to adapt its tradition of censorship to the realities of the digital era”.

Yee was convicted on May 12, He also spent about 50 days in remand as he breached his bail conditions. On July 6, Yee was sentenced to four weeks’ jail but this was backdated to include his time in remand.

On Dec 12, it was reported that the teenager is again under investigation for making “religiously offensive remarks online”. Yee confirmed this in a Facebook post made that same day.

3. The City Harvest Trial

After a trial that lasted 142 days, six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders were sentenced to between 21 months and eight years on Nov 20.

Their crime: Misappropriating S$50 million from church funds.

The aim? To bankroll the Crossover Project and propel spiritual leader and Senior Pastor Kong Hee’s wife Sun Ho to global pop stardom.

Despite enlisting the services of rapper Wyclef Jean, Ho’s English pop career never took off.

The failed project, which featured Ho in a series of raunchy pop videos, was ridiculed and gained notoriety for being the biggest charity scandal in Singapore’s history.

The church defended the project, calling it an attempt at attracting converts.

But the court disagreed and convicted the six for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts.

Investigations showed irregularities of at least $23 million in the charity’s funds, which were used to finance Ho’s pop music career.

There was also a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from stakeholders.

In the end, Kong Hee, 51, was sentenced to eight years in jail.

This was because he led the Crossover Project and should be held responsible, said Judge See Kee Oon.

The remaining five – the church’s former second-in-command Tan Ye Peng, 42; former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former church board member John Lam, 47; former church finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40 – were handed prison terms varying from 21 months to six years.

On Dec 2, all six filed notices of appeal against both their sentences and conviction, reported Channel News Asia.

2. General Elections 2015

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Image: Yahoo Singapore

It was an election of many firsts.

The general election this year was the first since independence to see all seats contested.

Held on Sept 11, it also was the first election after the death of first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March.

But contrary to expectations of a tougher contest, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) romped to its best ever result since the 2001 general election.

They also achieved a swing of 9.7% to gain 69.9% of the vote. In the previous election in 2011, the PAP only gained 60.1%.

In a Straits Times commentary published a week after polling day, Professor Tommy Koh – Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – said several factors helped the ruling party a “surprising and extraordinary victory”.

Among them was the patriotism brought on by SG50 and the outpouring of support triggered by Lee’s death.

The opposition also shouldn’t have contested in all the 89 constituencies, he added.

Many believed the death of Lee in March and the negative publicity over the finances of AHPETC run by the Workers’ Party had been big factors in pushing the electorate closer to the PAP.

But a survey released by the Institute of Policy Studies on Nov 4 found out this was not the case.

Instead, a need for efficient government, help for needy, fairness of government policy, cost of living and the need for checks and balances appeared to have been a bigger deal for voters at the polls, the survey said.

1. Death of Lee Kuan Yew

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Image: Yahoo Singapore

Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was a divisive figure in life.

However, his death elicited an unprecedented outpouring of grief from Singaporeans.

Lee, who was Singapore’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990, died on March 23. The Cambridge-educated lawyer was 91 years old.

Lee transformed Singapore from a far-flung British outpost into a metropolis known for having one of the world’s highest standards of living.

But he is not without critics: Many accuse Lee of being intolerant of criticism, citing his successful attempts at suing political opponents.

Lee stepped down in 1990 in favour of his deputy Goh Chok Tong.

He then resigned as Minister Mentor in May 2011 after the PAP suffered its worst poll, getting only 60 percent of votes amid public anger over an influx of immigrants, the rising cost of living and insufficient public housing.

Lee, whose health worsened after his wife of 63 years, Kwa Geok Choo, died in 2010, was in hospital for nearly seven weeks with severe pneumonia before he passed away.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, issued a statement announcing the passing of his father.

“He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another like him,” he said.

More than 100,000 people lined Singapore’s streets to bid farewell to Lee on Mar 29 despite heavy rains.

According to an AFP report, people wept openly, waved miniature flags and threw flowers on the street as the motorcade drove through districts associated with his six decade long political career.

He was later cremated in a private ceremony at the Mandai Crematorium.

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