Monday, September 25, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s press letter: Halimah has what it takes to be people’s President

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above subject is published today, Monday 24th September 2017.
I can understand the unhappiness expressed by some Singaporeans with the Presidential Election, as they felt that they had been deprived of a choice (Hundreds protest against reserved Presidential Election; Sept 16, online).
A contest would have been good, as it would have given Singaporeans the opportunity to vote for someone they believe in, who can represent them on the world stage.
With the decision made, however, perhaps we can now give Mdm Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself.
A dynamic politician or leader is one who shows empathy and is willing to speak out on an issue, no matter how thorny it is. To the best of my knowledge, Mdm Halimah is one such person.
During her tenure as a union leader, Minister of State and Member of Parliament, she often spoke up for workers’ welfare and supported the marginalised in our society.
While I was a volunteer for six months with Club Heal, a voluntary welfare organisation helping Muslims and other Singaporeans with mental health issues, I could see that she felt for those facing adversities in life.
Despite her busy schedule, she found time to attend Club Heal’s events and mingle with patients and their family members.
She is a people person, as she is humble and mixes with Singaporeans from all walks of life.
I am confident that with her positive energy, she will also become the people’s President.
The two other applicants had mentioned that they wanted to serve all Singaporeans, but were disappointed not to have been able to contest the election. They can still serve Singapore by considering setting up a charity each to help the needy.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Raymond A Fernando’s letter to The Straits Times: Let’s rally around those with mental illness

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 22nd September 2017.

I fully agree with Miss Lee Kay Yan that labelling people with mental illness and calling the police instead of linking up with the Institute of Mental Health is not the right approach to destigmatising mental illness (Be empathetic towards anyone with mental illness; Sept 20).

Even though it is a mammoth task to completely eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, a national effort that involves healthcare agencies, the criminal justice system, the police, employers, schools, religious groups, recovered patients, resilient caregivers as well as the media can help a great deal in helping persons with mental illness gain acceptance in society.

Given that mental illness is affecting many people here, it would be timely to carry out large-scale surveys to track people’s beliefs on mental illness.

What we need is a holistic approach and ongoing education on mental illness that reaches out to the masses and is supported by all our mental health providers, the Agency of Integrated Care and the National Council of Social Service.

It must be clearly understood that mental illness is treatable with medication, counselling and psychotherapy.

Together with good support from an enlightened community, loving caregivers, and employers who offer jobs to recovered patients, there is an excellent chance that persons with mental illness can integrate back into society and live happy and meaningful lives.

World Mental Health Day is on Oct 10.

Let us rally around persons with mental illness here in Singapore and around the world to raise more awareness on mental health issues and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Raymond A Fernando’s letter to The New Paper: Encouraging that President Halimah and NUH show concern for patients, workers

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Friday, September 12, 2017
It is heartening to know that despite her busy schedule, President Halimah Yacob found the time to visit the patients and staff at National University Hospital (NUH) (“President praises healthcare workers, expresses support”, The New Paper, Sept 20).
President Halimah has always shown been supportive of those facing challenges or ill health as well as their caregivers and other workers.    Throughout her sterling public service, she has displayed much kindness and compassion to all Singaporeans regardless of their race, language or religion.  Her visit would have boosted the morale of both the patients and the workers.
NUH’s policy of recognising the contributions of older workers is also commendable. When patients are ill, they, as well as their relatives can be unduly worried. Not many employers retain older workers. And for many older workers, career progression comes to a halt once they hit the age of 50.
But it is abundantly clear that this management values workers who have the right attitudes. NUH is an enlightened employer, a trail blazer with excellent human resource practices which other employers can learn from. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Opinion: Do the right thing – Help our helpers - By: Raymond Anthony Fernando


“Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”
– Mahatma Gandhi –

The tray return programme imitated by the National Environment Agency (NEA) more than a year ago which is a good effort to promote graciousness and civic mindedness has, regrettably, not been as successful as it ought to be; and if you read the newspapers, you will understand why.


This programme took off the ground in November 2012 at nine hawker centres and was later expanded to include more hawker centres.  It was reported in the Chinese press –Wanbao that patrons did not want to return the trays after taking their meals because they were concerned that the cleaners – many of whom are senior citizens, could lose their jobs.  Some of the cleaners themselves are fearful of losing their jobs with the tray return programme that has been implemented  


Reading some of the press letters, it is true that diners are reluctant to return the trays after finishing their meals. Bernie Cheok, a forum writer to the Straits Times observed that years of appeals and education have not managed to get diners to return their trays after their meals. Cheok’s letter “Token fee can fix tray return problem” was published on Thursday 21 September.  


Whether it is an attitude problem or a valid concern that cleaners will be out of work is difficult to say.


But I personally believe these cleaners are not likely to lose their jobs – as firstly, not many people would want to do such jobs even though it is a decent way to earn a living, and secondly, these workers are in fact doing much more than just clearing trays. Whether in food courts, fast food restaurants or markets, their other duties include clearing crockery at the tray return points, and delivering these items to the dishwashing areas before redistributing cleaned crockery and trays to the individual stalls. At some fast food restaurants, I have seen cleaners even moping the floor whenever it gets dirtied.

As we take our meals, let us spare a thought for the cleaners by asking them if they have had their breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When we show respect to our hard-working cleaners, both parties gain confidence and feel good.  I often chat with the cleaners and when we treat them well, you can bring a big smile on their faces as they respond with a big thank you.  This is one way we can help those who help themselves.




We definitely need to help those who help us.  Even our foreign workers need to feel valued and appreciated.  Many of them come from poor countries like India and Bangladesh. They leave their families behind to earn better wages.  It’s  a big sacrifice and I am pretty sure some of them could be grappling with separation anxiety – at least at the initial stage.  As I see them along construction sites where they build our roads and MRT, I would say a few words to them. And these are the ones, exhausted as they night be, will readily give up their seats in the MRT to those who need it most.  I have benefitted from such thoughtful gestures.




Foreign students who study here could also feel all alone when they are separated from their loved ones. Some of them become depressed due to isolation. Let us show a human face and help them cope if they are troubled.




Our maids provide an exceptional service to our families. They toil from dawn into the late hours at night.  Like the construction workers, they leave their families behind to earn better wages. They must be treated as part of the family. When we do so, they will go the extra mile to take care of our elderly, our children and couples who work long and draining hours.  But as with any society, there are bound to be a few ‘bad apples’, but we should not generalise.


Maid abuse cases have risen with 9 cases reported in the first nine months of 2016.  4 out of 10 calls made by the helpers to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) voiced concerns of loneliness and difficulties adjusting.


This year, a couple who starved their maid for more than a year and caused her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29.4kg will now have to serve longer jail terms, following an appeal by the prosecution. Housewife Chong Sui Foon, 48, had her jail sentence raised from three months to 10 while her husband freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 48, will also have to serve 10 months in jail, instead of his original sentence of three weeks in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said it so well: The couple had subjected Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan to "systematic cruelty” and denial of her basic human dignity.

I am troubled that some of these helpers are so badly treated.  These helpers help us so why can't we in turn help them?


On the bright side, there are many employers here in Singapore – local as well as foreigners who through sheer kindness make the helpers feel so much at home by giving them good wages, off days, decent meals and a comfortable bed to rest their weary heads on. Some of these kind-hearted employers who periodically go to restaurants or hotels with their families for fine dining make it a point to invite the helpers as they regard them as part of their very own family.  Bouquets to these employers!



There are endless typhoon and storms that plague the Philippines throughout the year. Singapore is blessed to be free from such natural disasters. But here again through these calamities, help will come to those who are willing to help themselves. It is the Buddhist Charity –Tzi Chi Foundation that rises to the occasion and gives hope when all hope seems hopeless.  The Filipinos are sort of immune to their homes and property being destroyed during the natural disasters. Through these adversities, they have become resilient with the wonderful support of the volunteers from Tzi Chi Foundation who fervently believe that it is unwise to give fish, but far better to teach people to fish.


With this in mind the charity came up with the programme, CASH FOR WORK where they pay the affected families a fixed sum (500 pesos or $15 per person) to rebuild their homes. This programme was so popular that it attracted thousands of Filipinos to step forward to rebuild the damaged homes.  Good karma returns like a boomerang when kind deeds are done. Delighted and happy to see their homes rebuilt through the compassion of Tzi Chi, many Filipinos are today volunteers with this charity.


Indeed, let’s help our helpers.


Raymond Anthony Fernando  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Tough stand needed to curb online venom

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Saturday 16th September 2017
As rightly pointed out by Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah, who is presiding over a widely reported rape trial, disrespectful online comments on victims would only discourage others in similar circumstances to step forward (Judge criticises netizens for rape victim remarks; Sept 14).

While we can allow free expression and speech, there is a need to manage comments properly, otherwise vile statements posted by online bullies on the Internet or social media platforms will make us feel unsafe and insecure.

Given the anonymity enabled by the Internet, online bullies become very bold and believe it is their right to hurl abusive and hurtful comments about people or on things they dislike.
More often than not, these abusers do not put their real names or show their faces.

The damaging effects of disparaging online comments can cause psychological problems to people who are severely distressed.

I have noticed that when one commenter posts the first negative message, more negative comments and trolls will follow.

As there are thousands of nasty postings that include the use of vulgar language every day by people whose identities are unknown, there is no way all the “trolls” can be eliminated and the bullies prosecuted.

To curb online venom, perhaps it is timely to review regulations and develop tech solutions to put a stop to those who take pleasure in damaging lives.
It may become necessary for online commenters to use their real names.

In the case of disrespectful postings on social media like Facebook, victims should report the matter to the administrators.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, September 15, 2017

Opinion: Let’s give President-elect Madam Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself

I can fully understand the unhappiness expressed by some Singaporeans over the elected president contest as they feel that they have been deprived of choosing a President of their choice (“Lack of presidential contest disappointing; September 13, 2017, MediaCorp TODAY newspaper).  

A contest would have been good as it would have given Singaporeans the opportunity to vote for someone whom they believe in – and can represent them here and on the world stage.  Some of our people were upset with the process of the EP and as rightly observed by ESM Goh Chok Tong, this election was unpopular.

However, now that a decision has been made, we need to respect that, and give Madam Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself.  A dynamic politician or leader Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are.Someone who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to discuss matters on any subjects no matter how thorny the issues are. is  someone  who shows compassion and empathy and is willing to speak up on any subject no matter how thorny the issue is.  To the best of my knowledge, I know that this lady is one such person. Madam Halimah has often spoken out passionately on workers welfare and providing support for the marginalised in our society. She did this during her tenure as unionist, minister of state and member of parliament – and has always been a humble person.


Having served 6 months as a volunteer on the management committee of Club Heal – a Muslim Voluntary Welfare Organisation, Madam Halimah gave her time to be Patron of this VWO where a tireless advocate and locum doctor Dr Radiah Salim helped set up Club Heal for the pupose of  reaching out to Muslims and also other races grappling with mental health issues, I could clearly see that she feels so much for those facing challenges and adversities in their lives. Despite her busy schedules, she would always find the time to attend to Club Heal events where she would mingle freely with the patients and their family members.  As a MP, she rendered unflagging support to her residents and that is why they adore her. Give her the opportunity to widen her support to the whole of Singapore.

Madam Halimah is undoubtedly a people’s person as she is humble and mixes well with Singaporeans from all walks of life, irrespective of their status in society.  With such positive energy, I have every confidence that Madam Halimah will also be able to become People’s President. Can't  we give her a chance?

The other two candidates who are successful businessmen, Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican , the founder and chief executive officer of second chance properties   and Mr Farid Khan Kaim Khan, chairman of offshore marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia  both of whom mentioned earlier that they wanted to serve all Singaporeans but expressed disappointment of not being able to contest the presidential election can still serve Singaporeans by considering to set up a charity each to help the needy in Singapore.  They can work with President -elect Madam Halimah on this matter, and I am sure she will appreciate the gesture. And so, will all Singaporeans.

It is so true that we are living in a very uncertain world with terrorism striking anytime and everywhere plus the threat of war breaking out as North Korea intensifies efforts to build nuclear bombs and carry out missile tests. 

Closer to home, there are many people who are unable to cope with the stresses of life and manage their temperament. Online venom is damaging lives and I am glad that Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah chided netizens for disparaging online comments directed at a 22-year old intern who was raped. Then there was a fighting incident in St Hilda’s Secondary School and a naked man that was filmed walking around in Tampines, leading netizens to pass insensitive comments without realising for one moment that the man could be grabbling with a mental issue that has gone untreated.

It is no easy task for our government and the community to tackle these and worldwide problems. But I have every confidence that we, as a cohesive society, can overcome these challenges if: (1) We stay united as one people, one nation, Singapore (2) Trusting in the power of prayer because practicing a faith helps a great deal (3) Help the government by being active citizens in proposing useful and workable suggestions to build a better society. This is where the forum editors of newspapers should lend support to writers who submit their thoughts/views (4) Embracing graciousness and positive energy. Perhaps a campaign on this can prove useful.

I offer my heartiest congratulations to Madam Halimah Yacob on her appointment as President of Singapore. Although she has limited powers, with her compassion for the less fortunate in our society, I am sure she can advise and influence the government to lend support to this group who are in dire need of support.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Public Suggestion to the Singapore Government: Use technology to enhance the lives of caregivers by setting up a Central Caregivers’ Database to provide support for caregivers
Reference the above matter.  I am providing a constructive workable solution to the problems of growing aged caregivers – and I hope the Singapore Government will be able to implement it soon.
Thank you.
Raymond Anthony Fernando
I read with much interest the report in The Straits Times yesterday, 12th September 2017 – “Old and frail, and taking care of an elderly loved one.”
Being a dedicated caregiver to a loved one is a noble and rewarding task that requires immense sacrifice and commitment, but it often takes a heavy toll on their physical as well as mental health. I know this feeling only too well as I used to be a caregiver to my late wife for 40 years.
With Singapore’s fast ageing population, I am not at all surprised that a large proportion of these unsung heroes are over the age of 55. These caregivers who provide round-the-clock personalized dedicated service to their care recipients struggle everyday with enormous obstacles that includes financial cost in spent-down savings due to being retired or unemployed and having to pay for their own medical treatment as self-care is often neglected.
Hiring a maid these days is not a viable option as they are far too expensive.
There is a dire need to reach out to these caregivers, some of whom, as rightly pointed out by AWWA’s assistant director Ms Anita Ho, may not know where to receive help or want the much-need assistance.
Given that Singapore is moving to become a smart nation, we can use technology to enhance the lives of our tireless caregivers. To this end, all that is needed to be done is to set up a central caregivers’ database which can be managed by an appointed government agency.
When the caregiver goes for his/her medical appointment for their chronic illnesses, the treating doctor with the assistance of a case manager submits the caregiver particulars to the appointed government agency. With this central database, any kind of support – whether it is financial assistance, recreational activities or befriending services can be rendered easily.  
This database can be linked or interfaced to the Peoples Association so that the respective grassroots advisers from the community clubs can be in touch with caregivers in their constituency.   Caregivers who require support should also be able to submit their names to the community clubs where they reside so that their details can be submitted to the central caregivers’ database.
Organisations that are willing to offer any kind of support can be allowed, with approval from the appointed government agency, to access the database through a password.
When this system is well managed and fully operational, caregivers will be able to lead much better lives and they need not become super heroes.  The other benefit is that we can cut down on the workload of MOH and save costs.
Raymond Anthony Fernando