Stimulating demand for local produce through a cashback scheme

By Shaharaj Ahmed (’23) and Thomas Bean (’24)

This op-ed is a primer for a Local Produce Cashback scheme for Singaporean farmers, proposed by Bryan Teo Jun Kai (’24), Lee Shao Ming (’24), Shaharaj Ahmed (’23), and Thomas Bean (’24). 

For more details on the scheme, refer to Policy Memo The Next Step in Singapore’s Food Story: Encouraging Demand for Local Produce.

When walking into a Fairprice outlet, one might think there is always an abundance of cheap food and shelves stacked with affordable produce. However, COVID-19 highlighted the possibility of an alternate food-insecure Singapore with empty grocery stores [1]

The pandemic tested the rigidity of Singapore’s supply chains. While the island-nation overcame supply deficits caused by the pandemic through forging new relationships [2], it is clear that Singapore should diversify food sources to feed its population without disruption. One of the most sustainable long-term options at hand is to bring food production back into the Republic.  

This move to bring food production back into the country is more urgent given climate change. 

Climate change is expected to harm Singapore’s food security by reducing global food production. Projections suggest that arable land will decrease, more frequent and intense weather events such as droughts and storms will lead to greater crop losses, and the acidification of warming of oceans will negatively impact marine stocks [3]. This may lead to Singapore facing reduced accessibility to food stocks and greater expenses when importing food. 

To increase food security, the city-state must increase local food production. To this effect, Government has already introduced several policies, including the recent allocation of another SGD 30 million in 2020 to accelerate local food production [4].

However, simply increasing supply through subsidies and grants does not guarantee a permanent and resilient local food production system. Demand must also be developed alongside supply to make sure that food producers have a sustainable consumer base. 

Currently,  local producers face the issue of low domestic demand as they do not grow the varieties of vegetables consumed by the majority on a day-to-day basis [5]. Due to Singapore’s land scarcity, there is a strong push towards vertical farming and plant factories as the future of local vegetable production [6]. However, not only is it technically difficult to grow popular local vegetables at competitive rates in these ‘upgraded’ farms, it is also a lot more cost-effective to grow salad greens that can be sold for a premium [7]

Boosting demand will allow local farmers to justify ramping up local production, allowing them to achieve economies of scale and sell local produce at competitive rates. 

To create demand, we propose that the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) could work together with the National Environmental Agency (NEA) to stimulate demand from hawkers for local produce via a cashback scheme. Under the scheme, hawkers at NEA-run hawker centres will receive cashbacks on the local produce bought.

Further, the SFA can create a labelling system similar to ones used to label local produce in supermarkets, to signal to consumers which hawkers use local produce. When consumers eat dishes with local produce which generally has greater freshness and quality, they may choose to ‘buy local’ at supermarkets and hawker centres in future, stimulating even greater demand.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that not all hawker centres can participate in the cashback scheme. Most drink stalls would be instant losers of this scheme. Moreover, due to economic, climate, and technological constraints, Singapore may not produce either the variety or quantity of food that hawkers use since agri-food producers preferentially grow specific varieties of vegetables. Thus, the prospect of an advantaged and disadvantaged group of hawkers emerging is possible. 

One possible solution is that the cashback offered on the produce would be so minute in value that relative to hawkers unable to participate, the profit gained by the participating hawkers would be non-too significant. Yet, the value gained by the participating hawkers would be such that it incentivizes them to continue to purchase local produce. For example, a 5c reduction per bundle of bok choy may realize a gain of 50$ per month for a noodle store, assuming that the store uses up 30 bundles a day. 

Another possible method is to ensure that at least all hawkers will have access to one ingredient that is locally produced, thus reducing inaccessibility to this cashback scheme. For example, offering cashback on eggs may allow drink stalls offering egg and toast to hop on the scheme. Another example is for cucumbers to be grown locally such that it allows chicken rice hawkers to participate as well. It is clear to see that the success of this scheme depends on the ability of farms to match the demands of hawkers.  

Some may also believe such a scheme is unsustainable as it leaves hawkers and local farmers dependent on long-term government subsidies to boost local demand and production of local produce. This should not occur — the scheme should be short-term, concluding once it has stimulated sufficient demand to allow local food producers to achieve economies of scale and sell their products at prices competitive with food imports grown using conventional methods.

The cashback scheme can go a long way towards stimulating demand, but it will not be as effective without other supporting policies. Other schemes are required to encourage the production of other vegetable varieties in the long-term. For example, the SFA could assist to encourage contracts between hawkers and food producers would allow local food producers to grow new varieties of vegetables with guaranteed demand, reducing innovation risk.

Modifying the education curriculum in primary and secondary schools to include Singapore’s food story, continued financial support for producers to increase productivity, and the development of government-supported platforms to encourage partnerships between local food producers and F&B companies are other actions that will also help Singapore move closer to its food self-sufficiency goals.

It is clear from the pandemic and the long-term threats of climate change that Singapore must begin to reduce reliance on imported food. A cashback scheme that helps to stimulate demand from hawkers along with other supporting policies will go a long way to helping Singapore do this.



  1. Audrey Tan, “Coronavirus: Politicians, supermarkets urge calm amid panic-buying of groceries”, Straits Times, February 10 2020, accessed 30 December 2020,
  2. Lay, Belmont, “S’pore welcomes first shipment of eggs from Poland: Trade minister Chan Chun Sing.” Mothership, June 05 2020, accessed 30 December 2020,
  3. Mbow et. al,, Food Security. In: Climate Changeand Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2019),
  4. Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), “30×30 Express: Ramping Up Local Production to Enhance Singapore’s Food Security”, April 8 2020, accessed 30 December 2020,
  5. Cara Wong, “Demand for local produce must complement supply in local food production: Amy Khor”, Straits Times, July 18 2020, accessed 30 December 2020,
  6.  Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), “Future of farming: Singapore’s agriculture sector needs to embrace technologies or innovations that can help to achieve quantum leaps in productivity.”, Food for Thought, January 1 2017, accessed 30 December 2020,
  7.  Mateusz Piechowiak, “Can Vertical Farming Grow Beyond Herbs and Leafy Greens?”, Vertical Farming Planet, n.d,

How Renewable Energy Can, and Should, Address Environmental Racism

This article is written by Benjamin Yang (’22) from the Energy, Technology, and the Environment Policy Centre, featured in Issue IV of Anthroposphere: the Oxford Climate Review.

Anthroposphere: the Oxford Climate Review is an award-winning interdisciplinary print magazine founded at Oxford University that covers climate change and the environment through the lenses of natural science, economics, policy, politics, literature, pop culture, and much more. This piece discusses the role of energy transition in addressing environmental racism through two cases of renewable energy development projects in Taiwan.

Click here to read the full article!

Image Credit: Francesca Nava

Commentary: Tensions over Iran are creeping towards dangerous levels

This commentary is written by Ng Qi Siang (’19) from the Economic Development and Inclusion Policy Centre, published on Channel News Asia’s International Edition website. This piece discusses how rising tensions between the United States and Iran may end up inadvertently falling into a mutually-damaging state of open conflict if cooler heads do not prevail.

Click here to read the full article!

Image Credit: USA Today

Clean Meat, And Why Singapore Should Embrace It

Written by: Cedric Choo, Tamara Barsova, Benjamin Pei-Wei Yang & Vivien Su

Meat is a highly embedded element within culinary culture. From chicken rice to chilli crab, the ubiquity of meat in local cuisine is symptomatic of a larger global reality: the high amounts of meat in our diets. However, this comes with an environmental cost, as producing meat is resource-intensive. For example, a life cycle analysis conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that red meat such as beef and lamb is accountable for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains. To address climate change, the consumption of conventional meat has to fall drastically. But how can this be done if meat already occupies a position of such cultural importance in society? Lab-grown meat, or clean meat, seems to offer a developing panacea.

What is clean meat?

Clean meat differs from meat analogues like mock meat, which are made from processed vegetarian ingredients to mimic meat. It is artificially grown in laboratories, using stem cells derived from the muscle and fat tissues of a living animal. The stem cells are multiplied under lab conditions, eventually forming clean meat that tastes exactly like conventional meat.

The benefits of clean meat

Clean meat does not require the resource-intensive inputs that characterizes conventional meat, and is hence better for the environment. As awareness has grown about the environmental impacts of conventional meat, there is growing demand from consumers for such protein alternatives. In 2018, the market for plant-based “meat” (or plant-based products designed to imitate the look and taste of conventional meat) grew by 23%, exceeding $760 million, and is set to grow even further. Though no clean meat company has yet brought their products to mass market, there is significant potential for the clean meat industry to disrupt the multi-trillion dollar global meat market, as the plant-based meat industry has shown.

With such potential for disruption, Singapore should embrace clean meat. Not only would this bring about huge economic benefits, it can also alleviate several other food-related problems affecting Singapore. For one, it could bring about better food security. According to the UN World Food Programme, food insecurity is projected to increase globally due to climate change, as more common extreme weather events affect crop production. A domestic sector that produces clean meat could help decrease Singapore’s reliance on food imports and hence increase food security. Also, clean meat can bring public health benefits. As it is produced in sterile facilities, the use of antibiotics becomes redundant, unlike in conventional meat where large amounts of antibiotics are used, increasing the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs that could potentially kill up to 10 million people and cost $100 trillion annually by 2050.

Why Singapore should embrace clean meat

Singapore has the necessary research capabilities for clean meat. The National University of Singapore is ranked among the top ten universities in the world by the Good Food Institute in clean meat development potential. Recent developments in Singapore suggest that the government is indeed interested in such alternative proteins. Temasek Holdings recently led a US$75 million investment round in Impossible Foods, a plant-based meat company based in California. On July 26, the government announced the formation of the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), tasked with dealing with global food supply challenges caused by climate change, and seizing opportunities in the global food industry.

What should Singapore do?

For lab-grown meat to flourish, the government has a big role to play. For starters, a legal framework must be set in place to support the growth of clean meat companies. At the moment, there are no mentions of lab-grown meat in the legislative texts of either the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority or the National Environment Agency. Amending the legal definitions of meat will lay the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks, so that existing provisions on meat products now can also be applied to clean meat products in the future.

Additionally, the government can set up investment funds to support and encourage private startups and companies to invest in clean meat technology. The Japanese government has successfully done so with their A-FIVE (Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Fund Corporation for Innovation, Value-chain and Expansion Japan) Fund and its investment in startups like Integriculture, which seeks to commercialise clean meat in Japan by 2021.

Conclusively speaking, clean meat is a new kind of meat product that need not trigger any behavioural and dietary changes, while drastically helping us reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build Singapore’s food security, and mitigate the effects of climate change. For that to occur, legal and regulatory frameworks must first be set up for the new industry to develop, while government investments through means such as public-private funds further facilitate technological advancement.

Image Credit: LAB-A-PORTER

Lifting the bottom: How about a S’pore DreamFund to help students from low-income families?

This essay, by Ng Yi Ming, Ng Qi Siang and Heather Cheng Hoi Yeuk from our Economic Development and Inclusion Policy Centre, was published in TODAY newspaper on 28 March 2019. This was also the winning entry of an essay competition held in conjunction with NUS’ U@live forum on the topic “Education – Still a Social Leveller?”. The forum was held on 27 March 2019, with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Professor Tan Tai Yong, and Ng Qi Siang on the panel. Ng Yi Ming gave an address on their DreamFund proposal before the panel discussion.

DreamFund: Enabling Life-long Dreams for All Singaporeans

Meritocracy lies at the heart of the Singapore Dream – anyone who works hard will have equal opportunity to succeed regardless of background. Yet this cherished aspiration is increasingly under threat from parentocracy, where affluent parents draw on superior financial resources to purchase child developmental advantages. To “lift the bottom”, as Education Minister Ong Ye Kung puts it,1 we propose DreamFund – a new credit scheme for low-income students in pre-tertiary schooling – preserving meritocracy through financial empowerment for low-income students to compete with affluent peers on a more equal footing.

Socio-economic stratification is a core issue today. Despite existing governmental intervention, Singapore’s gini-coefficient (after taxes and transfers) has persisted at around 0.402 for the past 3 years. In 2018, the lower 50% of incomes grew at a slower rate than the upper half.2 Almost 50% of Singaporeans surveyed in 2018 considered the growing class divide the greatest social issue,3 suggesting weakening national faith in the meritocratic principles that underpins Singaporean society.

We hold that educational inequality is rooted in socioeconomic inequality. As the government extensively funds public education, one way the educational ‘arms race’ manifests itself is through private tuition.4 Singaporeans rank 3rd in the world for annual spending on tuition – nearly double the global average.5 In 2015, parents with a monthly income above US$4500 spent double on tuition than parents earning below US$2250.60.

Beyond academics, non-academic aptitudes like in music, sports, or even coding, are becoming increasingly relevant given the recent broadening of the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to recognise “raw talent potential” outside formal grades or achievements.7 Affluent parents thus maintain another avenue to purchase extracurricular developmental opportunities for their children to scale the education ladder. Furthermore, income-related environmental factors such as longer travel time to school or other ‘negative factors’ associated with the home have been shown to negatively affect learning and grades.8 This is how socioeconomic inequality undermines child developmental equity outside of and long before formal education.

Weighed down by such disadvantages, only 10% of low-income (bottom 25%) students enter the top 25% of academic performers.9 A 30-year New Zealand study found that, after controls, a top quintile family income engendered 1.5x higher degree attainment than the bottom quintile.10 Academic qualifications in turn strongly determine future income: Singaporean degree holders earn 1.7 times more monthly income than diploma holders (2017).9 Education thus ceases to be a social leveler, instead enabling elites to monopolize educational resources and socioeconomic capital across generations.4 Indeed, Minister Ong has acknowledged that meritocracy has spawned systemic unfairness: with children having different starting points, low-income families face greater difficulty breaking free of  the low income trap.11

Existing income supplementary schemes do not adequately provide for low-income students. The Workfare Income Supplement does not consider the number of dependents in a worker’s family. Moreover, informally employed and unemployed individuals are not covered, penalising children for their parents’ circumstances.12 Educational funding schemes like Edusave only apply to in-school activities.13 Such gaps in existing policies mean that more must be done to close the educational achievement gap in Singapore.

To tackle unequal private resources available to underprivileged school-goers, we propose DreamFund, a new credit scheme for low-income students in pre-tertiary schooling. Implemented by the Ministry of Social & Family Development and applying to students in the bottom quartile of national income, monthly credits will be allocated to a new DreamFund child development account, which can be used at approved enrichment centres and bookstores for private academic tuition, extra-curricular enrichment programs, and learning support resources. This amount will be costed based on a basket of enrichment programs and products commonly purchased by Singaporean students. As DreamFund is not tied to parental employment, it will cover children of unemployed and informally employed workers.

DreamFund will equalize out-of-school growth opportunities and resources for children in the bottom 25% through boosting family income. This ties in with an ongoing MOE-led task force led by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah which seeks strengthen such support, “possibly extending to those in the bottom 40%”.14 A 2016 U.S. study indicated that such direct income support yields positive impacts on academic performance and eventual adult employment rates for low-income children.15  

Beyond the financial boost itself, a 2018 Chinese study highlighted that “Child Development Accounts” like DreamFund simultaneously shift parental and children attitudes.16 Significantly, such schemes cultivated conscious parental asset-building for children’s long-term development, with positive spillover effects to student motivation. These are two key focus areas of the MOE task-force.14

Furthermore, extra-curricular opportunities enabled by DreamFund encourages the development of non-academic skill-sets and soft skills.17 Such skills will be essential within an Industry 4.0 economy, where technological disruption increases demand for an intellectually-versatile workforce.18 DreamFund is thus a social investment in Singapore’s human capital, boosting economic growth whilst reducing inequality.19

This policy is both feasible and affordable. Online-based credit schemes (e.g. SkillsFuture) exist today.20 Regarding cost concerns, the targeted nature of DreamFund makes it a financially sustainable endeavour relative to existing social policies. Assuming a S$100 monthly payout to children aged 7-18 from the bottom income quartile, DreamFund will cost S$150 million annually – a fraction of WorkFare, which offers low-income workers $125-300 monthly and cost S$667 million in 2016.21 Credit schemes also prevent welfare fraud by releasing funds only to reimburse legitimate expenditure. DreamFund is thus a value-for-money social investment that will improve equality of opportunity and human resource development.

Going beyond, while DreamFund can alleviate educational inequality in the short to medium term, deeper reforms are required to tackle the root cause of this problem – wider socio-economic inequality. While new redistributive policies to narrow the income gap may require increases in government spending, it is money worth spending to preserve the meritocratic nature of our society. To give Singaporeans a sense of national identity and a stake in Singapore’s progress, we must keep the Singapore Dream alive.


We are grateful to Ernest Tan for his critical suggestions for the essay. We also acknowledge Mesbaul Anindo, Martynas Galnaitis, Sakshyat Khadka, and Tejas Pal for their contributions to the DreamFund policy memo, which the essay is based on.



  1. Lianne Chua, “Lift the bottom, not cap the top: Minister Ong Ye Kung outlines key principles on education system,” Channel News Asia, 11 July, 2018,
  2. “Singapore household incomes grew in 2018, income inequality stable,” Channel News Asia, 13 February, 2019,
  3. Derrick A Paulo, “Class – not race nor religion – is potentially Singapore’s most divisive fault line,” Channel News Asia, 1 October, 2018,
  4. Gee, Christopher. “The Educational ‘Arms Race’: All for One, Loss for All.” IPS Working Paper, (2012): 27–28.
  5. “Singaporeans spend twice the global average on children’s local education: HSBC”, Today, 30 August, 2017,
  6. Amelia Teng, “Better-educated parents with higher incomes spend more,” The Straits Times, 4 July, 2015,
  7. Lianne Chua, “More ‘inclusive’ DSA application process will help less affluent students”, Channel News Asia, 8 November, 2018,
  8. Cheo, Roland, and Quah, Euston. “Mothers, Maids and Tutors: An Empirical Evaluation of their Effect on Children’s Academic Grades in Singapore.” Education Economics, Vol. 13, No. 3  (2005), p.269-285. doi: 10.1080/09645290500073746.
  9. “Labour Force in Singapore 2016: Employment Table(s),” Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, released on 24 January, 2017,
  10. Gibb, Sheree J., David M. Fergusson, and L. John Horwood. “Childhood Family Income and Life Outcomes in Adulthood: Findings from a 30-Year Longitudinal Study in New Zealand.” Social Science & Medicine 74, no. 12 (2012): 1979-1986.
  11. Kenneth Cheng, “Systemic unfairness stems from success — not failure — of meritocracy: Ong Ye Kung,” Today, 24 October, 2018,
  12. “Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme Eligibility Criteria,” Workfare, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, accessed 30 November, 2018,
  13. “Edusave,” Ministry of Education, Singapore, accessed 30 November, 2018,
  15. Sherman, Arloc, BA, Brandon DeBot BA, and Chye-Ching Huang LLM. “Boosting Low-Income Children’s Opportunities to Succeed through Direct Income Support.” Academic Pediatrics 16, no. 3 (2016): S90-S97.
  16. Fang, Shu, Jin Huang, Jami Curley, and Julie Birkenmaier. “Family Assets, Parental Expectations, and Children Educational Performance: An Empirical Examination from China.” Children and Youth Services Review 87, (2018): 60-68.
  17. Snellman, Kaisa, Jennifer M. Silva, Carl B. Frederick, and Robert D. Putnam. “The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation among American Youth.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 657, no. 1 (2015): 194;207;-207.
  18. Nancy W. Gleason, “Singapore’s Higher Education Systems in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparing Lifelong Learners,” in Gleason, Nancy W.  Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Singapore: Springer Singapore, 2018.
  19. Linda Lim, “How Inequality and Low Wages Can Stall Growth,” The Straits Times, July 21, 2018, sec. Opinion,
  20. “SkillsFuture Credit,” SkillsFuture, Government of Singapore, accessed 30 November, 2018,
  21. Chew Soon Beng and Linda Low, “Why Workfare works better for Singapore than a minimum wage,” 13 February, 2019,

Image Credit: Ong Ye Kung

The Octant Explains: Migrant Labour in Singapore

This Octant article was written with Bilge Arslan, Claire Phua and Moni Uzunova from the Equal Justice & Human Rights Policy Centre of Roosevelt Institute. 

The Octant Explains is a series that aims to provide a basic context around issues in Singapore so that international students can better engage with them. In this instalment of The Octant Explains, we will discuss low-wage migrant labor in Singapore and the various controversies surrounding it. This includes workers in industries like shipbuilding, construction and foreign domestic help.

Click here to read the full article!

Image Credit: The Octant

2019 10 Ideas Submission – Discrimination Against HIV+ Non-Singaporeans

Memo proposal submitted to the Roosevelt 10 Ideas Journal. Written by the Healthcare Policy Centre, Roosevelt Institute @ Yale-NUS College.

Reforming Discrimination Against HIV-positive non-Singaporeans

Currently, HIV-positive foreigners are denied long-term visas to Singapore. This policy contributes to: (1) family separations, (2) loss of economic opportunities both for individuals and Singapore, and (3) institutional stigma and a climate of fear which prevents HIV-positive individuals from seeking treatment. As such, Singapore’s Parliament should modify its archaic law of denying long-term visas to HIV-positive foreigners if they can prove that they are on antiretroviral medication.

Background and Analysis

In 1998, at the peak of global fear and hysteria surrounding the HIV and AIDS epidemic, Singapore passed legislation 8(3)(ba) of the Immigration Act prohibiting foreigners with HIV or AIDS from entering Singapore.[1] At that time, Singapore was experiencing dramatic rises in new HIV infections, from 61 instances in 1985 to 200 instances in 1990.[2] Furthermore, the government found that an alarming 2813 foreigners residing in Singapore then were HIV-positive[3] at a time where there were no cure or medication for HIV. Thus, this law was implemented due to the fear generated by the HIV epidemic.

Developments since the inception of the law has rendered the legislation archaic. Firstly, extensive medical research has improved knowledge of how HIV is spread. Since we now know that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact,[4] laws on travel restrictions point to a misunderstanding of the communicability of the disease. Secondly, the development of antiretroviral medication prevents the growth and spread of the HIV virus.[5] Antiviral medication can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in the blood, enabling the immune system to recover and function almost normally.[6] More importantly, this medication prevents the transmission of the virus, enabling HIV-positive individuals to live life normally.

Singapore recently lifted the ban on short term visas for HIV-positive foreigners in 2015.[7] We believe that due to the reasons outlined above, Singapore should also allow HIV-positive foreigners on antiretroviral medication to obtain long-term visas to enter Singapore for employment or family.

Talking Points

  • This archaic law reinforces institutional stigma towards HIV and thus contributes to a misunderstanding of HIV, which might discourage people from getting tested or seeking treatment for HIV.
  • Singapore has already relaxed its laws on issuing short-term visas to HIV-positive foreigners in 2015 and it is principally consistent to remove restrictions on long-term visas for foreigners who can prove that they are on antiretroviral medication.
  • Ultimately, changing this law can lead to better health outcomes for Singaporeans, improve Singapore’s international image, and create economic opportunities by enabling HIV-positive foreigners to work in Singapore and boosting HIV-related medical tourism.

The Policy Idea

Singapore’s Parliament should amend the legislation 8(3)(ba) of the Immigration Act by allowing foreigners on antiretroviral medication (such that they are unable to transmit the virus) to obtain long-term visas. To circumvent Singapore’s worry that HIV-positive foreigners might pose a burden on its healthcare system, these HIV-positive foreigners should prove that they have the financial means to afford antiretroviral medication and undergo monthly tests to ensure their viral load count is acceptable.. Ultimately, amending these restrictions is also a symbolic act by the government and provides extensive public discourse that can help de-stigmatise HIV.

Policy Analysis

The proposed amendment would benefit Singapore’s image and interests while costing Singapore very little. Like many modern economies, Singapore is facing a declining population. The sustainability of Singapore’s growth depends greatly on the inclusion of international migrants. By excluding internationals who are HIV-positive from entering Singapore, Singapore loses out on potential talents and economic opportunities. Moreover, this legislation means that families would be separated if one member has HIV, resulting in emotional trauma or families avoiding Singapore entirely. This law is thus unfavourable to Singapore’s image which might affect its political and economic interests. The proposed amendment is a step forward for equal human rights that might foster greater diplomatic relationships with other developed states. Also, the inclusion of this amendment would destigmatize HIV, decreasing the climate of fear around getting tested and seeking treatment for HIV.

This policy would most likely enable high-income, professional expats on antiretroviral medication to obtain long-term visas in Singapore, which means that the risk of Singaporeans contracting HIV is virtually zero and the healthcare burden minimal. As such, these skilled foreigners would likely be perceived favourably by the state, meaning that parliament might be more inclined to enact this policy change.

Next Steps

In the context of Singapore, we recognize that any changes to the policy needs to be approved by parliament. As such, we have highlighted the benefits to Singapore’s economy and international image, which might hopefully better convince parliament to enact change.

We plan to work with advocacy groups such as Action for AIDS (AFA) and other community partners in campaigning for a change to the law. By organizing a petition, we hope to bring parliament’s attention to the policy which might enact change. We also understand that Singaporeans might be opposed to such a change, that there might be a push-back against immigration and/or fear of HIV-positive individuals. As such, part of our campaign with AFA would also entail educating the public on how medication can inhibit HIV and its transmissivity.

However, changing this law is only the first step in tackling discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. In the future, when antiretroviral medication becomes readily accessible to all, it would be ideal if the law was abolished.

Key Facts

  • In 2010, all restrictions on HIV-positive individuals from entering or migrating to the United States were lifted, and people were no longer be required to undergo HIV testing as part of the required medical examination.[8]
  • In 2015, Singapore lifted a ban on issuing short-term visit passes to HIV-positive foreigners.
  • In 2017, 434 new cases of HIV infections were reported among Singapore residents, and about 41% had late-stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed, signifying that they were getting tested late.[9]
  • The number of new HIV cases among Singaporean residents has remained consistent at about 450 per year since 2008.[10]

Action Plan Snapshot

Firstly, we propose working with HIV advocacy groups such as Action for Aids (AFA) to create awareness regarding this archaic law. This campaign would also entail spreading knowledge of how HIV is transmitted, HIV preventative measures, and the availability of antiretroviral medication. The campaign should emphasize how changing the law can improve knowledge of how HIV is transmitted, leading to better health outcomes for Singapore.

More importantly, we want to collect signatures that support a change to the law which would then be brought to parliament’s attention. In the context of Singapore where there are no political lobbies and very little ways for an individual to enact change, we recognize that we should first work extensively with AFA and their community partners to collect signatures for a petition. Afterwards, we can approach a Member of Parliament (MP) regarding the possibility of raising this issue up in parliament. We also propose contacting the Ministry of Health (MOH) to formulate a plan on how HIV-positive foreigners can establish a regular check-up plan at government clinics or hospitals and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) regarding how such a change to policy can be made known to Singapore’s diplomatic partners.


[1] Ratnala, Naidu. 2003. “National AIDS Control Programme.” Infopedia. Accessed November 26, 2018 (

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] 2018. “HIV/AIDS: The Basics Understanding HIV/AIDS.” National Institutes of Health. November 06, 2018. Accessed November 26, 2018 (–the-basics).

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Han, Lim Yi. 2016. “Ban on Entry into Singapore Eased for Foreigners with HIV.” The Straits Times. Accessed November 26, 2018 (

[8] “United States of America – Regulations on Entry, Stay and Residence for PLHIV”. The Global Database on HIV related travel restrictions. Accessed November 26, 2018 (

[9] 2018. “UPDATE ON THE HIV/AIDS SITUATION IN SINGAPORE 2017.” Ministry of Health. Accessed November 26, 2018 (

[10] Ibid

Image Credit: Alamy

2019 10 Ideas Submission – Reformation of Singapore’s Special Education

Memo proposal submitted to the Roosevelt 10 Ideas Journal. Written by the Equal Justice & Human Rights Policy Centre, Roosevelt Institute @ Yale-NUS College.

Reform of Singapore’s Special Education

To alleviate workplace segregation of the intellectually disabled in Singapore, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) should increase the standards and accessibility of supplementary vocational opportunities offered to the intellectually disabled, such as internships, specialised trainings and mentorships.

Key Facts

  • Persons with disabilities (PWDs) form only 0.1% of the private sector workforce.
  • Over 60% of PWDs surveyed in 2016 by the NCSS reported that they were not included in the workplace or that they were not given opportunities for professional development.
  • In 2016, 62% of PWDs surveyed report that they do not feel included, accepted, or given opportunities to contribute or reach their potential by society.



Background and Analysis

The PWD community is a highly marginalised group within Singapore’s employment procedure. A survey conducted in 2016 revealed that over 60% of PWDs felt that they were not assimilated into the workplace and that there were no opportunities to develop professionally in a manner that would allow them to effectively contribute to society. Currently, intellectually disabled people are limited to school-to-work vocational programmes that cater to the service sector, usually in the food, beverage, or hospitality industry. Consequently, PWDs form merely 0.1% of the private sector workforce.

For the state, a lack of diversified employment opportunities signifies a loss of human resources and potential. In a study, 250 Australian corporations surveyed found a net positive value in hiring PWDs. 32.2% of the corporations stated that creative and different skills had been brought to the workplace on account of hiring PWDs and 23.7% declared that the process improved workplace morale. Notably, none of the corporations surveyed stated that PWDs decreased their overall productivity and financial success.

This demonstrates how better efforts to integrate PWDs within Singaporean society will unlock human resources and capital in various sectors, allowing Singapore to reach greater economic and productive potential. Currently, initiatives that directly target employers through incentives have proven to be ineffectual. This necessitates a bottom-up approach that involves targeting students in special education (SPED) by reforming the current vocational program. Through this policy change, the state will normalise inclusive hiring policies, de-stigmatise the engagement of PWDs in society, and ultimately promote social cohesion. Most importantly, the state no longer neglects the fundamental rights of PWDs to thrive within all sectors of our society.

Talking points


Structural segregation of intellectually disabled individuals results in employment opportunities being limited largely to the service sector. This represents a loss of potential human resources in other sectors and a failure of the state to provide equal opportunities to the disadvantaged.


Revising the current vocational programme to match the standards of mainstream tertiary education will increase opportunities for special education (SPED) students to explore work in various sectors. These standards can be met through implementing opportunities such as local exchange programs, workshops, internships and networking opportunities with employers.


A systemic increase in training and workplace exposure in various industries will have a two-fold effect; allowing for greater workforce participation of persons with disabilities (PWDs) and de-stigmatising the engagement of PWDs in society. Consequently, this will prompt the normalisation of inclusive hiring policies. This will unlock human capital in various sectors, strengthening Singapore’s economic productivity.

Policy Idea:

In order to reform the vocational school-to-work programmes offered in Special Education (SPED) schools for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the Ministry of Education (MOE) should (1) coordinate with other tertiary education institutes such as Polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) to create an adapted exchange programme, (2) collaborate with businesses in various industries to produce specialised internship programmes, and (3) organise networking sessions to create a space for interactions between employers and SPED students.

Policy Analysis:

Given that SPED students are pigeon-holed into the hospitality sectors upon completion of their education, this policy aims at optimising the abilities of SPED students and creating more diverse career options. By establishing direct links with other sectors, this policy creates equal opportunities for SPED students to be exposed to different fields of interest.

The programme prepares PWDs to work across various sectors by equipping them with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. Exchange programmes with a local polytechnic or Institute of Technical Education will educate SPED students in the foundations of a specific field of interest. After knowledge acquisition in the local exchange programmes, internships and networking opportunities will offer SPED students the opportunity to employ their knowledge and gain relevant work experience and skills.

To adapt to the learning curves and needs of SPED students, the academic rigour of local exchange programs can be lowered, with fewer standardised tests and gentler assessment rubrics. These adjustments place more emphasis on learning catered to the individual pace of SPED students. Internships can also be modified; the initial month can be dedicated to job-shadowing to ease the transition from school to work. Following this, SPED students can report to a manager daily on their progress at work.

The educational reform will strengthen the competitiveness of SPED students’ job applications. Employers will be more inclined to change their hiring policies when SPED students gain the capabilities to match the job. Furthermore, cross interactions between SPED students, mainstream students and employees will reassure employers that PWDs can integrate smoothly into the workplace. This complements current efforts made by the Government to incentivise employers to adopt inclusive hiring policies and create an inclusive workplace environment.

Since the school is a microcosm of the larger society, the inclusion of SPED students will normalise the participation of PWDs in the workforce. When the government treats SPED students with the same integrity as they do for students in mainstream education, the private sector will reciprocate and place their trust in the abilities of PWDs. Education reform is the start of a change in societal mindset that will ultimately sway employers to employ inclusive hiring policies.

Possible Objections:

Our policy may face objections from parents/guardians of PWDs as well as the educators. One may challenge the purpose of making special need education more mainstream since it exists to serve the different needs of PWDS. There may also be doubts on the receptiveness of SPED students to the educational reform.

Next Steps

The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with SPED Schools and tertiary educational institutes, should work on drafting a reformed curriculum to replace the current school-to-work vocational program that will better serve the diverse interests of SPED Students. Both businesses and PWDs will benefit from an educational reform that includes local exchange programmes, internships and networking opportunities. A limited education pathway must be reformed to provide equal opportunities to PWDs to achieve their full potential.

Image Credit: Lauren Mancke/Unsplash

2019 10 Ideas Submission – Bird Safe Certification

Memo proposal submitted to the Roosevelt 10 Ideas Journal. Written by the Energy, Technology and Environment Policy Centre, Roosevelt Institute @ Yale-NUS College.

Bird Safe Certification: Addressing Avian Mortality and Biodiversity Loss in Urbanized Singapore

Bird mortality in Singapore is largely due to reflective windows and night lighting in high-rises. The Singaporean government should launch a campaign to inform residents of the importance of Singapore’s birds and create an incentives scheme to encourage bird-safe measures in construction and management.

Background & Analysis 

Singapore’s rapid urbanization has created a life-threatening urban environment for birds. The proximity of reflective surfaces to bird habitats and migratory entrance points, as well as bright lights in buildings at night, pose a serious threat to the island’s avian biodiversity. In the past five years alone, at least 700 birds have been found dead as a result of bird-building collisions. Such collisions are particularly prevalent in the areas surrounding the two largest nature reserves and the Central Business District (CBD). Large reflective surfaces on low-rise buildings near reserves and the West coast – where migratory populations enter Singapore – confuse birds who perceive the reflection as a continuation of the nearby natural environment. Furthermore, nocturnally migrating birds follow points of light in times of low visibility, leading them to collide at high migration-speeds with high-rise buildings in the CBD.

Singapore is home to a diverse number of bird species and hosts many more as a stopover for migratory birds on the East-Asian Australasian Flyway. Of these many species, the country hosts 16 globally threatened and 30 near-threatened avian species. Singapore is also a refuge for many regional birds which have been extirpated from other countries in Southeast Asia due to illegal hunting and habitat destruction. Biodiversity in Singapore will be near impossible to restore once lost, and this issue, if left unaddressed, will result in negative ramifications on local and global environments and ecology, as well as the national heritage of Singapore.  

Talking Points 

  • In the past five years alone, at least 700 birds have been found dead as a result of bird-building collisions in Singapore.
  • Singapore hosts more than 400 avian species, including both resident and migratory birds and about 2,000 arctic migratory birds, many of whom are rare or endangered, make winter stopovers in Singapore’s Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve each year.
  • Due to illegal hunting and natural habitat destruction in other Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is a refuge for many rare regional species, including the Straw-headed Bulbul.
  • Birds and avian biodiversity are integral to the local ecosystem as well as to Singapore’s natural heritage which should be conserved for future generations.

The Policy Idea 

We propose a two-part solution, which includes both a public campaign by the National Parks Board to inform residents of the environmental and cultural importance of Singapore’s bird populations, as well as the creation of a Bird-Safe Certification (BSC) scheme to encourage bird-safe principles in building construction and management, administered by the Building and Construction Authority. The campaign will strengthen public perceived value of bird-safe buildings, thus leading BSC buildings to have improved corporate image and greater leasing and resale value of buildings, and incentivizing developers to build bird-safe buildings.

Policy Analysis 

This two-part approach of a public campaign and the Bird Safe Certification (BSC) scheme is the best solution to bird mortality caused by the Singaporean urban environment. The BSC will directly reduce bird mortality by incentivizing building developers and managers to implement measures which are shown to decrease bird collisions in Singapore and abroad, while the public campaign will strengthen the value of BSC through public opinion.

Although there may be concern that BCS is not enough motivation for developers and managers to implement bird-safe measures, this is not the case. This is supported by the success of the similar existing Green Mark certification, which has certified nearly 2,000 buildings since its launch in 2009.  In the case of BCS, measures rewarded by the scheme are relatively low cost, while the benefits – improved corporate image and greater leasing and resale value – will be significant. Some examples of low-cost BSC measures include the pasting of matte or opaque decals on low-rise windows, and night lights-out policies in high-rise buildings. Furthermore, the proposed public campaign will also strengthen the publicly perceived value of Bird Safe Certified buildings and the benefits to BSC building owners and managers. Furthermore, the efficacy of the government-run campaign is supported by the legacy of similar campaigns as key Singaporean governance tools which have a significant impact on Singaporean views and behavior. This solution brings together the public, the government, and building developers and managers to improve the safety of the urban environment to Singapore’s birds.

Next Steps 

Policymakers will likely be open to our solutions since biodiversity conservation is a focus of the Singaporean government. Ultimately, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the National Parks Board (NParks) must be on board with these solutions. Since they are government bodies housed within the Ministry of National Development (MND), it would be beneficial to first reach out to the Ministry. To do this, we will collaborate with the Nature Society (Singapore) which has researched bird-building collision mortality and established connections with NParks and the MND. We will also work with allies in the government, such as Louis Ng, a Member of Parliament who focuses on animal rights and environmental issues. To more specifically identify the mitigation measures to include in the Bird-Safe Certification, we will also work researchers at the National University of Singapore who are already researching this issue.

Key Facts 

  • Between 1998 and 2016, there were at least 237 recorded bird-building collisions in Singapore, with around 157 of these collisions resulting in bird fatalities.
  • About 73% of Singapore’s bird-building collisions take place in the central and western parts of Singapore – which include the high rises of the central business district, heavy industrial areas, and areas surrounding large green spaces which are bird habitats.
  • A reduction in reflected vegetation by way of a 10% decrease in the height of greeneries leads to at least a 30% decrease in the risk of bird-building strikes.

Action Plan Snapshot 

This proposal requires the support and initiative of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the National Parks Board (NParks), two Singaporean national government bodies housed within the Ministry of National Development (MND). Thus, it will be beneficial to establish a relationship with not only with the BCA and NParks, but also the Ministry of National Development in order for coordination of the solution.  

To build agency and a coalition, we will meet with the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) and the NSS Bird Group (BG). We will interview them to learn about their experience affecting environmental policy change and get their advice.  We will also inquire about their own research regarding avian mortality due to bird-building collisions in Singapore. We will also reach out to researchers at the National University of Singapore who are already researching this issue. We will work with them on identifying the best architectural design and management process to mitigate avian mortality resulting from bird-building collisions, as well as drafting a comprehensive list of qualifications for the Bird Safe Certification (BSC) to propose to the Building and Construction Authority.

To build political power,  we will meet with Louis Ng, a Member of Parliament who works on legislation specifically addressing animal rights and wellbeing, as well as environmental policy and regulations. Through him, we will pose Parliamentary Questions to the Ministry of National Development asking how the ministry views the role of avian biodiversity in Singapore and what measures the ministry is currently taking to protect this biodiversity. With his assistance, we will also aim to directly make contact with NParks and BCA to begin building a relationship of collaboration.

In order to gain public support for our policy solutions and to put pressure on the MND, we will also run a social media campaign. This October, a Jambu Fruit Dove died after a collision and his image was shared on Facebook, receiving more than 6,000 reactions, shares, and comments, with many calling upon government and ministers to enact measures to prevent such future occurrences. This campaign will mobilize this public concern through a Facebook social media campaign which will both spread awareness of the issue as well as call upon citizens to lobby their own Members of Parliament. The campaign focus on Singapore’s many endangered species and the frequency in which they die due to collisions.

Image Credit: Lim Kim Seng

2019 10 Ideas Submission – DreamFund: Enabling Life-long Dreams for All

Memo proposal submitted to the Roosevelt 10 Ideas Journal. Written by the Economic Development & Inclusion Policy Centre, Roosevelt Institute @ Yale-NUS College.

DreamFund: Reversing class stratification in Singapore through new low-income child opportunities fund

To halt class stratification grounded in diverging pre-tertiary child development opportunities by family resources, Singapore’s Ministry of Social & Family Development should implement a new child development fund to offer targeted support for children of low-income families.

  • Because higher social strata individuals have greater ability to purchase private educational resources, only one-tenth of low-income students make it to the top quarter of academic performers in Singapore. This aggravates social immobility across generations.
  • DreamFund will equalize educational opportunities outside school for children of all social backgrounds and thus provides a strong skilled workforce for Singapore at the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The policy is one that can be realized given both the success of current online-based credit schemes and the affordability in terms of government expenditure.
  • The issue of class stratification grounded in income and educational inequality is a major issue generating much discourse and discontent in Singapore today – the Minister of Education has admitted that it is difficult for some low-income families to uplift themselves. With multiple political commentators engaging in this issue, it is prime-time for the introduction of student representation in national public policy-making.

Background & Analysis

A recent OECD report stated that educational “equity has improved markedly overtime” in Singapore, yet there remains gaps in areas such as how well students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds perform academically compared to more privileged students. In 2018, only 1 in 10 low-income students from the bottom quarter made it into the top quarter of academic performers in Singapore, scoring worse than 24 other developed economies. This could be explained by the fact that those in the higher socio-economic strata have greater ability to purchase private enrichment. Therefore, this leverage over low-income households aggravates social immobility across generations. Education thus ceases to be a social leveler and instead enables elites to monopolize educational resources and socio-economic capital.[1]

The existing Workfare low-income supplement scheme fails to provide for all low-income individuals. Firstly, it only covers workers aged 35 and above, leaving young parents without aid for their children’s development. While the scheme offers income support up to S$3600 a year, it does not consider dependents – a worker supporting a family of four receives the same amount of subsidy as a worker without dependents. Additionally, the scheme does not cover informally employed and unemployed individuals. Furthermore, government educational funding schemes like Edusave are only applicable to in-school activities, excluding private enrichment. The flaws of existing schemes, therefore, widen the social divide for pre-tertiary educational opportunities in Singapore.

Key Facts

  • Two-thirds or 67% of Singaporeans currently have or have previously enrolled their children in private supplementary academic enrichment, whereas only 20% of those in the lowest two income brackets (a monthly income of less than $4,000) have a child in tuition.
  • Income inequality remained persistent in Singapore from 2016 to 2017, even after accounting for government redistributive measures, with Singapore’s gini-coefficient of maintaining at 0.401 in 2016 and 2017, or even increasing from 0.350 to 0.356 using the square root scale.
  • The Minister of Education has acknowledged a perceptible reduction in social mixing by class in recent years. Someone who went to a non-elite school has ties to an average of 3.9 people who went to non-elite schools and 0.4 people who went to elite schools.
  • Assuming a monthly pay-out of 75 USD to children aged 7-18 from the bottom quartile of family income, DreamFund will cost 100 million USD annually. This is a mere fraction of another similar cash hand-out scheme, SG Bonus, which offers all adults 150-250 USD annually, and costs 500 million USD. DreamFund is thus a very much affordable programme with maximal benefits.

The Policy Idea

We propose an additional credit scheme targeted at low-income students of pre-tertiary schooling age to subsidize tuition, extra-curricular enrichment programs, and learning support resources (e.g. home learning environment, laptops, books). The policy will apply to students in the bottom quartile of the national income range[1], providing better access to educational resources needed to compete with more well-off peers. Credits allocated will be costed based on the average price of extra-curricular enrichment programs and learning support resources once every two years. This scheme will be implemented by the Ministry of Social & Family Development in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, with schools taking responsibility for identifying eligible students and providing relevant support to both students and parents in accessing this scheme.

(The segment of the population who are covered under the Workfare Income Supplement in addition to unemployed and informally employed workers, thus qualifying as “low-income”.)

Policy Analysis 

Direct income support to poor families for educational investment positively impacts academic performance and adult employment rates.[2] Extra-curricular participation also encourages the development of soft skills, aiding social mobility and improving future earnings.[3] Our policy allows lower-income students to better compete with wealthier students and gives them better access to educational resources. Children of unemployed and informally employed workers will also enjoy support as this policy is not tied to parental employment. This is relevant in a future economy facing structural unemployment and new social risks from a gig economy.[6] Our policy is thus a social investment in Singapore’s human capital pool. It ensures a ready supply for skilled labour for an Industry 4.0 economy, where demand for skilled labour rises with the automation of unskilled work.[4][5]. Reducing inequality thus prevents socio-economic problems arising from structural unemployment.

Online-based credit schemes have already been successfully implemented through SkillsFuture, which subsidizes lifelong learning programs, and ActiveSG, which subsidizes fitness programmes. The government thus has sufficient technical expertise to design and maintain an online interface for our policy. While an online system could risk digitally excluding less well-off families, schools can arrange for computers and tech support to be provided to students and families to make claims. Credit schemes also prevent welfare fraud by only releasing funds to reimburse legitimate expenditure. Additionally, the targeted nature of the policy makes it an affordable endeavour relative to expenditure on similar policies such as the SG Bonus scheme, allowing this scheme to be financially sustainable.

[1] Christopher Gee, “The Educational ‘Arms Race’: All for One, Loss for All,” IPS Working Paper (Singapore: Institute for Policy Studies, September 2012), 27–28.
[2] Greg J. Duncan, Katherine Magnuson, and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, “Boosting Family Income to Promote Child Development,” The Future of Children 24, no. 1 (2014): 99,; Arloc Sherman, Brandon DeBot, and Chye-Ching Huang, “Boosting Low-Income Children’s Opportunities to Succeed Through Direct Income Support,” Academic Pediatrics, Child Poverty in the United States, 16, no. 3, Supplement (April 1, 2016): S95,
[3] Kaisa Snellman et al., “The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation among American Youth,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 657, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 194, 204,
[4] Nathalie Morel, Bruno Palier, and Joakim Palme, Towards a Social Investment Welfare State? : Ideas, Policies and Challenges, ed. Nathalie Morel, Bruno Palier, and Joakim Palme (Policy Press, 2012), chap. 1,; Linda Lim, “How Inequality and Low Wages Can Stall Growth,” The Straits Times, July 21, 2018, sec. Opinion,
[5] Nancy W. Gleason, “Singapore’s Higher Education Systems in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparing Lifelong Learners,” in Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ed. Nancy W. Gleason (Singapore: Springer Singapore, 2018), 145–46,
[6] Yan Min Chia, “Tech Disruption May Push up Unemployment Rate,” The Straits Times, October 28, 2016,; Peter Taylor-Gooby, “New Risks and Social Change,” September 1, 2004, 2–8,

Image Credit: Ong Ye Kung