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Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong speaking with panellists on CNA's Ask the Finance Minister programme on Feb 21, 2024. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long) - 



Voinews, Singapore - Measures announced at Budget 2024 affecting Central Provident Fund (CPF) members are “very much in line with the purpose and intent of the CPF”, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Wednesday night (Feb 21).

Mr Wong, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, was addressing the move to close the CPF Special Account and the reactions it drew online.

Those aged 55 and above will no longer have a Special Account from 2025 onwards, but they will be able to put more money into their Retirement Accounts.

The Ordinary Account holds funds that can be withdrawn for housing and earns short-term interest rates, while the Special Account is for long-term purposes and so has a higher interest rate. 

“That’s the principle,” explained Mr Wong on CNA’s Ask the Finance Minister show, a post-Budget panel discussion that saw him field questions from four panellists.

“Of course, at age 55, you also have a Retirement Account. So instead of now having Special Account and Retirement Account, we are streamlining it into just one, which is the Retirement Account, which is for the long-term, for your retirement needs.”

Under the move, CPF members who have excess funds in their Special Account can transfer it to the Retirement Account – “all the way up to the revised Enhanced Retirement Sum and still earn the same interest rate as the Special Account”, said Mr Wong.  


“The vast majority of Singaporeans will be able to do so. And if they do so, they will get more in their Retirement Account. And eventually when they retire, they will get higher CPF payouts for life.” 


The Enhanced Retirement Sum is the maximum amount that CPF members can put into their Retirement Accounts to receive payouts. It is currently set at three times the Basic Retirement Sum (BRS), but will be increased to four times the BRS next year.


Those who have remaining Special Account savings after hitting the Enhanced Retirement Sum cap will have these savings transferred to their Ordinary Account. 

Mr Wong on Wednesday also touched on how employers should help their mid-career employees, particularly those aged 40 and above, reboot their skills. 

Even though employers who embrace this new mindset may experience higher-costs in the short-term as they have to invest in their workers’ training, Mr Wong believes they will emerge “much better” as a company//CNA-VOI



Drivers try to push their vehicles on the expressway covered with snow and ice following a snowstorm in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Feb 6, 2024. (File Photo: Chinatopix via AP) - 



Voinews, Beijing - Severe weather warnings were in place across swathes of China on Wednesday (Feb 21) as temperatures plummeted across the south and Beijing shivered in snowy conditions.

Authorities renewed an orange alert - the highest in the country's three-tier system - warning that average temperatures could fall by six to 12 degrees Celsius by Friday in the south, where they are currently around zero degrees Celsius.

In some areas, the mercury could plunge by over 20 degrees Celsius, the National Meteorological Center (NMC) said on social media.


State news agency Xinhua said the NMC had "called on local governments to take precautions against the cold weather, advised the public to keep warm, and called for necessary measures to protect crops and aquatic products".


In Beijing, where temperatures hovered around freezing on Wednesday, residents awoke to find the capital blanketed in white following overnight snowfall.


Traffic slowed to a crawl on the city's highways, while snow-dusted pavements proved treacherous for commuters and cyclists.


Municipal authorities said up to 4.1cm of snow had fallen in some suburban areas and issued a warning over icy roads.

"It is recommended that residents ... stagger their travel, use public buses and subways, drive their own cars slowly and pay attention to safety," the city government said in an online statement on Tuesday evening.

Braving the cold temperatures in the capital's historic Forbidden City, visitors - some in traditional costumes - marvelled at the picturesque snowfall.

"I am very happy to be here. This snow scene and the dragon lanterns give me a sense of prosperity," Long Yan, a 55-year-old tourist from southwestern Sichuan province, told AFP.

"Auspicious snow signifies a bountiful year. This snow is a beautiful omen," she said//CNA-VOI



Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, on Jan



Voinews, The Hague - The United States and Russia will present arguments on Wednesday (Feb 21) in proceedings at the UN's highest court examining the legality of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.

Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court's involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement. Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue on Wednesday that it cannot rule on the occupation's lawfulness.

More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel's occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.

On Tuesday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critically of Israel's conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.

The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas' Oct 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts towards finding a path to peace.


The ICJ's 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel's "occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures".


The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.


Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel's separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.


The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel's war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct 7.


Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state - in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighbouring Egypt, still controls its borders.

Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine//CNA-VOI



COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber is also head of the UAE's national oil company. (File Photo: AFP/Karim Sahib) - 



Voinews, Paris - The world needs "trillions" of dollars to spur on the green transition and tackle global warming, the head of last year's COP28 climate talks said on Tuesday (Feb 20), warning that political momentum can evaporate without clear action.

COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber hailed progress made at UN negotiations last year in Dubai, where countries agreed to triple global renewables capacity this decade and "transition away" from polluting fossil fuels.

But the deal lacked important details, including on funding, putting the onus on this year's COP29 meeting in Azerbaijan.

With impacts accelerating as global heat records are smashed, experts say that funding agreed this year will also play an important role in encouraging governments to toughen their decarbonisation targets.

Jaber, who is also chief of the UAE's national oil company ADNOC, said finance was "the key enabler of positive change at the speed and scale" needed.

"But not normal scale finance - we need finance at every level," he said, at an event in Paris organised by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Countries are expected this year to hammer out a new target for the amount of annual support rich nations will provide to poorer ones for their energy transitions and adaptation to climate impacts from 2025.

The failure of wealthy nations to meet their previous goal of US$100 billion per year by 2020 has soured trust, with indications the target was likely reached only in 2022.

Needs already far outstrip the money available. The UN-backed climate finance expert group has estimated that emerging economies except China will need to spend around US$2.4 trillion a year by the end of the decade.

"The world must now raise the bar to address the challenge we face," Jaber said.

"We need to start thinking trillions, not billions."

Recognition of the scale of support needed has put the focus on expanding sources of funding.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are under pressure to initiate sweeping reforms to align their lending with the Paris deal goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Other initiatives under discussion include new taxation, especially on polluting industries, as well as redirecting fossil fuel subsidies into green development.

Jaber warned that there was a risk that "political momentum can dissipate and then fade away or disappear between COPs".

This year could herald significant uncertainty, with around half the world's population seeing elections in their countries, including in the United States, the European Union and Russia.

Meanwhile, crises like Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas stoke international turbulence.

Laurent Fabius, previously France's minister of foreign affairs and president of the COP21 meeting in Paris, warned that political uncertainty clouds the picture for this year's climate talks in Baku//CNA-VOI



The Tigris river in central Baghdad, one of Iraq's two mighty rivers (Photo: AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE) - 

Voinews, BAGHDAD - Stricken by drought and depleted by upstream dams, Iraq's once mighty rivers the Tigris and Euphrates are suffocating under pollutants from sewage to medical waste.

In a country where half the population lacks access to safe drinking water, according to UN figures, state institutions are to blame for a man-made disaster which is turning rivers into waste dumps.

"What is strange about water pollution in Iraq is that most government institutions are responsible for it," Khaled Shamal, the ministry of water resources spokesman, told AFP.

He warned that Iraq's sewage network dumps "large quantities" of wastewater into the two major waterways, after superficial treatment or none at all.

"Most hospitals near a river dump their medical waste and sewage straight into it," Shamal added. "It is dangerous and catastrophic."

Dirty and unsafe water is a prime health threat in Iraq, where decades of conflict, mismanagement and corruption have taken a toll on infrastructure, including the water system.

Petrochemical factories, power plants and agricultural drainage that carries fertilisers and other toxins further pollute Iraq's water.

In the country known as "the land of two rivers", water pollution has become so severe that it is now visible to the naked eye.

In Baghdad's eastern suburbs, AFP filmed a pipe discharging green-coloured water with a foul odour into the Diyala river.

Ali Ayoub, a water specialist from the UN children's agency UNICEF, warned that Baghdad's two main water treatment plants are overloaded with twice their intended capacity.

The treatment facilities were built for a population of three to four million, but at least nine million live in Baghdad today.

"Inadequate infrastructure, limited regulations and poor public awareness are the main factors contributing to the significant deterioration of water quality in Iraq", Ayoub said.

In partnership with UNICEF, Baghdad's Medical City - a complex of hospitals with 3,000 beds, on the banks of the Tigris - has recently inaugurated a water treatment plant, Akil Salman, the complex's projects manager, told AFP.

The facility has started operating with three units, each capable of treating 200 cubic metres of waste a day. Four additional units with a capacity of 400 cubic metres each are expected to be completed "within two months".

Instead of directing its wastewater to Baghdad's overburdened treatment facilities, the Medical City can use the treated water for the hospitals' gardens and to fill the firefighters' tanks, Salman said.

Previously, authorities routinely opened valves to increase the river flow and dilute pollutants, but this strategy has become impossible due to a shortage of water which has forced them to look for other options.

In addition to "raising awareness" among the population, Iraqi officials say they are closely monitoring wastewater management//CNA-VOI


Vehicles drive past the logo of India's G20 summit, along a road in New Delhi on Aug 10, 2023. (Photo: AFP/Sajjad Hussain) - 



Voinews, RIO DE JANEIRO: G20 foreign ministers open a two-day meeting on Wednesday (Feb 21) in Brazil, with the outlook bleak for progress on a thorny agenda of conflicts and crises, from the Gaza and Ukraine wars to growing polarization.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected in Rio de Janeiro for the first high-level G20 meeting of the year - though not China's Wang Yi.

In a world torn by conflicts and divisions, Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes for what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls "the forum with the greatest capacity to positively influence the international agenda".

But Lula's bid to make the G20 a space for finding common ground suffered Sunday when the veteran leftist ignited a diplomatic firestorm by accusing Israel of "genocide", comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.

The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him "persona non grata", and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.

"If Lula imagined he was going to propose peace resolutions on Israel or Ukraine, that just got swept off the table," international relations specialist Igor Lucena told AFP.

More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters' unprecedented Oct 7 attack on Israel, which has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.

A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed on Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages.

The outlook is similarly downbeat on Russia's war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided.

Despite a push from Western countries for the group to condemn President Vladimir Putin's invasion, the G20's last summit, held in New Delhi in September, ended with a watered-down statement that denounced the use of force but did not explicitly name Russia, which maintains friendly ties with fellow members like India and Brazil.

Underlining the G20 stalemate, the G7 group of top economies - Ukrainian allies Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - will hold its own virtual meeting on the war Saturday, the second anniversary of Russia's invasion.


Held at a marina on the Rio waterfront, the G20 meeting will open with a session on "addressing international tensions".


The ministers will discuss global governance reform on Thursday - a favourite issue for Brazil, which wants a greater voice for the global south at institutions like the UN, IMF and World Bank.


"The number and gravity of conflicts has returned to the level of the Cold War. That brings new urgency to the issue," said Brazil's top diplomat for G20 political negotiations, Mauricio Lyrio.


"We need to adapt the international system to prevent new conflicts," he told journalists on Tuesday. "Now, we're just putting out fires."


Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.


There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering - though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given the exploding tension over Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death in prison on Friday.


Blinken and Lavrov last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023//CNA-VOI




A visitor walks past Japan's Nikkei stock prices quotation board inside a building in Tokyo, Japan February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Issei Kato/file photo - 



Voinews, Singapore - As Japanese stocks approach record levels last seen in the 1989 bubble-era, valuation metrics suggest they are still far from overpriced compared to historic levels and global peers.

The Nikkei share average is up nearly 50 per cent in the past year and closing in on its record high of 38,957.44 points touched on the final trading day of 1989.

Yet, on a popular price-to-earnings ratio metric, the MSCI Japan index's 12-month forward ratio stands at 14.1, below the MSCI World index's 17.4 and the MSCI United States index's 20.1.

"From a historical perspective, Japanese stocks at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 15x do not look expensive versus other markets, especially at current interest rate levels," said Miyuki Kashima, head of Japan investments at Fidelity International.

More importantly, Japanese stocks trade at a low price-to-book value, meaning the shares are underpriced relative to the value of assets on companies' balance sheets.

MSCI Japan's price-to-book ratio is 1.37, much lower than 4.72 recorded in 1989, when the market last hit these highs during Japan's asset price bubble.

The Nikkei's rally over the past year has been fuelled its cheapness, corporate governance reforms and steady buying by foreigners. It has also come after a long period of stagnation since the early 1990s as companies focused more on stability than growth.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has sought to get companies to change conservative accounting practices, by pushing for better governance, share buybacks, lower cross-holdings and increased dividends.

Within its Prime Market segment, which comprises 1,657 companies with a market capitalization exceeding 100 billion yen ($666.67 million) each, 78 per cent traded at a price-to-book ratio below 1 as of December and had outlined initiatives to optimize capital use and enhance stock prices.

Foreign investors aversion to weak Chinese markets have also prompted a search into other Asian assets.

Fidelity Kashima said the TSE's decision to publish the names of companies that have complied with its call to disclose plans had improved governance.

"Ultimately, structural change driven by such reforms will help to optimise capital allocation, while a shift to moderate inflation is supportive of growth in wages and investment," he said.

LSEG data showed approximately one-third of companies in Japan's Nikkei 225 index still trade below book value, compared to a mere 3 per cent ratio for the S&P 500 index.

These reforms have meant the overall yield shareholders are getting in Japan, through buybacks in particular, is more than the headline dividend yield.

MSCI Japan's dividend yield stood at 2.23, surpassing the MSCI World's 1.9. Data from ETF manager WisdomTree shows MSCI Japan index's shareholder yield, which reflects the total returns including dividends and share buybacks, stood at 3.34, much higher than the MSCI World's 2.91.

Attractive valuations have lured foreign investors, who have pumped in about 6.3 trillion yen into Japanese equities last year. Most analysts say foreigners still remain underweight Japan.

Japan's domestic households are also allocating cash to the stock market, via a tax-exempted Nippon Individual Savings Account (NISA) program//CNA-VOI



Soccer Football - Champions League - Round of 16 - First Leg - PSV Eindhoven v Borussia Dortmund - Philips Stadion, - February 20, 2024 PSV Eindhoven's Luuk de Jong celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw - 



Voinews, Berlin - Borussia Dortmund were left fuming over a penalty decision in Tuesday's Champions League round of 16 first leg that earned hosts PSV Eindhoven a 1-1 draw.

Donyell Malen had scored a superb goal for the visitors against his former side before Eindhoven's Luuk de Jong converted the spot kick in the 56th minute at the Philips Stadion.

"Zero percent penalty, zero," Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said of his challenge on Malik Tillman.

"I go in for the tackle, I clearly get to the ball first, I change its course and then I make minimal contact. But this is football, I am sorry, zero penalty.

"Tillman was cracking up laughing, (Eindhoven winger Johan) Bakayoko also cracked up laughing, they all looked at me, grinning for several minutes," Hummels added.

The Dortmund defender got a touch on the ball before making contact with German-born U.S. international Tillman but a VAR review confirmed the on-field decision by referee Srdjan Jovanovic, much to the visitors’ dismay.

"That is the second ridiculous penalty awarded against us in the Champions League after the (group game) at Paris St Germain. I don't understand the referees at the moment," Hummels said.

Dortmund lost 2-0 in Paris in September with Kylian Mbappe scoring from the spot following a hand ball incident.

"Penalties are being awarded for situations that are not even fouls when they happen in midfield," Hummels added. "No defender in the world would award this penalty."

Dortmund host the Dutch side on March 13 in the return leg.

"We asked him (referee) but for him it was a clear cut situation," Dortmund sports director Sebastian Kehl said of Eindhoven's penalty.

"You cannot change that but try to influence it through the fourth official. This is a very painful situation for us."

For coach Edin Terzic, the only thing to do was to move on.

"We cannot change it, it's part of the game," he added. "We now have the chance to make things right in three weeks. This is the only thing we control and we will focus on that."//CNA-VOI


Officials patrolling near the town of Wabag, 600 kilometres northwest of the capital Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on a picture released by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary on Monday (19/02/2024). (Photo: AFP/Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary) Sixty-four bloodied bodies have been found along a stretch of road in Papua New Guinea's remote highlands, police said on Monday (19/02/2024), a gruesome escalation of long-running violence between local warring tribes. As reported by AFP, the victims were believed to be tribal fighters who were ambushed by a rival group in the early hours of Sunday (18/02/2024).


A woman rests with children, as Palestinians arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis due to the Israeli ground operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip,



Voinews, CAIRO/JERUSALEM - Fighting, fuel shortages and Israeli raids put the Gaza Strip's second-largest hospital completely out of service on Sunday (Feb 18), local and United Nations (UN) health officials said, as Israel battled Hamas militants in the devastated Palestinian enclave.

Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis still sheltered scores of patients suffering from war wounds and Gaza's worsening health crisis, but there was no power and not enough staff to treat them all, health officials said.

"It's gone completely out of service," Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al Qidra told Reuters.

"There are only four medical staffers currently caring for patients inside the facility," he said.

Gaza's hospitals have been a focal point of the four-month-old war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the besieged territory.

Most have been put out of action by fighting and lack of fuel, leaving a population of 2.3 million without proper healthcare while tens of thousands have been wounded by airstrikes and many others suffer from chronic illness and, increasingly, starvation.

Israel has raided medical facilities alleging that Hamas keeps weapons and hostages in hospitals. Hamas denies this. The international community says hospitals, which are protected under international law, must be protected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) urged Israel to grant its staff access to the hospital, where it said a week-long siege and raids by Israeli forces searching for Hamas militants had stopped them from helping patients.

"Both yesterday and the day before, the @WHO team was not permitted to enter the hospital to assess the conditions of the patients and critical medical needs, despite reaching the hospital compound to deliver fuel," WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X.

The Israeli military said its special forces were operating in and around Nasser Hospital and had killed dozens of Palestinian militants and seized a large amount of weapons in fighting across Gaza over the past day.

"Dozens of terrorists were eliminated and large quantities of weapons were seized," it said in a statement.

The military said this week it was hunting for militants in Nasser Hospital and had arrested at least 100 suspects on the premises, killed gunmen near the hospital and found weapons inside it.

Hamas has denied allegations that its fighters use medical facilities for cover.

Israel's air and ground offensive has devastated much of Gaza and forced nearly all of its inhabitants from their homes. Palestinian health authorities say 28,985 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

The war began when Hamas sent fighters into Israel on Oct 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies//CNA-VOI

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