Ten more bodies recovered after Bangladeshi ferry sinks, six still missing

DHAKA: Ten more bodies have been recovered from Bangladesh’s Panguchi River, a local official said on Thursday, after a ferry carrying about 80 passengers capsized this week.

Divers had been deployed to find the six people who were still missing, the chief administrator of Morelganj sub-district, Obaidur Rahman, said.

Rashedul Alam, a police official from Morelganj, where the accident happened, said a combination of strong currents and overloading caused the ferry to sink on Tuesday.

Most of the passengers had swum to safety, he said.

Low-lying Bangladesh, with extensive inland waterways and slack safety standards, has a track record of ferry accidents and deaths sometimes run into the hundreds.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir and Enammul Haque; Editing by Vin Shahrestani)

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230 laid-off workers found jobs through taskforce for 'responsible retrenchment'

SINGAPORE: Mandatory retrenchment notifications have helped organisations under the Labour Movement provide assistance to retrenched workers more effectively, according to Mr Tan Choon Shian, chairman of the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation.

The mandatory retrenchment notification kicked off in January this year. It requires employers to submit a notification to the Manpower Ministry within five working days after the employee has been alerted to their retrenchment.

This applies to employers who employ at least 10 employees and retrench five or more employees within any six month period beginning Jan 1, 2017.

“In our experience, if we are able to reach out to workers earlier, our success rates improves,” said Mr Tan, who is also the CEO of Workforce Singapore. “So we are particularly happy that the mandatory notification is now in place, so we can reach out to the larger group of workers as soon as possible.”

The taskforce, which was set up a year ago, comprises members from the Manpower Ministry, Workforce Singapore, National Trade Union Congress and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).

According to Mr Tan, the taskforce has helped about 230 retrenched workers find jobs since the start of this year.

Its formation comes at a time when redundancy numbers in Singapore have reached more than 19,000, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009, when almost 23,500 people were retrenched. 

Number of redundancies from 2006 to 2016 (Source: Manpower Ministry)

Mr Tan explained how the taskforce gets involved: “With the company’s permission, and if the affected number of employees is large, we will try to organise an onsite event within the company – to explain (what’s happening) to the affected staff. And for many of the staff, I think it’s possibly the first time they are looking for a job after many years.”

That’s where career coaches will also be deployed to help such workers who may not be familiar with the job search process and the current job market, he added.

Mr Tan said that the agencies are also prepared to bring in employers of a similar sector to help the retrenched. “We’ve done our research so that even on the spot, they can start some of the discussions.”


NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay said some of the sectors that had seen layoffs include the financial institutions, as well as retail businesses that had been hit hard by competition from e-commerce platforms.

Offshore and marine industries were also been hit by low crude oil prices.

Said Mr Tay: “Moving ahead in 2017, of course many quarters are not optimistic that oil prices will jump up to US$ 70, to US$ 80 dollars per barrel, so oil and gas and offshore and marine – these few sectors – continue to face its challenges.

“The foreign financial institutions have also been rolling out some announcements in the past 18 months, so we do see some consolidation there.”

One of the people affected was Mr Ganesan Kasinathe, who said he was one of 30 people retrenched from his job in the offshore and marine industry. His company halved its staff strength in a downsizing exercise.

Mr Ganesan has since found a job with the help of career coaches from e2i. 

“As you’re aware, the oil and gas industry is not exactly doing very well, and it’s not exactly a crisis happening in Singapore,” he said. “It’s actually worldwide crisis.

“I’m not angry with my ex-company for retrenching me, because if you look at it from a business point of view, I kind of feel it’s fair. It’s not exactly their fault.”


Economists recently made an upwards revision on their forecast on economic growth in Singapore, but Mr Tan said the job market outlook “will remain volatile”.

“We think there is still the risk of restructuring the companies going forward. We are prepared in case the scenario gets worse, although based on what we are seeing, it’s not getting worse,” he said.

Mr Tan added that inter-agency coordination is now smoother, one year into the taskforce’s operations. “For our taskforce, it’s not about whether it will get worse (or not). If it gets worse, we are ready,” he said.

Agreeing, NTUC’s Patrick Tay said it is key retrenchments be made only as a last resort. “I think the key thing is when we face any challenges, including retrenchments or lay-offs, my appeal to employers as well as companies is that they do carry this out as a final option, to do it fairly, responsibly, progressively and also importantly, in compliance to our tripartite guidelines on managing excess manpower.”

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Not all dengue patients with low platelet count need transfusions: Study

SINGAPORE: Dengue patients with critically low platelet counts do not require platelet transfusions to get better, as long they do not have other complications, a recent study found.

The Adult Dengue Platelet Study (ADEPT) involved researchers from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the National University Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital and Malaysia’s University Malaya Medical Centre.

A typical person has a platelet count of between 150,000 and 250,000 per microliter of blood.

About 80 to 90 per cent of patients with dengue will have levels below 100,000, while 10 to 20 per cent of patients will see critically low levels of 20,000 or less. In such cases, they are likely to be admitted to the hospital and receive platelet transfusions to prevent the possibility of internal bleeding.

Only about 5 per cent of dengue patients face complications such as severe bleeding and require transfusions. Findings from the study show that most patients with critically low platelet counts will recover by themselves after a few days. There is no difference in clinical bleeding with or without transfusion in those with a platelet count of less than 20,000 per microlitre.


“The issue here is when the platelet count drops to a critically low level, most clinicians will feel unsafe not to do something,” said Professor Leo Yee Sin, director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. “In other words, most clinicians will go ahead to transfuse platelets to this group of uncomplicated patients and this study shows that it is not necessary to do so.”

A transfusion, just like any medical procedure, runs the risk of side effects like a severe allergic reaction, so researchers say doctors should focus on supportive care.

For instance, dehydration is a key concern for dengue patients, so treatment could include fluid therapy.

Prof Leo said previous retrospective studies done in this area have sparked a shift in how doctors traditionally manage the virus. She hopes this study will further reduce hospital admissions.

A dengue patient will usually get one bag of pooled platelets during a transfusion. One bag will require contributions from four donors. Researchers hope the shift to supportive care will also free up supplies for those who need it – especially in the event of a dengue outbreak.

The World Health Organisation has issued recommendations against transfusions since 2009, but Prof Leo said until this study, there was np conclusive evidence against doing so.

The study enlisted 372 patients between 2010 and 2014 across the four public hospitals in Singapore. It was funded by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) under STOP-Dengue Translational Clinical Research Programme and coordinated by the Singapore Clinical Research Institute (SCRI).

Researchers from Malaysia and Singapore that took part in the Adult Dengue Platelet Study. (Photo: Chan Luo Er)

The study was recently accepted by Lancet medical journal.

“More of the community doctors are getting more comfortable in taking care of patients in their own clinic setting without referring them to the hospital, without referring them for admission,” said Prof Leo. “I think this trend will continue to shift the focus of dengue care into primary care and leave the more complicated cases in tertiary care.”

Researchers will next look at the cost-effectiveness of transfusions and how resources that are freed up could be used in other ways. They hope to come up with results in a year.

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Malaysian PM tells France not ready to decide on buying Rafale jets

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday that he discussed the possible purchase of Dassault Aviation SA’s Rafale fighter jets with French President Francois Hollande but remained undecided.

“We’re not ready yet to make a decision, but we take note of its success in other countries…,” Najib said at a joint press conference hosted by both leaders during Hollande’s visit to Malaysia on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Commentary: Smart Nation 2.0? Three ideas to keep Singapore smart

SINGAPORE: The provocative power of digital advances lies in the novel ways we can use them to improve lives. The newly announced Smart Nation and Digital Government Office under the Prime Minister’s Office, is recognition of this transformative power. 

Digital advances push us to think more expansively about what is smart. Building on recent major government initiatives, the following possibilities outlined here present opportunities to think beyond physical places and infrastructure constraints and build a more inclusive society. They aim to tackle job disruption precisely, nurture each student’s strength by drawing on global resources, and scale-up solutions more readily.


“The top priority for the Smart Nation (initiative) has to be jobs, jobs, jobs,” Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan stressed during the Budget 2017 debates.  

Global debates about digital disruption and jobs are divided. Techno-pessimists warn us that all jobs are at risk. Techno-optimists assure us jobs will evolve. There is a divergence in thinking on how we should approach these disruptive forces.

Automation has transformed the productivity of manufacturing since industrial robots first started painting, cutting, welding and assembling in the 1960s. (Photo: AFP)

Can we tackle disruption better? We have so far focused primarily on skills. However, emerging evidence suggests we should focus on tasks too, because tasks add precision to skills.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economics Professor David Autor points out tasks “have played a key role in reshaping the structure of labour demand in industrialised countries in recent decades”. Stanford University’s report Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030 states “AI systems are specialised to accomplish particular tasks”. The consultancy McKinsey concluded last year that analyzing “work activities rather than occupations is the most accurate way to examine the technical feasibility of automation”.

Digital advances break down jobs into tasks, which are automated or performed by humans. When all tasks are automated, humans lose jobs. But humans also create new tasks, turning them into new jobs.

By examining tasks, we can see which tasks, and subsequently which jobs, workers, and companies are more likely to be disrupted. We can thus better prepare them for the future and take corresponding steps to do so.

For example, the chart below details the tasks an information security analyst carries out, and shows which of these are shared with other IT professions. Professionals in the latter who wish to become an information security analyst can see which tasks they have experience in, and which they need training in. Workers and companies can thus target their training better.

Chart showing tasks performed by professionals in the IT sector. (Source: SUTD)

There are potential wider economic benefits to adopting such an approach. The Netherlands Bureau of Economic Analysis conducted a study of cities, tasks and skills. They concluded that tasks explained a “significant part of the changes in employment”, and cities with more tasks connected to each other had higher employment growth. Examining how connected tasks are could target economy-wide job growth better.


Budget 2017 saw greater emphasis on nurturing students’ strengths. More students can now stretch and develop their talent.

The story of an eight-year-old Singaporean I met during our projects suggests we could nurture all students according to their unique diverse strengths.

Adi lives in a HDB flat and attends a neighborhood school. He also represented Singapore at the Asian Youth Chess Championships last year. Interestingly, he picked up chess by chance only three years ago.

How did Adi become championship-ready so quickly? Indeed, he has sparred online against algorithms and top chess players worldwide (who did not know his age).  

But Adi made the most progress with his online coach, Prab. Other coaches – in person and online – had not worked out.

Coach Prab is based in India. He also suffers from double kidney failure. To reduce infection risks, he started coaching online. He watches, reviews and discusses Adi’s online chess games with him. He even uses AI analysis to augment his feedback.

File photo of chess board. (Photo: AFP)

Consider for a moment what has happened.

Now imagine assembling, for each student, their own individual global team of mentors, augmented by technology, to pursue their unique talent.  Imagine what each student could achieve. Each could pursue excellence and become as good as they can be. Some might even be among the best in the world.

Trends in the global gig economy and talent marketplace suggest such global teams of mentors could be affordable: they can come from any part of the world, are hired for only part of their time, and are mentoring digitally. 

Large countries will find it challenging to do this. But a small Smart Nation with annual Primary One cohort sizes of forty thousand can. If we do, imagine the impact we could have on the world.


The Committee on Future Economy highlights that Smart Nation digital solutions “can be exported to rapidly urbanising cities in Asia”. The current model: test-bed in Singapore, scale-up here and then scale-out to the region. 

Singapore’s size and single-layer governance offers speed and simplicity for test-bedding and scaling up. But the market is small, and scaling out to cities with more complicated governance is challenging.  

Moreover, our infrastructure and environment have been so carefully honed, that solutions which work well here, might work less well elsewhere. “The environment exacts a price for the survival of the fittest: it captures them,” says Jacob Bronowski in The Ascent of Man. He draws an analogy: the Grant gazelle was “gracefully adapted” to the savannah to escape predators, but “its lovely leap never took it out of the savannah”.

What if for digital solutions, we flipped the current model to first scale-out test-beds concurrently to Singapore and two regional cities, then scale-up in all three? We can still exploit Singapore’s strengths, and concurrent regional test-beds could yield versatile solutions more easily deployed to different cities.

The Marina Bay central business district is home to many businesses in Singapore. (Photo: REUTERS)

Adopting this model means changing how we invest, recruit, and educate. Funding and financing will have to account for additional risks. Companies will need multi-city expertise. And tertiary institutions will have to immerse students in multi-city projects. 

Current business models suggest we cannot afford to do this. But for long-term economic prospects, can we afford not to? 


We often need novel and provocative possibilities to think expansively.

One way to find them might be to disagree to agree. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and pioneering psychologist Gary Klein, who respect each other’s work, arrived at differing conclusions about how people make snap decisions. They did not choose to agree to disagree, and move on with their own work. Instead, they examined together why they disagreed. They found that they “agree(d) on most of the issues that matter”, and collaborated to elaborate on this. They chose to disagree, and used that to subsequently find agreement, and a superior outcome.

Disagreements between citizens, companies, cities and countries are inevitable. We could choose to agree to disagree, and leave it at that. Or if we respect each other, we could do the smart thing: choose to first disagree to agree, so as to search for subsequent agreement and a superior outcome.

Like what Kahneman and Klein did.

That will make our nation really smart. 

Poon King Wang is Director of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. 

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Singapore film company mm2 Asia sets its sights on the region

SINGAPORE: Singapore film production company mm2 Asia is pushing hard to become a bigger player in Asia, starting with an investment of US$ 12.9 million (S$ 18 million) in nine movies from Singaporean, Hong Kong, Malaysian and Taiwanese filmmakers covering a range of genres.

The titles include the fourth instalment of Singaporean director Jack Neo’s popular Ah Boys To Men franchise and Wonder Boy, the biopic and directorial debut of prominent Singaporean musician Dick Lee starring The Sam Willows’ Benjamin Kheng. Hsieh Chun Yi’s Taiwan romantic drama Take Me To The Moon starring Vivian Sung is also in the pipeline.

Mr Melvin Ang, mm2 Asia’s executive chairman and CEO, told Channel NewsAsia that the company sees “huge opportunities” in Chinese speaking markets around the region.

“Given our small market environment, we have to step up efforts in developing projects that can work in all these markets,” he said. “With this strategy, ‘produced and developed by Singapore talent’ is equally important as compared to ‘produced in Singapore’. This will clearly make our presence stronger as a regional producer in the coming years.”

The development of Singapore cinema is still important to the company, which is headquartered here.

But the company’s further expansion into the region does not mean that it will be holding back on making homegrown films. In fact, mm2 is committed to producing more local movies along with their regional projects, said Mr Ang.

“As of today, in our current slate of projects, mm2 has more than 10 new Singapore movie titles in the pipeline over the next 18 months,” he revealed. “Being present in all the Chinese markets in Asia, mm2 is confident that Singapore talents, given the right opportunities and support, will stand an equal chance to produce quality films that can travel beyond our shores.”

He continued: “We have to identify homegrown talents, particularly in the area of scriptwriters, directors and production talent pool who have the capabilities to develop and execute projects for the growing regional markets. For example, successful Singapore scripts and movies can be adapted or remade in Hong Kong, Taiwan or China.”

When mm2’s extensive slate was unveiled at the Hong Kong Film Mart earlier this month, Ha Yu, veteran Hong Kong actor and executive director of mm2 Hong Kong, said that while the projects were considerably smaller than the usual big budget Chinese co-productions, the mainland audience is still seen as one of mm2’s targets.

The focus with this slate, according to mm2 Asia’s chief content officer Ng Say Yong, is about developing new talent, particularly new directors, and exposing them to work in the region. “Leveraging on our multi-market presence, we welcome companies or individuals looking for collaborative opportunities to identify projects and co-produce content that is compelling and relevant.”

The company has been on an upward trajectory ever since it was listed on the Singapore stock exchange market two years ago – the first movie production company to do so – and has diversified from its roots in film production and financing.

Amongst other moves, it acquired a 51 per cent stake in Singapore 3D animation company Vividthree Productions, procured the exclusive rights to produce and broadcast a Singapore/Malaysia edition of the The Voice from Talpa Global, established its own cinema chain, mmCineplexes, through the ownership of five multiplexes in Malaysia, and most recently announced the proposed purchase of another 13 multiplexes in Malaysia from Lotus Fivestar Cinemas.

The company is best known for being behind Singapore’s most successful franchise – Ah Boys To Men – that generated a combined local box office of more than S$ 22 million from the first three films.

The franchise director Neo told Channel NewsAsia that the fourth instalment will commence filming in June and that it will definitely be released this year. 

“Because 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s National Service,” he explained. “This one is going to be about reservists. It’s something most of us have or had to do so many people will relate to this storyline.

“And I’ve also decided to focus on the Armour unit, like all the tanks and artillery. People always gets excited during National Day every year when they see the Armour unit on display.”

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Indian vice president defends liberal values, right to dissent

NEW DELHI: Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari said on Saturday universities must uphold liberal values and respect dissent, a month after violent protests erupted at a university in the capital Delhi over a speech by a student accused of sedition. 

Addressing students at a university in the northern state of Punjab, Ansari said commitments to the right to dissent should be revisited at a time when the “value and scope of academic freedom” was being called into question.

“The right of dissent and agitation are ingrained in the fundamental rights under our constitution, which sets out a plural framework and refuses any scope to define the country in narrow sectarian, ideological or religious terms,” he said.

“Recent events in our own country have shown that there is much confusion about what a university should or should not be. The freedom of our universities has been challenged by narrow considerations of what is perceived to be ‘public good’.”

Ansari appeared to be referring to violence at the University of Delhi last month involving Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a pro-BJP student union. 

According to media reports, ABVP protested against inviting the student to give a speech at a literary seminar and violent clashes broke out.

The vice president’s defence of plurality also comes as criticism grows over an apparent shift in course by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that could redefine the world’s largest democracy as a Hindu nation.

Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu ascetic with a history of agitation against minority Muslims, was sworn in to lead the country’s most populous state on March 19, and observers said it marked a departure from the platform of development for all on which Modi rose to national power in 2014.

(Reporting by Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Singapore's manufacturing output up 12.6% in February

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s manufacturing output in February rose 12.6 per cent from a year ago, on the back of strong growth in the electronics and precision engineering clusters.

Excluding the more volatile biomedical manufacturing cluster, output grew 17.1 per cent, according to data released on Friday (Mar 24) by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

On a month-on-month seasonally-adjusted basis, industrial production fell 3.7 per cent in February, it added. 

Output of the electronics cluster jumped 39.8 per cent on-year last month, mainly due to robust growth of 63.6 per cent in the semiconductors segment. The other electronic modules and components and infocomms and consumer electronics segments also grew 16.5 per cent and 8.3 per cent respectively. 

The output of the precision engineering cluster also expanded 26.2 per cent over the same period, with the machinery and systems segment posting strong growth of 33.2 per cent on the back of higher export demand for semiconductor-related equipment. The precision modules and components segment also grew 16.4 per cent with higher output of dies, moulds, tools, jigs and fixture, optical instruments and metal precision components. 

There were also increases in output in the general manufacturing industries cluster (3.3 per cent) and chemicals cluster (1.9 per cent), but declines in the biomedical manufacturing cluster (-2.6 per cent) and transport engineering cluster (-9.6 per cent). 

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How Ninja Van's 'smart and ruthlessly aggressive' co-founder hooked a big investor

SINGAPORE: Irked at not being able to find a nice-fitting men’s shirt, Lai Chang Wen ditched his five-figure-salary job as a derivatives trader for the risky retail scene – to build his own menswear brand.

It was a decision his parents thought quite mad at the time. Said Mr Lai’s mother Madam Tan Poh Siang: “It was a real shock. I said: ‘You’re a guy (working) in banking. Why would you want to go into something that is about fashion and tailoring?’”

The answer boiled down to simply this: Mr Lai’s fixation with solving problems.  Even if it was in a field he knew next to nothing about.

“Do you think Chang Wen was interested in fashion?” laughed current business partner Shaun Chong, referring to the blue rubber slippers Mr Lai wore for the interview. “Look at what he’s wearing to the office. At least I wear shoes.”

Marcella, a made-to-measure menswear brand, was started in Mr Lai’s own words “when I couldn’t fit into a shirt well. And I couldn’t afford a nicely tailored shirt”.

Unfortunately, the business – which automated the process of translating clients’ body measurements into paper patterns – quickly ran into problems with unreliable courier services. Deliveries were either delayed or lost.

“When anything went wrong, the customers had no way of reaching out to the couriers. They were stuck at home waiting the whole day just for our parcels. That’s not what e-commerce was meant to be,” he said.

And so, once again, he set his mind to fixing the nub of his frustration – by setting up logistics company Ninja Van in 2014 at the age of 27 with co-founders Mr Chong and Boxian Tan, despite “zero experience” in logistics (“all I knew how to do was to receive parcels,” said Mr Lai).

Ninja Van went on to redefine the industry by enabling next-day door-to-door deliveries for e-commerce firms and their customers, at a time when such services were not yet ubiquitous in Singapore and most had to depend on the postal service.

WATCH: How they did it (2:58)

It has been so successful that it has raised S$ 45 million from investors so far, including B Capital Group, a venture capital firm whose founding partner is Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Mr Lai’s journey, and that of Ninja Van, is profiled in Monday’s (March 27) episode of Game Changers, a series about entrepreneurs who reinvent themselves and their industry.


The learning curve was steep and it meant 22-hour work days, sleeping in the office, and even sorting parcels and doing deliveries himself.

“The first few months was hell. Everything was inefficient. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do,” said Mr Lai, now 30. 

Still, they didn’t look to hire logistics industry veterans, who would just bring with them “old tricks”.

Instead, the trio was confident they could leverage on their mathematical and technology skills to improve the delivery process. They examined the entire life cycle of a parcel, from the point when it is picked up to when it’s delivered.

Technology and algorithms were used to improve every process – for example, to calculate the best route a driver should take, or which van should be used to deliver a parcel. This means drivers are able to deliver more parcels in an hour while saving on fuel costs.

Existing logistics providers were then still relying on outdated mail-sorting technology, where delivery documents were usually handwritten and tracking of parcels was difficult. But at Ninja Van, staff used their handphones to scan parcels and find out in an instant where the parcel is heading and what should be done with it.

“The only reason we got to where we were is because our technology was much better than the incumbents at that point in time,” said Mr Lai, acknowledging: “But a lot of them have caught up or are close (now).”

Ninja Van also harnesses crowdsourcing during crunch times, where they activate part-time drivers to help them deliver more parcels and in a shorter period of time, easing the load on their existing drivers.

Mr Lai said: “We make our engineers drive to understand how difficult it is operationally. And we make our operations people think of product specifications, and we try to educate them more about technology.

“We tell them that this is a technology company and here, you get your hands dirty.”


It is this ethos of Mr Lai that helped sway Mr Saverin’s firm to invest in the start-up. Ninja Van received US$ 30 million in a second round of funding in 2016 from investors including B Capital Group, which will help them expand regionally.

Mr Saverin said: “As soon as I met him, he struck me as a smart and ruthlessly aggressive entrepreneur who would do whatever it takes to get it done.

“The example was just clearly laid in front of me. A mattress on the floor of his office where he would sleep most of the nights, because that’s how hard he worked.”

The billionaire said that Mr Lai was focused on developing the right culture where everyone in the company understood what each other was doing, and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty while doing so.  

He credits Mr Lai for creating real-time tracking in logistics where control is handed back to the consumer, just like what Uber and Grab did for the taxi industry.

Mr Saverin said: “Innovations like Facebook, even in the early days, were not these out-of-the-box brilliant thinking. It was replicating something that existed in the real world.

“So these are the types of businesses that create new markets and drive through real positive change. They’re not destructing, they’re enabling.”

More about Lai Chang Wen’s story on Game Changers on Monday, March 27, at 8pm SG/HK.

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Thailand seeks new abbot for scandal-hit Buddhist temple

BANGKOK: Thailand’s government is trying to get a new abbot appointed to head the country’s biggest Buddhist temple, whose former leader is wanted for money laundering, an official said on Thursday.

Police pulled back from a three-week siege of the Dhammakaya temple this month after failing to find Phra Dhammachayo in a search that was frustrated by monks and devotees in one of the biggest challenges to Thailand’s junta since a 2014 coup.

Dhammachayo, 72, is wanted for questioning for suspected money-laundering and on numerous charges of building on land without authorisation.

Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism had proposed to religious authorities that a monk with no affiliation to the temple should now be appointed to lead it, the head of the government office, Pongporn Pramsaneh, told Reuters.

This would help with an investigation into the temple’s assets and in the process of disrobing Dhammachayo, he said.

“The monk in chief should be someone the society can rely on for unbiased action and judgment,” Pongporn said.

The proposal on changing the leadership was made to the most senior monk in the Pathum Thani province, where the temple is located.

The temple’s current acting abbot is Dhammachayo’s deputy, Phra Dattajivo, but police last week said they were investigating him for using temple money in stock dealing.

The temple said the accusation was “fake news” and that none of its money had gone into stocks.

The Dhammayaka temple, nearly 10 times the size of the Vatican City, dwarfs Thailand’s other temples in wealth as well as size. It claims millions of followers, although still a small minority of Thai Buddhists.

Traditionalist Buddhists accuse the temple of commercialism, though it says it is just as dedicated to Theravada Buddhism as them and its money is only to do good works.

Pongporn said the Buddhist governing body in Pathum Thani province would convene to inspect the Dhammakaya temple’s financial records at the end of the month.

(Additional reporting and writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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