Off to a Good Start on Core Issues in Parliament

With more opposition presence in parliament, the debate has gotten with a good start generally. Lina Chiam  is not holding her flag high and steady. While her idea on helping hawkers is worth looking into, her party’s idea to allow singles below 35 to own their own HDB flats once they reach 21 is quite preposterous.  HDB is already rushing to build flats for newly married and now they have to cater to singles? The resale market is already bullish and singles entering the market now would only drive demand and therefore prices up. Of course sellers would be happy.

Following up on Chen Show Mao‘s  stress on investment in healthcare and education for Singaporeans and Singapore’s human capital, Gerald Giam on the other hand is riding in fast and hard, showing that the WP is tackling headon heartland issues as a priority – health, house and transport. However, WP’s Muhamad Faisal stumbled to talk about the economy and negative externalities, oversimplifying the casino issue. To be objective, the PAP also touched on core issues like healthcare, transport, but the curiosity and excitement centres on WP naturally as their number of MPs has increased 6-fold in parliament and there are high expectations.

Focus on those who fall through the cracks
By Gwendolyn Ng
my paper
Wednesday, Oct 19, 2011

Hot-potato topics such as housing, health care and education dominated the parliamentary debates yesterday as the House focused on the plight of Singaporeans who have fallen through the cracks.

Many MPs highlighted a nagging concern of many young home buyers – the affordability of Housing Board flats.

Mr Ang Wei Neng, an MP for Jurong GRC, called on the Government to lower flat prices and give more subsidies to first- time buyers.

He added that these could come with caveats, like raising the minimum occupancy period to 15 years from the current five years, or for housing subsidies to be paid back if the flat is sold before the minimum period.

Mr Ang said: “Many Singaporeans feel that what they need is a roof (over their heads). They do not need to encash their flat; they do not want to be slaves to their houses.”

Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Lina Chiam of the Singapore People’s Party asked for the criteria for buying flats to be relooked, as they may no longer be appropriate.

Currently, to qualify to buy an HDB flat, one must either be married or be 35 years or older, she noted.

Mrs Chiam said: “I urge the Government to reconsider these restrictions and allow Singaporeans to buy their first HDB flat… when they reach the age of 21.

“By the time a citizen reaches 35 years old (and wishes to buy) a flat, the price of the flat may have tripled and be out of that person’s reach.”

Similarly, affordability was in the spotlight on the issue of health care.

Workers’ Party NCMP Gerald Giam highlighted how Singaporeans worry about high health-care costs and suggested that the 3M health-care model could be tweaked.

The 3M model refers to Medisave’s compulsory medical savings, MediShield’s basic health insurance and Medifund’s government aid for the low income.

As an example, Mr Giam said 60 per cent of the elderly’s medical bills were paid from their children’s Medisave accounts in 2005.

This is “a departure from the principle of self-reliance”, he said, and the situation could be compounded if the patients’ children are low-income earners, which is “often the case”.

So, he argued that the Government is “asking one disadvantaged group to pay for another”.

His suggestions to address cost concerns included expanding the coverage of MediShield and providing assistance to those who cannot afford the premiums.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, a Tanjong Pagar GRC MP, suggested giving additional rebates pegged to the patients’ age.

He pointed out that medical costs incurred tend to increase as patients age and the elderly receive the same amount of health-care subsidies as younger patients in most areas.

“I hope that further provisions can be made to help buffer the elderly and carers from health-care costs,” said Dr Chia.

In the face of an ageing population and smaller families, MP for Jurong GRC Halimah Yacob said that the pressure on caregivers will escalate.

So, she urged the Government to provide more accessible and affordable home-care services.

She pointed out that caregivers also need to be looked after, by providing them with care, because they will age, too.

On tertiary education, Mr Ang suggested extending subsidies to reputable private universities here, other than SIM University, to help more Singaporeans further their education here.

He said: “As Singapore gears itself towards a knowledge-based economy, we will probably need more graduates and not less.”

Assure, Ensure, I’m Not So Sure

Star cancer geneticists Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins who arrived here in 2006, called it quits in 2011. Singapore can recruit but can’t retain. They and other researchers find Singapore stifling still whatever the National Research Foundation pulls out of its hat to have foreign brains drive our research industries.

The global economy with US and Europe  pulling everything down, is uninspiring. Singapore is small and our manufacturing and export-oriented economy would be knocked around and there is nothing our overpaid ministers can do.

However, our tax structure and burden is sustainable as there is no serious aging population and immigrants here contribute to direct and indirect tax. On people-centred growth and a skilled workforce, Singapore is expensive compared to the competition and bringing foreign skilled workers might keep labour cost down. However there is ever growing resentment towards foreigners in Singapore as there is the misconception that foreigners are stealing jobs from locals left, right and centre.

The year ahead in Singapore is as uncertain and shaky as the global economy and no amount of assurance by the new government can make us feel confident.

 

Govt to ensure economic growth
Long-term strategic plans to ensure sustained and inclusive economic growth for Singapore. -myp
Reico Wong
Wed, Oct 12, 2011
my paper

Four government ministries and agencies unveiled their long-term strategic plans yesterday, following President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s opening address to the 12th Parliament on Monday.

At the forefront of their agenda was the common pledge to ensure sustained and inclusive economic growth for Singapore.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday cautioned that headwinds from slower global growth, stemming from uncertainties in developed economies, will mean slower growth in Singapore in the next few years.

“We must steer a path that enables Singapore to respond to these challenges, transform the nation’s capabilities and help our citizens achieve higher standards of living,” he said.

Monetary Authority of Singapore

To remain vigilant against a resurgence of cost pressures, even as inflation is expected to moderate towards the year’s end.

To conduct regular stress tests on Singapore’s financial sector and work with other agencies to secure and strengthen overall financial stability.

Banks will be required to maintain prudent capital buffers, in line with and in addition to Basel III minimum requirements. The risk-based capital framework for insurance companies will also be enhanced.

To impose stronger safeguards in the sale of investment products to retail investors, and to step up financial-education efforts to help them make informed decisions.

To continue to deepen the talent pool to build strong and distinctive capabilities in the finance industry, which is expected to remain a key growth engine for the Singapore economy.

National Research Foundation

In the next five years, the NRF will seek to strengthen the considerable expertise in research and development to attract talent, generate intellectual property and enhance Singapore’s competitiveness in a globalised world.

The five Research Centres of Excellence will provide opportunities for some 800 PhD students to be trained. The NRF Fellowship Programme will enhance Singapore’s intellectual capital, with top young scientists – local and foreign – undertaking research in Singapore.

The Competitive Research Programme provides research grants to local researchers from universities and the industry.

The National Framework of Innovation and Entrepreneurship will help to translate the treasure trove of knowledge from tertiary and research institutions into applications and products to benefit Singapore’s economy and society.

Ministry of Finance

To maintain a sound and sustainable fiscal system, with a resilient revenue structure to meet higher spending needs in areas such as transport infrastructure and education.

To ensure that the overall burden of tax on Singaporeans remains low by global standards.

To keep the tax system progressive and ensure that government transfer schemes provide targeted and effective aid to lower- and middle-income households in need. It will also simplify tax administration and enhance tax certainty to continue to support Singapore’s pro-business environment.

To maintain a framework that enables the Government of Singapore Investment Corp and Temasek Holdings to pursue investment strategies that generate sustainable portfolio returns.

To support and catalyse efforts to raise skills and improve quality of jobs in every sector.

To encourage co-contributions from charitable individuals and companies through significant tax deductions, and matching grants for donations.

Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore

To focus on ensuring people-centred growth, by investing in equipping workers to take on higher-skilled jobs through training and upgrading.

To step up efforts to re-position Singapore’s economy towards value-added and more- productive sectors.

This includes expanding the range of offerings in the logistics and professional-services sector, and raising the standard of tourism offerings. Emerging clusters, such as clean technology and media, will be developed.

To review existing free-trade agreements to ensure their relevance and accessibility to small and medium-sized enterprises, and to continue to expand trade linkages with emerging markets.

To reinforce Singapore’s position as the gateway to Asia – the centre of dynamic growth now – and the best location for both the expansion and headquartering of global companies.