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.”

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