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Singapore Budget 2014: WP supports Budget and 'unique emphasis' on pioneer generation

Published on Mar 3, 2014 2:54 PM

The Workers' Party (WP) supports this year's Budget, said party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) on Monday.

The first opposition MP to speak during the Budget debate in Parliament, Ms Lim said the WP agrees with the Budget's "unique emphasis" on the pioneer generation; helping businesses to restructure, the move towards strengthening social safety nets, particularly in health-care; and giving more recognition to people with disabilities.

The Government's move to set aside $8 billion from this year's Budget to fund the Pioneer Generation Package marked a "refreshing departure" from public conversations of the past, Ms Lim added.

Instead of merely urging respect for the elderly as a virtue, public monies are being set aside to help the pioneers, she said. And instead of "attributing Singapore's success mainly to visionary leaders", the package recognises the contributions of all - from followers, mothers to labourers - on "equal footing".

Elderly men chat with each other on Feb 21, 2014. The Workers' Party (WP) supports this year's Budget and agrees with the "unique emphasis" on the pioneer generation, said party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) on Monday, March 3, 2014. -- BT FILE PHOTO: YEN MENG JIIN

Ms Lim then recounted a personal story of her father, a member of the pioneer generation, to illustrate how younger Singaporeans are bound by their ties to the pioneers and also witnessed first-hand their struggles in the nation's early years of independence.

Her father, Mr Lim Choon Mong, was personally involved when the new nation mobilised its men to fill the "huge defence lacuna" left by the British decision to withdraw its troops from Singapore by the mid-1970s, said Ms Lim.

The Government then had drawn people from other services to fill the ranks of the armed forces - including Mr Lim, who was seconded from the police to the army and became part of the first batch of Singapore Armed Forces officers in the 1960s.

Mr Lim and his colleagues had to quickly build up the armed forces, learning from Israeli consultants in Singapore and in Jerusalem, and managing the introduction of compulsory national service for Singaporean men.

"The early political leaders too were very hands-on and kept abreast of many details," she said, recalling black-and-white photographs of her father giving briefings to then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who used to visit army camps with his family dressed in shorts.

"These photographs told, perhaps, of a different working culture then, with little time for pomp and ceremony."

Ms Lim also noted how the contributions of the pioneers had far-reaching impact. For instance, when she was sworn in as a Non-Constituency MP in 2006, then-Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo told her he had been taught military law by her father, and he believed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had been too.

"It is indeed quite mind-boggling to think of how many Singaporeans are inter-connected through their links with pioneers," she said.

Ms Lim also welcomed the move to give benefits to the pioneers without means-testing under the Pioneer Generation Package, as it recognises all regardless of where they live now or what they earned in the past.

Ms Lim, who has previously called for a review of the annual value of property criteria for the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) to help asset-rich but cash-poor seniors, also welcomed the move to give all pioneers a Chas card.

On the new MediShield Life, however, Ms Lim said some seniors who are currently not on MediShield have bought their own private health-care insurance.

She asked whether such pioneers would be given the choice to use the MediShield Life premium subsidies they will receive for their own private plans, instead of being compulsorily brought onto the new national insurance scheme.

Noting that medication is a significant cost for many pioneers, who tend to have several chronic conditions, she also asked if the Government could identify the drugs that are usually needed by these seniors and focus the highest subsidies on these drugs.