Challenges and changes ahead

Even as infrastructure gets upgraded, more can be done to improve public transport. As public housing estates age, how will the HDB heartland be reshaped? Students across all levels must be prepared for a more challenging economic landscape. The focu
Housing - As public housing estates age, how will the HDB heartland be reshaped?ST FILE PHOTO
Social policies can better assist those who live alone, as well as caregivers.
Social - Social policies can better assist those who live alone, as well as caregivers.ST FILE PHOTO
Even as infrastructure gets upgraded, more can be done to improve public transport. As public housing estates age, how will the HDB heartland be reshaped? Students across all levels must be prepared for a more challenging economic landscape. The focu
Transport - Even as infrastructure gets upgraded, more can be done to improve public transport. ST FILE PHOTO
Students across all levels must be prepared for a more challenging economic landscape.
Education - Students across all levels must be prepared for a more challenging economic landscape. ST FILE PHOTO
The focus in manpower remains keeping the workforce lean and productive.
Manpower - The focus in manpower remains keeping the workforce lean and productive.ST FILE PHOTO
Health - More emphasis needs to be placed on community care and preventing chronic ailments.
Health - More emphasis needs to be placed on community care and preventing chronic ailments. ST FILE PHOTO

Our correspondents highlight key areas for new Cabinet to focus on

A new Cabinet is in place, and the Government will set out its priorities and policies for a new five-year term when Parliament opens in January.

What might be expected, and are there some areas the various ministries should focus on?

In physical infrastructure, expect much of the work that has been planned in building new MRT lines and upgrading the rail network to continue under new Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, even as more could be done to improve public transport.

As for public housing, supply has been ramped up to meet demand under Mr Khaw's leadership at the National Development Ministry. But a new challenge looms, as public housing estates age - how will new minister Lawrence Wong help reshape the HDB heartland?

In education, both new acting ministers Ng Chee Meng, in schools, and Ong Ye Kung, in higher education and skills, will have their hands full leading the task of preparing students across all levels for a more challenging economic landscape, where learning at all ages is key.

This effort continues in manpower, where the focus remains keeping the workforce lean and productive, maintaining a strong Singaporean core, and getting workers and companies ready for the future by making sure they fully tap policies such as SkillsFuture.

Similar attention to effective delivery is expected for social policies, where spending has increased significantly to help elderly and lower-income citizens. Going forward, there appears to be room to better assist those who live alone, as well as caregivers.

The same approach could help on the healthcare front, where greater emphasis needs to be placed on care within the community, and more importantly, on preventing and managing chronic ailments so a greying population can age well.

Six Straits Times correspondents give their views on some of the major challenges, as well as changes, that can be expected in the near future.


Transport: Towards a car-lite S'pore

The two previous transport ministers - Mr Lui Tuck Yew and his predecessor, Mr Raymond Lim - made a number of profound changes that should pave the way for a more responsive and more sustainable transport system.

And new Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has already spelt out his immediate tasks, which include upping the engineering expertise here to tackle the reliability issues faced by the rail network.

Mr Khaw also believes that Singapore should have a lower reliance on cars.

Read more here.

Housing: Reshaping heartland in a big way

It might seem that new National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has a pretty simple job ahead: Staying on the course his predecessor set.

After all, the most pressing challenge for public housing - ramping up supply to meet pent-up demand - has largely been met.
But for Mr Wong, his bigger task lies down the road, and it is a mammoth one: starting the process to reshape the HDB landscape.

Read more here.

Education: Teaching 21st century skills

Two years ago in his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the way the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) score is calculated will be changed as the Government moves to cut excessive competition among young children. Instead of an aggregate T-score which sorts children too finely, pupils will get a grade band. These grades will be converted into points for admission into secondary school.

Parents welcomed the change, as many felt the current system added to their children's stress over the exam that they sit at age 12.

But two years on, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has yet to reveal details of the new scoring system and when it will come into effect. 

Read more here.

Manpower: A lean, productive workforce

Amid the changes announced in the new Cabinet line-up, one area stood out - for not standing out. This was the manpower sector, in which there was no change to the two top ministerial appointments.

Mr Lim Swee Say was reappointed Manpower Minister, and labour chief Chan Chun Sing the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. Both had taken on these roles in May.

The continuity in their appointments shows the direction of manpower policies over the current term of government: What started or was announced last term will continue to run their course.

Read more here.

Health: Hep C, eldercare and rising costs

It may be just under three months before the Ministry of Health (MOH) lays out to Parliament its plans for the next five years, but already, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong finds himself in the hot seat with an urgent issue to address - the outbreak of hepatitis C at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Less pressing, but still requiring addressing over the longer term, are the growing healthcare demands of the population.

This was seen earlier in a shortage of hospital beds that resulted in patients being housed in tents, three to a cubicle meant for one, and along corridors. With the opening of the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, that problem has eased somewhat. More community, as well as general, hospitals are being built and set to open this year and next, which should address the immediate problem.

Read more here.

Social welfare: Pressure on family mounting

Over the past few years, social spending has increased significantly to help the elderly, and lower- and middle-income groups, in the face of rising income inequality and an ageing population.

Examples include the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package and long-term investments in the pre-school sector. Overall, they make a fairly decent "social safety net" .

But that alone will not be enough, because social welfare is never just about transactions or the size of grants. It is about building resilience and self-reliance among the vulnerable so that they feel confident enough to take charge of their lives.

Read more here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Transport Housing Education Manpower Health Social Challenges and changes ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe