More than 1,200 make last-minute appeal for pioneer package

More than 1,200 people have made a last-minute appeal to be counted for the Pioneer Generation Package, even as those eligible received their cards this month. That is more than six times the 180 or so requests received as of two months ago. -- PHOTO
More than 1,200 people have made a last-minute appeal to be counted for the Pioneer Generation Package, even as those eligible received their cards this month. That is more than six times the 180 or so requests received as of two months ago. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

More than 1,200 people have made a last-minute appeal to be counted for the Pioneer Generation Package, even as those eligible received their cards this month. That is more than six times the 180 or so requests received as of two months ago.

To be counted among the pioneers, one must be 65 or older this year and must have become a citizen before 1987. About 450,000 people qualify.

Among those who appealed, about half do not meet the age criterion, and the rest do not meet the citizenship criterion.

MPs interviewed by The Straits Times said most of the residents who asked them for help had just marginally missed the cut.

They said that most appeals started coming in recent weeks, as Sept 1 - when eligible seniors can start using their Pioneer Generation cards to enjoy health- care subsidies - draws nearer.

For instance, Ms Lee Bee Wah, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said that until last week, she had received fewer than 10 appeal requests. But at her Meet-the-People Session on Monday, there were four requests - adding up to "about a dozen" so far.

Awareness has also grown, as MPs spread the news of the package. "When I personally distributed the package, there was one resident from my Nee Soon East ward who came to appeal and her husband was part of the pioneer generation," said Mr Patrick Tay, also an MP for Nee Soon GRC.

There is a 10-member panel to look into the cases. It focuses on people who miss out on the citizenship criterion.

They include those "who have lived in Singapore since the early years and demonstrated clear efforts to sink roots here".

Mr Charles Chong, MP for Joo Chiat, spoke to someone who was a teacher for over 10 years before she got her citizenship - but not before 1987. "Due to her long service and contributions, there were grounds to put in an appeal."

Ms Lee said that some who had come from overseas "were busy working and did not apply for citizenship until much later".

For the age cut-off, the Finance Ministry said an inclusive approach had been taken by setting the threshold at an age of at least 16 at the time of Singapore's independence in 1965, instead of adulthood.

Ms Ellen Lee, an MP for Sembawang GRC, hopes the panel will be generous to those who are ill or from needy families. "I had one resident who listed 11 illnesses that she had when she asked me for help. She hopes to be counted as the Pioneer Generation Package would be useful for her."

Mr Timothy James de Souza, who chairs the appeals panel, said: "We would like to thank appellants and their families for sharing their life stories with us. The panel feels that each case is unique and therefore deserves to be considered on its own merits."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

linettel@sph.com.sg