PM Lee to deliver National Day Rally on Sunday: 6 things to look out for

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver his 12th National Day Rally speech on Sunday, which will be closely watched by Singaporeans for key announcements.

Hot on the heels of Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations, many are anticipating that Mr Lee's annual address will map out a path for the country's next 50 years. Adding to that is the buzz of imminent polls, which observers expect to be called within weeks.

In a short video posted on his Facebook page on Friday (Aug 21), the Prime Minister said he will address issues such as education, housing, families and babies.

"This National Day Rally, I'll be looking back at the achievements of our last 50 years and also the challenges we face looking ahead - looking at ourselves in Singapore and also looking outwards," he added.

  • Catch The Straits Times' live coverage of the National Day Rally

  • The Straits Times will bring you live coverage of the key event as Mr Lee delivers the annual address at the ITE Headquarters and College Central.

    Here's how you can catch our coverage on The Straits Times website at www.straitstimes.com and social media platforms:

    - WATCH IT LIVE

    The speech will be streamed live on the ST website.

    PM Lee will be delivering the speech in Malay and Mandarin from 6.45pm to 7.30pm, then in English from 8pm to 10pm.

    - INSTANT NEWS AND ANALYSIS

    You can also follow the ST Now live blog which will bring you key announcements from the speech.

    ST Managing Editor Ignatius Low will give instant commentary on these announcements and how they will affect you.

    The live blog can be found on the ST website.

    - FULLER STORIES ON KEY POINTS

    If you are not following the event live, you can read our breaking news articles on key points made at the rally.

    - RECAP HIGHLIGHTS THROUGH NEWSLETTER AND VIDEOS

    You can also sign up for a special-edition ST newsletter that will summarise the key points in an easy-to-read format. Subscribe to the newsletter at www.straitstimes.com/newsletter/regform

    Or watch our online videos that will capture highlights of the speech in bite-sized clips.

    - GET THE STRAITS TIMES APP

    Get updates and notifications on your smart phone and/or tablet by downloading the ST app, available in the iTunes and the Google Play app stores.

    - SOCIAL MEDIA

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What are some of the issues that may feature in the speech? We look at some possibilities:

HOUSING

Expectations are running high that PM Lee may announce a higher income ceiling for new Housing Board (HDB) flats.

Earlier this year, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan hinted that the income ceiling of $10,000 for HDB flats and $12,000 for executive condominiums (ECs) would be raised to take into account the increase in incomes in the past four years.

Experts expect an increase of about $2,000 to the ceiling for both housing segments.

The ceiling was last raised in 2011, from $8,000 for HDB flats and $10,000 for ECs.

The Government has also taken steps to help different groups of Singaporeans own homes, including ramping up the supply of new flats and making the system more flexible.

Last year, PM Lee announced at the National Day Rally that the Lease Buyback Scheme would be extended to four-room HDB flats, allowing owners of such flats to sell part of their lease back to the Government to supplement their retirement income.

More recently, the HDB announced a new Flexi scheme for the sale of two-room flats which will offer more flexibility in lease tenure for the elderly. The scheme, which will be rolled out in September, will allow flat applicants aged 55 and above to choose units with shorter leases ranging 15 to 45 years, among other things.

Now that the housing market has cooled considerably, some are wondering if PM Lee may announce changes to some of the property cooling measures, such as loan curbs and additional levy.

Mr Khaw, however, said recently that the Government would continue to monitor the situation and external environment closely as a soft landing "may suddenly become a hard landing".

EDUCATION

Education, different pathways for success and skills upgrading have featured prominently in PM Lee's recent National Day Rally speeches.

In his speech last year, he stressed that a university degree need not be the only route to a fulfilling career for young Singaporeans. Having relevant and deep skills can also lead to good jobs that pay well.

Some expect Mr Lee to stay on the message this year, and perhaps touch on SkillsFuture, a national programme which aims to help Singaporeans deepen their skills.

Some also expect him to talk about tertiary education.

This year, a record 15,000 polytechnic graduates and A-level school-leavers entered the six universities here, raising the cohort's entry rate to university to 32 per cent, up from 30 per cent last year.

 

The goal is to hit a 40 per cent cohort participation rate by 2020.

Most of the additional places will come from the expansion of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in an interview with The Straits Times published on Saturday (Aug 22).

The SIT, set up to offer degree opportunities to polytechnic graduates, will take in up to 3,000 students a year by 2020, up from this year's intake of 2,000 students.

Mr Heng has called on the Government to allocate space for SIT, which now runs its courses at its satellite campuses in the five polytechnics, to build a central campus.

Helping madrasahs improve their quality of education for secular subjects is another topic Mr Lee may address.

FAMILIES AND BABIES

Will PM Lee further sweeten the Golden Jubilee Baby gift bundle by boosting the baby bonus?

 

Over the years, the Government has rolled out a slew of measures to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies, including giving couples with young children higher priority for Housing Board flats, and allowing fathers to take paternity leave.

Some expect the Baby Bonus scheme, which helps families defray the costs of raising children, to get another boost.

It was last enhanced in 2013. Cash gifts for the first and second child rose from $4,000 to $6,000, and from $6,000 to $8,000 for the third and fourth child.

Some are also calling for longer paternity leave for dads who are now entitled to one week of leave.

TRANSPORT

The spate of train service disruptions have made transport a hot issue, especially with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew's recent decision to resign when his term ends .

The most recent breakdown of two major MRT lines - the North-South and the East-West Line - affected an estimated 250,000 commuters.

The disruptions have become a source of frustration for many commuters, even though repair and replacement works have been put in place, new trains have been ordered and more train lines are being built.

Will PM Lee tackle the issue in his speech?

MORE HELP FOR THE NEEDY

In recent years, PM Lee has chosen to focus on policies to improve people's lives, rather than hard numbers charting Singapore's economic growth.

MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package were the focus in 2013.

Last year, there was the Silver Support Scheme for eligible Singaporeans, aged 65 and above, to get a quarterly payout of $300 to $750.

Some analysts expect the trend to continue, with Mr Lee announcing more help for the needy.

ELECTION GOODIES?

With this year's rally taking place amid an election season, many will be looking out for clues on when the general election will take place.

Some also wonder if PM Lee will announce "election goodies" such as handouts and financial support to sweeten the ground ahead of the polls.