Singapore Budget 2014: Progress in housing; more to be done in transport, manpower, health

There has been progress in fixing housing issues and taking care of the elderly, but there remains more to be done in transport, manpower and health, said Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Thursday, March 13, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO:&nbs
There has been progress in fixing housing issues and taking care of the elderly, but there remains more to be done in transport, manpower and health, said Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Thursday, March 13, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO:  KUA CHEE SIONG

There has been progress in fixing housing issues and taking care of the elderly, but there remains more to be done in transport, manpower and health, said Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Thursday.

Using his closing speech for the nine-day-long Budget and Committee of Supply debates to give a half-time report of what the Government has done since the 2011 General Election, Dr Ng recalled how MPs had expressed dissatisfaction with several issues in that year and the past two budget debates.

MPs echoed residents' unhappiness with housing, transport and healthcare affordability, he said.

They also discussed Singapore's over-reliance on foreign labour and whether more could be done for the poor, lower-skilled workers, older Singaporeans and the disabled.

But since then, "there have been significant improvements in some areas, as Government rolled out measures to deal with these issues that MPs raised", he added.

For example, the $8 billion pioneer generation package won universal support from all MPs.

It could also be called the "Peace-of-Mind and Gratitude Package" for the country's Pioneers, said Dr Ng, who is also Defence Minister.

Shorter waiting times for more affordable Housing Board flats also show that "the housing problem has been decisively tackled", he added.

But the transport, manpower and health ministries were in the hot seats this year, as their items raised for discussion took up nearly a third of the debate's time.

The Health Ministry's 54 "cuts" - a call for a $100 reduction in a ministry's budget which gives MPs a chance to query a ministry's budget and comment on its policies - was the highest among the 16 ministries.

"For transport and manpower, the added attention reflected work-in-progress on areas that the Government will need to improve on over the next few years," added Dr Ng.

These included train rides, help for Singapore's small and medium sized businesses, as well as calls for an economy that provides even better jobs and higher wages, especially for low-wage and older workers.

Said Dr Ng: "If we have completed the first half of the match, the more crucial second-half begins when Parliament re-opens after prorogation (in May). We still have much to do.

"This House therefore urges all of us together - Government, MPs and our people - to commit ourselves to the task of improving the lives of all Singaporeans in the remainder of the term."

Speaker Halimah Yaacob echoed his call, reminding MPs that they "are here only for one purpose - and that is to serve the people of Singapore".

"We need to ensure that the policies made in this House actually reach the people that they are meant to benefit," she said, noting that many residents she had met during house visits in the past fortnight were unaware of the policies being debated in Parliament.

But given the broad policy issues and practical issues that directly affect residents MPs had raised, Madam Halimah felt that "there is no danger of this House being out of touch with the ground".

This was a point raised by Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin during the debate.

Madam Halimah added, however that this was "a useful reminder for all of us."

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