Parliament: MP Cheryl Chan kicks off debate on President's Address with suggestions spanning education to housing

Ms Cheryl Chan agreed with President Halimah Yacob that the "principal challenge of our times" is for the Government and the people to work together.
Ms Cheryl Chan agreed with President Halimah Yacob that the "principal challenge of our times" is for the Government and the people to work together.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Ms Cheryl Chan tossed up ideas from allowing private developers to top-up the leases of Housing Board flats to letting women use unclaimed medical leave to care for seniors, as she kicked off the week's debate on the President's Address.

On Monday (May 14), Fengshan SMC MP responded to President Halimah Yacob's call for bold changes by suggesting ideas spanning education, manpower, housing, senior care and female aspirations.

She started by calling for a motion to thank Madam Halimah for her speech last week, which was put together by the fourth generation leadership for the first time.

Ms Chan agreed with Madam Halimah that the "principal challenge of our times" is for the Government and the people to work together. "We are halfway through the current term of government and we have made progress here," she said.

On education, she said academic excellence should be de-emphasised, with values-in-action (VIA) performance included as part of the standard school admission criterion.

"Values are fundamental guiding principles in any individual. Our students can ace exams, but such achievements do not empower or make them a more purposeful individual," she said.

Ms Chan added that the current VIA efforts by the Education Ministry are unlikely to be sustained unless these are given emphasis in mainstream school admission, instead of limiting it to the Direct School Admission scheme.

Valuing actions towards the community and country would encourage a sense of responsibility among youth by blurring the lines of socioeconomic background, she said.

She also called for a through-train programme for special needs students in mainstream primary schools to enter secondary schools, and more ways to build soft skills and creativity among young people.

On housing, Ms Chan highlighted how it was the top concern for the vast majority of Singaporeans, who care about housing affordability and choice, as well as capital and retirement value.

She suggested a multi-pronged approach to augment the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) and account for aged flats with less than 50 years of lease remaining.

This includes tweaking the valuation method for aged flats to prioritise the remaining lease, length of time occupied by the current owners and its right-sizing potential, instead of just location attributes only.

She also suggested allowing private developers to top-up the lease in selected precincts in mature towns.

To build new homes in these towns, there is a need to acquire land plots in these estates via Sers since there is generally a lack of new land plots. However, it is difficult for Sers to take place "when the flats are built over almost the same time span" in these estates.

Instead, Ms Chan suggested that private developers could top up the land leases of HDB flats for future development, instead of being allowed only to buy new land plots to build private property. The Government can also convert private condominium land plots to public housing when those leases expire too.

"This creates a better mix of private and public housing on the long run, and allow families to have various home options in different towns at different stages of their life," she said.

For working Singaporeans, Ms Chan suggested measures to boost human resources capabilities and for the Government to lead and create consortiums of small and medium enterprises to compete overseas.

She also called for more subsidies for non-working mothers and for women to be allowed to convert unused medical leave to Eldercare leave. To support the aspirations of women, she asked for more to be done to promote education and female leadership in science, technology, engineering and math.

Other suggestions include roping in seniors to help other elderly Singaporeans, and for the Government to keep daily necessities affordable for all Singaporeans.

Said Ms Chan: "Today, we live in a world in flux. Challenges abound. But so too opportunities. I am confident if we continue to work together, Government and people in close partnership, we will be able to seize the opportunities and effectively address the challenges - be it income inequality or social mobility."

A total of 52 MPs are expected to speak on various issues in the President's Address and put forth suggestions of their own.