MPs debated budgets over 52 hours - the longest in five years

As the eight-day debate on the Government's spending plans for the coming financial year drew to a close, history of sorts was made.

The 530 questions prepared by MPs were allocated 52 hours in all, the longest in the past five years.

The achievement underscores the "breadth and gravity" of the issues that Singapore faces, Leader of the House Grace Fu said yesterday in her speech wrapping up the marathon session.

Job security remained a hot topic even as economic growth made a recovery last year, but this year's debates also saw a keen focus on social inequality and fostering a more caring society.

For instance, a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey, which showed a concentration of social networks around class differentiators like housing type and schools attended, as well as sociologist Teo You Yenn's book on inequality, were cited several times.

"As we embrace globalisation and technology to expand opportunities for our businesses, to transform industries and build deep capabilities, how do we ensure that we move forward together and leave no one behind?" said Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

She noted that a lot of time was spent debating the budgets of the Manpower, Trade and Industry, and Culture, Community and Youth ministries.

IMPARTING SKILLS FOR LIFE

The best way is to teach our children how to fish, instead of promising an endless supply of fish.

LEADER OF THE HOUSE GRACE FU, on how to help Singapore achieve an ideal future.

Parliament spent 21/2 days de-bating the national Budget, and the rest of the time on the 16 ministries' budget debates.

Questions raised included how to support more vulnerable segments of the workforce, how to help enterprises stay competitive and create good jobs for locals, and how to strengthen social cohesion across race, religion and class lines.

MPs also asked about dealing with external threats, such as extremism and and cyber-security issues, as well as domestic challenges such as housing for young couples and regulating personal mobility devices, said Ms Fu.

She highlighted how Nomina-ted MP Kuik Shiao-Yin and Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) had spoken about the need for both pragmatism and ideals to take Singapore forward.

Agreeing, she said: "To tackle the problems of today and prepare ourselves for tomorrow, we must be bold and embrace change. We must have that grit and bias for action that makes us an exceptional nation. This would not be the case if we had no ideals."

Calling on Singaporeans to help build the "ideal Singapore", Ms Fu said that while the Government plays the role of an enabler through the Budget, success depends more on individuals taking ownership of the nation's future, amid the challenges of income inequality, disruptive technology and an ageing society.

The support of Singaporeans of all ages will be needed to nurture a strong society which dares to be entrepreneurial - "a smart nation with a heart", she said.

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2018, with the headline 'MPs debated budgets over 52 hours - the longest in five years'. Print Edition | Subscribe