Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday paid tribute to the generation of Singaporeans who worked together to build this nation from its infancy, and announced a special package of health-care subsidies as a gesture of gratitude to those aged 65 and older.
These pioneers would have been at least 16 years old at Singapore's independence in 1965 and many would already have been working to support their families at that age. They would also need to be citizens before 1987 to qualify for the package, which includes enhanced subsidies for outpatient treatment, additional annual Medisave top-ups and help with premiums for the new national insurance scheme, MediShield Life.
About 450,000 people are expected to benefit. More details will be announced in the Budget speech on Feb 21.
Yesterday, though, the focus was more on remembering and thanking this first generation of Singaporeans for their contributions, both big and small.
The special tribute to pioneers, which more than 1,000 of them attended, was also chosen to be the first event to kick off celebrations for Singapore's golden jubilee next year.
In his speech, Mr Lee recalled the pioneers' journey in the early years, and that many of them migrated here from other lands to start a new life.
This special generation took part in the drama of the anti-colonial struggle, the battle against the communists, and the fight against the communalists which led to separation from Malaysia and independence, he said.
"Despite difficult times and the real danger of failure, you persevered, put Singapore first, and worked together to build our nation," he said.
They started Singapore on the path of development, raised successive generations, and "taught us the values and spirit that enabled us to succeed".
In his speech in Malay, Mr Lee paid tribute to the Malays of the pioneer generation who chose to remain here after separation from Malaysia. "Your choice enabled Singapore to grow into a unique multi-racial and multi-religious society. We are grateful for your confidence, loyalty and contributions," he said.
In his speech in Chinese, he recalled how his father, Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his colleagues toiled for the new nation, and the difficulties they endured.
Elaborating on the package, PM Lee said the benefits will be provided to the pioneers for the rest of their lives, with more given to those who are older.
The target group is the first generation of Singaporeans living here after independence, and who were either citizens at the time or in the early years of the Republic.
They include the first national service enlistees in 1967.
Those who became citizens before 1987 are included for practical reasons: the manual records before that year are incomplete.
Mr Lee assured older Singaporeans who do not meet the criteria that they will continue to be cared for in many other ways. He encouraged all Singaporeans to honour the seniors in their own way, adding that more events will be held for this purpose.
At yesterday's party, guests mingled with President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mrs Mary Tan, Mr and Mrs Lee, and Cabinet ministers.
Ex-MP Chiam See Tong, 78, said he felt honoured and appreciative that "my work as an opposition member has been appreciated".
Given initial talk that the package's cut-off age could be 70, MP Lim Wee Kiak said the lower cut-off age of 65 was "generous" as "five years is a large group".
As a result, Madam Tong Gim Hua, who turns 65 in October, will now benefit from the new subsidies. She spends $60 every few months on medicine to control her blood pressure and cholesterol level. Her bedridden husband is in a nursing home. She said: "I can use the money saved for my bus ride to see my husband three times a week."
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 10, 2014