Saturday, 19 January 2013

Punggol East By-election: PAP Rally, 18 Jan

Moved up in life? Give a hand to those left behind: Koh
That's why he has stepped forward; he will seek more help for poor, elderly
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

SINGAPOREANS who have overcome the odds and moved up in life should reach out to give a hand to those left behind, said Dr Koh Poh Koon last night.

This explained why he was stepping forward to serve the residents of Punggol East, said the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate in his first rally.

The 40-year-old surgeon recounted his growing-up years in a poor family and declared that his life story embodied the three values he stood for: hope, family and action.

He said families can get stuck in a rut, unless systems are put in place to help them break the poverty cycle.

"Even during our leanest years, my parents always reminded me that honest, hard work will get us out of it one day.

"And because society provided the means, we are able to do so."

In a speech delivered in Malay, Mandarin and English, Dr Koh vowed that if elected to Parliament, he would push for more help for the poor, the vulnerable and the elderly.

He would also raise in Parliament practical issues that families face in education, childcare and the cost of living, as well as policies that will help more individuals and families to "stand on their own two feet".

Turning to improvements for the ward, he outlined plans for a new community centre.

He also promised to look into having integrated health facilities and comprehensive health screening for the elderly, as well as more childcare and after-school care services.

Other promises he made include continuing the ward's monthly food distribution programme for the poor, setting up a job placement centre and engaging youth to reach out to the underprivileged and the elderly.

Dr Koh also assured residents the delayed upgrading of Rivervale Plaza will be finished in July.

Also on his list are the residents' transport concerns, such as the need for more feeder bus services for more peripheral areas.

As the crowd cheered in the rain, Dr Koh painted a vivid picture of growing up in a family of seven who at times could afford only a single fish mixed in porridge and soya sauce.

Other times, they had just a tin of biscuits given by an uncle, which they would ration over a couple of weeks.

"I say this not to raise your eyebrows, nor to make the headlines, but to make the point that families can get stuck in a rut even today... And unless systems are put in place to help them, to give them a leg up, this cycle can never be easily broken."

For this reason, he said he is deeply keen on helping people.

When residents tell him their setbacks and challenges, he feels he can see it from a "deeply personal angle" and provide solutions to help them overcome them.

"I want to believe that when we put our hard work together and give it our best shot, we will leave behind a legacy for our children that is far better than the one our forefathers left for us.

"I want to believe that those of us who have pulled through and moved forward will look back and stretch our hands to reach out for those who are left behind."

I know what it is like when all we could afford for a meal for a family of seven was a single kuning fish and some porridge. My mum would strip the fish bare of all the flesh, mash it up, mix with the porridge, flavour it with some soya sauce and that's all we got for a meal. For her, she would just take the bare bones, the head and the tail because she believed in giving and saving the best for us... I say this not to raise your eyebrows, nor to make the headlines, but to make the point that families even today can get stuck in a rut. And unless systems are put in place to help them, to give them a leg up, this cycle can never be easily broken.
- Dr Koh Poh Koon

PAP leaders: Govt is delivering on GE promises
It will keep its word - it has already moved ahead on housing, transport, education and health care: DPM Teo
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

THE People's Action Party (PAP) is working to fulfil its promises from the last general election, and will continue to deliver on its word, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean last night.

Speaking at the PAP's first rally in the Punggol East by-election, Mr Teo and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat mounted a strong defence of the Government's track record since the May 2011 General Election.

In housing, transport, education and health care, the Government had taken the initiative and moved ahead, said Mr Teo.

"We are carrying out the programmes which we promised to do in the last general election," he said. "We will continue to do so."

Among the measures, the Government has launched 70,000 new Housing Board flats, announced plans to double the rail network and pumped resources into education, health care and help for the poor.

Spelling out what the Government had done in the last 18 months, Mr Heng said the PAP believes that "politics is about taking real, concrete action to improve lives".

"It is not about making grand speeches, opposing and scoring political points, but about coming up with ideas, working hard and taking action to make a difference."

He also said: "We will deliver on our promises. I will not pretend that it is easy. The environment is complex and it is challenging trying to meet different needs. But we will work hard and do our best."

Mr Teo said that the feedback from Singaporeans on government policy is sometimes contradictory because of differing needs, values and priorities.

The key to resolving this lay in building consensus and finding the right balance. "Build upon what we have in common to unite us, rather than accentuate the differences so we end up being divided," he urged.

He said a vote for the PAP candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon, would be a vote for continuity, as this would keep Punggol East in the Pasir Ris-Punggol family that he heads.

In Dr Koh, he added, voters would have an MP who could shape and contribute to policy, rather than "just talking, raising objections, criticising".

Mr Heng alluded to the line a PAP MP has to the Government, saying that Dr Koh had already raised education issues with him.

Since being introduced as the PAP's replacement for former Speaker Michael Palmer, whose resignation over an extramarital affair triggered the by-election, Dr Koh has made education as a social leveller a central issue in his campaign.

Last night, the colorectal surgeon told voters that his humble beginnings were key in his decision to enter politics, saying Singapore should be a place where those who have pulled through in life reach out to those left behind.

Although he has thus far walked the campaign trail alone, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah said at the rally last night that the party's full weight was behind him, as it treated every by-election "like a general election".

The rally capped a full third day of campaigning for Dr Koh, which began at the Rumbia LRT station during the morning peak hour.

Two other candidates, the Reform Party's Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Singapore Democratic Alliance's Mr Desmond Lim, were also there to meet commuters.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party sent Punggol East households an eight-page campaign brochure in which party chief Low Thia Khiang said that the Government should be given time to correct its shortcomings, as policy changes need time to take effect.

The WP, he said, would keep a watchful eye on it. Doing so would serve the public interest better than "continuing to agitate and raise political tension", he said.

The WP will hold its first rally tonight at the open field in front of Block 183C Rivervale Crescent.

Leaders stress Koh's dedication
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

PEOPLE'S Action Party (PAP) candidate Koh Poh Koon's dedication and commitment to public service were highlighted by the ruling party's big guns at its first rally in the Punggol East polls.

Giving strong endorsements to the colorectal surgeon, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said last night that he has earned the respect and appreciation of colleagues and patients.

The 40-year-old, who came from humble beginnings, also knows what it is like to lead a tough life, having worked part-time to put himself through school and support his family, said Mr Teo in his speeches in English, Mandarin and Malay.

Describing the candidate as sincere and down-to-earth, he added: "With his capabilities and experience, Poh Koon will also be able to make a larger contribution, offering ideas and perspectives for policies and programmes to serve Singaporeans better."

He went on to list different areas that the candidate has served the country in, including the military and grassroots groups.

Dr Koh was due to serve a two-week reservist call-up from Monday, as a commanding officer of a combat service support battalion. He has had to defer it because of the election campaign.

He was also the first medical officer to top the pinnacle course for Singapore Armed Forces officers.

DPM Teo, who was formerly Defence Minister, said: "As an NSman, Poh Koon has shown leadership, and dedication to his fellow NSmen, and he's ready always to do more for our nation."

He is an active grassroots volunteer too, the minister said, referring to his work at the Telok Blangah Dover Crescent Resident's Committee since 2002.

Mr Teo, who apologised for putting Punggol East voters through a by-election in his Mandarin speech, told the audience: "We have looked hard for a good candidate to serve you."

The doctor, he added, can understand the pressures and concerns that voters face because he is a parent of two young daughters and has elderly parents to look after too.

"There are several candidates in this by-election. Which one will best be able to look after you and your family? Who will work with you to improve your estate?" asked Mr Teo, before calling for voters to support Dr Koh.

Mr Heng called the candidate a "good man" who has the respect of his peers. Dr Koh, he added, has the commitment and conviction to serve. Urging residents to give him a chance to serve, Mr Heng added: "He's a doctor, he's a good listener, he's a caring person, he's a problem solver."

Govt will do all it can for kids' future: Heng
The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

SINGAPOREANS can trust the PAP Government to do all it can to ensure their children a bright future, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said last night as he laid out what was being done to address people's current concerns and create new opportunities.

Addressing the worries of young parents, he said the Government would expand childcare and make it more affordable, and improve kindergarten education.

"We must make it easier for parents to have children and raise children," he said.

He and Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah also spoke of the renewed efforts in schools to nurture character and values, to give children a good foundation for the future.

More financial help will be channelled to children of poor families to ensure every child has a good education, regardless of family income.

Mr Heng also highlighted the range of pathways now available to those who want to further their education, saying "everyone who wants to learn will get an opportunity to do so".

Two new universities, the Singapore Institute of Technology and SIM University, will mean more students from polytechnics and junior colleges will be able to get their degrees locally.

The four office-holders who spoke at last night's People's Action Party rally also spoke of concrete steps by the Government over the last 18 months since the 2011 General Election, to address key concerns of the public.

Mr Heng gave this assurance: the Government has heard Singaporeans' worries of rising property prices. Since 2011, it has built 70,000 HDB flats, the equivalent of 1.5 Ang Mo Kios. Last week, it introduced stringent measures to further cool the property market.

"We pledge to keep housing affordable," Mr Heng said.

On public transport, where congestion and breakdowns have been a source of frustration, he appealed for patience, saying improvements will take time but "we are making steady progress".

Bus services have been improved and more trains added to existing lines. New lines are being built. Every year, for the next five years, a new section of MRT line will be opened. The network will be further expanded in the future, such that Singapore will have as long a train track as New York City does, Mr Heng said.

In health care, middle- and lower-income Singaporeans aged above 40 now have greater peace of mind thanks to the "blue card" they carry under the Community Health Assist Scheme. Some 240,000 Singaporeans enjoy subsidies for medical and dental care at general practitioner and dental clinics as a result, including Punggol East residents, he said.

The Government has also addressed cost of living issues for the low-income through a permanent GST Voucher. It tops up the wages of older and less-skilled workers through its Workfare Income Supplement.

He said the Government could not make all these changes alone. "We need your support to carry on this momentum of positive change."

80-year-old gets crowd cheering
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

AT AGE 80, Madam Seleha Mohd Shah was the oldest among the nine speakers at last night's PAP rally. But her speech in Malay was the most energetic, drawing boisterous cheers from the crowd.

She said although Dr Koh Poh Koon is now a successful surgeon, he has not been shy to reveal his roots and the difficulties his family faced when he was young.

"He is not sombong (Malay for proud). He is no yaya-papaya," she said, using a colloquial term for a person who is full of himself.

"He is very caring of the old, and touches old people's hearts."

Madam Seleha later told The Straits Times she ran as an opposition candidate in an election in 1964. However, she declined to disclose her political party then.

"But I've seen how the PAP policies benefit Singapore. I've benefited as well," she said, explaining her change of heart. She now does grassroots volunteer work, aside from being a copywriter.

After her speech, Dr Koh stood up to shake her hand and helped her back to her seat. Despite the rain, she declined repeated offers to be led off the stage to a shelter.

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