Saturday 25 November 2023

Tripartism can work in Singapore because the PAP Government is pro-growth and pro-worker: PM Lee Hsien Loong

NTUC National Delegates’ Conference 2023 on 22 November 2023
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2023

The pro-growth and pro-worker policies of the PAP Government are why tripartism can work in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Such policies include creating good jobs while training workers to be able to do them, and making sure every Singaporean benefits from good housing and healthcare that are heavily subsidised by the state, he added.

As a result of its focus on these twin priorities of growing the economy and enabling workers to benefit fully from such growth, the Republic has created a “Singapore premium” where workers doing the same job here earn significantly more than their peers in the region.

Companies and investors are also prepared to pay more to be in Singapore to take advantage of its harmonious industrial relations and business-friendly environment, said PM Lee at the opening of the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference at Orchid Country Club on Nov 22.

“They value being in a country that knows where it is heading, where everyone pulls together for the common good, everything works, and life can get better for all.”

With the Government leading the country in the right direction, it is thus much easier for the tripartite partners to work together to create prosperity and share the fruits of growth, he added.

Tripartism is the three-way relationship between employers, unions and the Government that is focused on long-term interests and sustainable win-win outcomes.

Beyond good governance and sound national policies, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government has also done its best to give Singaporeans good value for their tax dollars even as standards of living and aspirations go up, said PM Lee, who is the party’s secretary-general.

It has done so by running a lean and efficient public system, where government spending and taxes are kept low so that workers can enjoy the fruits of their own labour directly.

Essential public services such as public transport and water are also run efficiently and cost-effectively, requiring reasonable charges for their use without putting the whole burden on taxpayers.

This approach means charges have to go up from time to time as the cost of providing services rises, but the Government will give households that are most in need extra help, he said.

Speaking to some 1,500 union leaders, tripartite partners and other guests at the four-yearly event, PM Lee noted that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had, at the watershed 1969 modernisation seminar, expressed his conviction that Singapore’s future depends on it having strong unions.

“I am convinced that in a vastly changed world – a world that is continuing to change rapidly, this is still true,” PM Lee said.

“The labour movement will play a vital role in Singapore for many years to come. And I know my successor Lawrence Wong thinks so too.”

Among the key outcomes of that seminar was the resolution for tripartite relations to be consensual instead of confrontational, and to develop a workers’ cooperative movement to provide essential goods and services while keeping prices low for members.

He noted that in the early days, PAP labour leaders such as the late Mr Devan Nair and Mr Ho See Beng formed the NTUC to rally the pro-PAP unions against the left-wing Barisan Sosialis, which organised multiple strikes and fomented mayhem to try and bring the Government down.

“I recall this history for a reason. As I told the PAP convention recently, the PAP was not born dominant and neither was the NTUC,” he said.

These baptisms of fire are why the symbiotic relationship between the PAP and NTUC is not merely an institutional arrangement, but rooted in history and forged in battle, he added.

PM Lee said that while many employers and governments elsewhere believe unions should play a smaller role in a rapidly changing world, the PAP rejects this view.

Its traditional roles of fighting for workers’ rights and ensuring good jobs will still be relevant, though the labour movement also has to reinvent and reimagine itself.

This includes guiding workers to keep up with a changing job market, working with the Government to provide all Singaporeans with a fair chance at success, and continuing to broaden its representation of different segments of the workforce, including gig workers and the migrant workforce, he said.

“We continue to strengthen our model of tripartism and keep it a lasting competitive advantage in an uncertain world,” he said.

“That way, we create a better future for our workers and for Singapore.”

Thursday 23 November 2023

ComLink+: New financial incentives to spur low-income families to work towards improving their lives

Low-income families with young children to get up to $30,000 in total payouts under ComLink scheme
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2023

Low-income families will be given financial incentives and other support if they work towards improving their lives, in a national push to give them a leg-up.

Families with children living in highly subsidised Housing Board rental flats who qualify can get up to $30,000 in total payouts if they meet certain employment criteria and make voluntary Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to save up to buy their own homes.

About 14,000 families on the Community Link (ComLink) scheme are eligible for these new areas of support, which will be rolled out from the second half of 2024.

The measures are aimed at motivating families to send their children to pre-school by the age of three, find a stable job that pays CPF, and save up to buy their own homes. For example, beneficiaries can get between $450 and $550 every three months in a mix of cash and CPF payouts if they find a CPF-paying job with a salary of at least $1,400 a month.

One package helps families to clear their debt, such as for utility and housing arrears. This debt clearance package will match dollar for dollar up to $2,500 in sums repaid by the family, so the total debt cleared would be up to $5,000.

ComLink+ is a key plank of the national drive to reduce income inequality and boost social mobility under the Forward Singapore report, which was launched on Oct 27.

Speaking at the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners appreciation event on Nov 20, Mr Masagos said: “We want Singapore to continue to be a place where social mobility is kept alive for all, especially low-income families who may face unique challenges.

“Many Singaporeans share this vision and agree that more support for low-income families is needed. At the same time, they think this needs to be done in a manner that does not erode self-reliance and agency.”

Mr Masagos described the ComLink+ scheme as a key shift beyond providing just basic, short-term social assistance. The additional financial support will help ease the financial pressures on the families and help them achieve their longer-term goals faster, he added.

“It may take a generation or more, but we know that by reinforcing families’ ability to provide their children with a good start in life today, we give them a better chance of a brighter tomorrow.”

The latest scheme builds on the existing ComLink programme that started in 2019, where low-income families with children living in HDB rental flats are given coordinated and comprehensive support ranging from job assistance to children’s development.

The ComLink+ support measures will be trialled for three years to assess their effectiveness before any potential scale-up, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said.

Areas of support under four packages

1. Pre-school education

Each child enrolled in pre-school will get a one-time $500 top-up to the Child Development Account (CDA), which is a special savings account for the child that can be used to pay pre-school and healthcare fees, when they turn three.

Those between the ages of three and six will get a $200 top-up to their CDA every three months if they attend pre-school regularly. Regular attendance is defined as when the child is in pre-school at least 75 per cent of the time.

Local research has shown that children who attend pre-school from the age of three are less likely to require additional learning support in primary school.

However, the pre-school enrolment and attendance rate of children from lower-income families are lower than the national average, especially at the age of three and four. For example, 88 per cent of children aged three to four nationwide were enrolled in pre-school, compared with 78 per cent for those in lower-income families in 2021, the MSF told The Straits Times.

This package is funded by a corporate donor.

2. Stable employment

Beneficiaries will be given financial incentives if they find a job that pays CPF contributions with a gross salary of at least $1,400 a month. Each adult with a job that meets these criteria will get financial top-ups of between $450 and $550 in a combination of cash and CPF payouts for every quarter that he or she is employed.

If two adults in the same household qualify, they will each get an extra $50 every three months. A maximum of two adults per family can benefit from this employment package geared towards encouraging families to find a stable job.

3. Debt clearance

To help families clear their debt, this package will match dollar for dollar, up to $2,500, the amount the family repays for what the MSF calls verifiable debt. This refers to debt owed to licensed companies, such as utilities and housing arrears, that can be verified and for which repayments can be tracked. Debts to unlicensed moneylenders and sums owed to family and friends are not covered.

Families can benefit from this debt clearance package only once. To qualify, they must not be receiving financial aid from the Government’s ComCare scheme.

An MSF spokesman said: “With less disposable income and savings, lower-income families are more susceptible to falling into debt or arrears, especially if they encounter unexpected setbacks or have inherited debt.

“Even a relatively small debt can severely impact lower-income families financially, psychologically and emotionally, affecting their ability to resolve their debts and work towards long-term goals.”

This package is funded entirely by donors, including Singapore Pools.

4. Saving for home ownership

To help families save up to buy their own flats, for every dollar that the family voluntarily contributes to the CPF Ordinary Account, the Government will top up $2. A family can receive only up to $30,000 in total payouts across this package and the employment package. This package is funded by the Government and DBS Bank, an anchor partner for ComLink+.

Mr Masagos said over 170 partners, which includes DBS, OCBC, UOL’s Pan Pacific Hotels Group, are providing support to ComLink families in various ways.

The financial top-ups will be given for as long as the family remains eligible for the particular package or until the family reaches the payout limit specified for each package, whichever is earlier.

These four areas of support in the packages were designed based on the key needs and aspirations families on ComLink had shared, the MSF said.

Mr Masagos said ComLink officers will be trained to act as family coaches to motivate and support families in working towards their goals.

He said: “When families feel understood and supported, they are more likely to actively participate in the decision-making process and take steps towards their goals. With support from family coaches to meet their immediate needs and stabilise their situations, families tell us they feel more optimistic about their future.”

Saturday 18 November 2023

Age Well SG: Singapore sets aside $800 million from FY2024 to FY2028 to help seniors age well at home, in their communities

Age Well Sg to Support Seniors to Age Actively and Independently In the Community
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

More seniors will be supported to age well in the community under a programme that will set aside $800 million over five years for active ageing centres to expand their outreach and increase the range and quality of programmes.

Announcing the increased funding and other details of a multi-ministry Age Well SG programme on Thursday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “For many seniors, their biggest enemy is social isolation and loneliness. That’s when your health really deteriorates. We want them to be socially connected.”

He was speaking at a press conference at the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, Bukit Merah, on Thursday.

There will also be improvements made to housing and streets under the Age Well SG programme, which is also spearheaded by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and Ministry of Transport.

Singapore is ageing rapidly. By 2030, it will have more than 900,000 seniors aged 65 and above, with an increasing number living alone.

Mr Ong said each active ageing centre’s annual budget hovers around $400,000 and the fund injection would lead to a budget rise of at least 50 per cent.

“With greater resourcing, we also have higher expectations for agencies now,” he added. “It is not difficult to fill out an AAC (active ageing centre) with the same visitors every day. It is much more difficult to be able to reach out to the great majority of seniors all living around (the AAC) and able to engage them in meaningful ways.”

The activities at the AACs are meant to keep seniors healthy, but they must also suit the preferences of those living in the vicinity, he said. Communal dining is one activity that allows them to make friends.

Active ageing centres will also work with community partners such as Sport Singapore or the People’s Association, and make use of all the spaces in the community, including coffee shops, pavilions and community clubs.

They will need to work closely with healthcare clusters to implement health screening services in the community and integrate with the Healthier SG preventive health strategy to keep Singaporeans healthy.

At the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, for instance, there is a weekly community health post manned by nurses and a well-being coordinator from Singapore General Hospital, who can help seniors with, say, smoking cessation, counselling and advance care planning, or connect them with home care services.

Active ageing centres will be supported by Silver Generation or SG ambassadors and new senior volunteers whom they can recruit.

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will roll out a programme to train senior volunteers to run programmes at active ageing centres or befriend seniors at risk of social isolation.

Mr Ong said the aim is to double the number of senior volunteers trained by AIC to around 4,000 by 2025, up from around 1,900 Silver Generation ambassadors at the moment.

“Volunteerism is a very important way for seniors to feel that they can continue to contribute to society and the people around. It will be a core function of the AACs to drive senior volunteerism,” he added.

While active ageing centres are meant for seniors who are well, those with care needs can look forward to a wider range of solutions. The Ministry of Health (MOH) and AIC, with support from the Manpower Ministry, have launched applications for a sandbox scheme to explore the viability of new stay-in shared caregiving models in the private sector.

Five companies, including one that offers assisted living in houses, have been identified for the sandbox scheme, with the aim of servicing an estimated 800 seniors. The models will be reviewed within two years, and, if they work, they will be scaled up, Mr Ong said.

A shared caregiving model may see a few seniors living together in the same flat. They form a new kind of family, a social circle, and can support one another, he added.

“At the same time, within this new household of a few seniors, you can have caregivers at less than the ratio of one to one... And that way, we’ll also reduce the manpower needed to deliver the care services,” he said.

Participating companies will be eligible for work permit quotas and foreign manpower concessions to give them the flexibility of recruiting caregivers from traditional and non-traditional sources.

For seniors who may have to undergo repeated assessments at multiple care providers, MOH will introduce a single point of contact to coordinate all their care needs.

This will happen progressively from the second half of 2024, and will provide the seniors and their caregivers with a more seamless care journey.

The coordinating provider will use a standardised care assessment tool to plan for a senior’s care needs, which will reduce the need for multiple assessments and unnecessary referrals by different care providers.

For instance, a senior who is discharged from hospital after a fall can be referred to an active ageing centre, which will be his single point of contact.

The centre can arrange for him to receive home personal care and senior care centre services provided by a different centre.

And, from April next year, caregivers will be able to tap up to $400 in Caregivers’ Training Grant per year, double the $200 currently. They can also use their SkillsFuture Credit to pay for eligible caregiver courses.

Another part of Age Well SG involves improvements to the living environment. National Development Minister Desmond Lee said a bigger, more concerted push will be made to address seniors’ needs in the built environment.

At home, seniors will get more senior-friendly features, including bigger easy-to-press switches, home fire alarm devices and foldable shower seats in their Housing Board (HDB) flats, as MND expands the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme into EASE 2.0, he added at the press conference.

A wireless alert alarm system will be progressively expanded to all seniors living in public rental housing, many of whom lack family support.

Outside the home, senior-centric upgrading works will be progressively rolled out in more than 20 older precincts with a high density of seniors, including Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah.

These include enhancements such as barrier-free access ramps and amenities like fitness trails.

To provide Singaporeans with more assisted-living options, MND, MOH and HDB will launch up to 30 Community Care Apartment projects by 2030.

These flats pair senior-friendly housing with on-site social activities and care services that can be customised according to their needs.

The first Community Care Apartment residents will move in next year, when their Bukit Batok flats are ready.

Singapore’s second Community Care Apartment project, in Queensway, was launched in late 2022.

A third one in Bedok will be available in the upcoming HDB Build-To-Order sales exercise in December.

By 2030, all towns will have “friendly streets”, with features such as kerbless crossings and lower speed limits as well as wider and more accessible footpaths, said Acting Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat at the press conference.

Having safe roads, friendly streets and accessible facilities will give seniors the confidence to move around, he added.

Monday 6 November 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong to hand over leadership to DPM Lawrence Wong by November 2024 if all goes well, before next GE

People's Action Party Awards and Convention 2023
PM Lee Hsien Loong says he has full confidence in 4G team, and DPM Lawrence Wong will lead party at next General Election
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2023

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will lead the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the next general election, taking over the reins from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of the polls.

PM Lee said on Sunday: “Lawrence has told me that he is ready... I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there is no reason to delay the political transition.”

He was speaking at the party’s biennial convention held at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, addressing more than 1,000 party members.

He said that while he did not manage to pass on the baton before his 70th birthday last year as hoped, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “if all goes well, I will hand over by PAP’s 70th birthday next year”. The party was set up on Nov 21, 1954.

The next general election (GE) has to be held by November 2025.

PM Lee noted that the ministers had already chosen DPM Wong to be their leader, a choice endorsed by the PAP MPs. The major decision that was left to make was when the handover should take place, before or after the next GE.

Handing over to DPM Wong before the GE would mean he would be the one leading the party in the campaign, and would win his own mandate and take the country forward with the full backing of the nation, said PM Lee.

“Leadership transition for any country is always tricky. Many things can go awry. Both Singaporeans and people outside Singapore, near and far, are watching very closely. Everything depends on the success of this third transition in our history,” he added.

He said that he had thought over the decision carefully and discussed it thoroughly with DPM Wong and ministers from the 3G and 4G teams.

He acknowledged that DPM Wong and the 4G team have been serving for many years now, and have taken on greater responsibilities.

They are preparing well to take the helm and have earned their spurs during the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Increasingly, they are setting the national agenda, such as through the Forward Singapore exercise, he said. “Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next GE,” said PM Lee.

“After that, I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful,” he added.

“I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE, and to fulfil their responsibilities… I want to help him fulfil his responsibilities, leading the country, so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G minister colleagues, for many, many more years to come.”

Fighting back tears, PM Lee said: “It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country, first in the SAF, and then in the party and government, for all of my adult life.”

As he paused to compose himself, loud cheers erupted around the hall as party members stood to applaud him.

Noting that Singapore and the PAP have been thoroughly transformed through his time as prime minister for almost 20 years, he added: “Some things never change… We remain dedicated to Singapore, we still feel the call of duty to serve the people, we still have a duty to future generations to keep this island safe and secure.

“These things have not changed under my watch, and they will not change under the 4G team. I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support, help them win a strong mandate, and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”

DPM Wong, in his speech earlier, spoke of how he had been working hard to get ready to receive the baton from PM Lee.

“I will not be in this alone. I will have a team of 4G leaders whom I have worked closely with over the years. We are ready to lead,” he said, adding that he is ready for his next assignment.

On his leadership approach, DPM Wong said he does not start with the assumption that he knows everything or has all the answers.

Instead, he prefers to begin by listening to a diverse range of perspectives and views and staying open to different ideas.

“I’ve been in Government long enough to know that I cannot please everyone. But I will do my best to explain my decision, to be upfront about the problems and trade-offs, and win the support of the broad majority of Singaporeans,” added DPM Wong.

Saturday 28 October 2023

Forward SG report unveils social support plans, lays out mindset shifts needed amid changing times

Moves to ensure basic needs of Singaporeans are met and social compact is refreshed
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2023

A road map towards a more equitable and thriving Singapore has been put forth by the fourth-generation (4G) leadership, fleshing out the moves the Republic will make in the coming years to stay cohesive amid a time of change.

These include a greater helping hand for groups such as the less well-off, mid-career workers and seniors, through means such as additional financial support and improved infrastructure.

And there will be more done to ensure that Singaporeans’ basic needs at every life stage will be met, such as in education, retirement, healthcare and housing.

These moves come as Singapore has reached a key inflection point where there will be more disruptions, workplace churn and impact on people’s lives, and the Government recognises that more must be done to provide assurance for the people, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference to launch the Forward Singapore report.

The 180-page report unveiled on Friday also articulated the mindset shifts required for Singapore to achieve the goals set out, such as for wider definitions of success and a stronger sense of collective responsibility towards one another.

It will not be possible for the Government alone to do everything through policy changes, nor is it possible for any individual to succeed on his or her own efforts alone,” DPM Wong said later at the launch of the Forward Singapore Festival, where the public can learn more about the report’s initiatives.

Instead, it will be up to everyone, including employers, community groups, families and individuals, to keep the Singapore miracle going, he added.

The report caps off a nationwide engagement exercise headed by Mr Wong that has involved more than 200,000 Singaporeans since it kicked off in June 2022.

The exercise sought to refresh Singapore’s social compact – the glue that holds society together – given the challenges facing the island, which range from a more fraught external environment to a rapidly ageing population to greater job insecurity due to rapid technological change.

One key move the 4G team intends to make to take the country forward is to create more opportunities for all Singaporeans to chart their own paths in life. This includes increasing salaries and respect for a wider range of vocations, better social support for those who face career hurdles, and nudging those who succeed to give back to society.

On the jobs and education front, the report unveiled plans to provide a “substantial top-up” of SkillsFuture Credit, as well as a “significant package” to help mature and mid-career workers reskill and upskill.

Institute of Technical Education graduates will get support to upgrade their skills early in their work life to close wage gaps, while more will be done to recognise those in jobs involving “hands” or “heart”, such as electricians and nurses.

“If society is more supportive of individuals pursuing these careers, we can create a virtuous cycle, where society in turn benefits from better and more reliable services,” it said.

Among efforts to help ageing seniors is the nationwide expansion of a pilot announced in March that will result in wider footpaths and longer green-man timings at traffic crossings.

Programmes that support retirement adequacy for those with lower incomes, such as the Silver Support Scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, will be updated.

Young parents will also get more help, as the report recognised a need to better support families.

This includes a commitment to studying the feasibility of increasing paid parental leave, and to increase centre-based infantcare places by 70 per cent – or 9,000 spots – by 2030.

On the timeline to implement these changes, Mr Wong said the 4G team will prioritise issues that are more salient and of greater concern for Singaporeans. For instance, policy shifts have already been made or announced in the areas of housing and retirement. These include changing the housing classification system to the Standard, Plus and Prime model, and the $7 billion Majulah Package to help citizens aged 50 and over, that were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August.

Other items, where specific recommendations have been set out, will be implemented in Budget 2024 and over the coming year, said Mr Wong.

Also at the press conference on Friday were other ministers including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, and Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

The Forward Singapore report took in people’s ideas for the country’s future, which were contributed at 275 dialogue sessions, as well as through surveys and roadshows. It noted that one topic that constantly emerged at discussions was how the idea of a “good life” had evolved, especially among the younger generation who desire meaning and purpose in life, besides a good salary. The Singapore Dream, which used to be measured by the five Cs of condominium, car, cash, credit card and country club, had fallen out of favour, but there was still a tendency for society to measure success by old yardsticks such as the size of one’s pay cheque or home, the report noted.

Mr Wong said Singaporeans today still want a good life, but it is clear from the engagements that the Singapore Dream has evolved to be about more than just material success. “It’s also about fulfilment, meaning, and purpose in what we do,” he said.

“That’s why I firmly believe the refreshed Singapore Dream is less about I, me, and mine; it’s more about we, us, and ours. It’s recognising that we are not left to fend for ourselves; but that we are all in this together.”

Besides encouraging Singaporeans to tap the range of existing programmes to give back to society, a new Singapore Government Partnerships Office will be set up for agencies to work more closely with citizens.

In sum, the report represents a vision to guide the next bound of development for the Republic, where various groups come together to build a better Singapore, it said.

Mr Wong said: “We have a full agenda ahead of us, and we look forward to working with all Singaporeans to write our next chapter of the Singapore Story,” he said.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

DPM Lawrence Wong's Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on 13 October 2023

Singapore government explains national interest to repel disinformation, says DPM Wong
By Bhagyashree Garekar, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2023

WASHINGTON - Singapore protects its population against disinformation by explaining again and again to its citizens where its national interest lies, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said while addressing an influential American think-tank on Friday.

“Given that we are such a small, open multicultural society, we know that we are susceptible to influences from elsewhere,” he said during a discussion at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies on the last day of his Oct 5 to 15 working visit to the US.

“That is why we are very vigilant about this.”

DPM Wong was asked to spell out the Government’s stance on reports that China is trying to influence ethnic Chinese populations across South-east Asia, including that of Singapore.

“We continually engage our public, educate, explain what is our national interest, why we take certain decisions. Not because of choosing sides or... external influence, but really because of Singapore’s own interest.

“We spend a lot of time doing that,” he said.

He also said it helped that a distinct Singaporean identity, different from cultures in other countries, had evolved over time.

“The majority of our population are ethnic Chinese, so we have ancestral roots going back to China, but we have, over time, evolved our own Singaporean identity.

“We are Singaporean Chinese, and the Singaporean Chinese is very different from the Chinese from China – in values, in outlook, in identity. Just as a Singaporean Malay would be very different from a Malay from Malaysia or Indonesia, or a Singaporean Indian would be very different from someone who comes from India.

“America, being a nation of immigrants, you must understand this very well,” he said,

And influence percolated not just from China; Singapore was equally influenced by ideas originating in the West. A large proportion of Singaporeans consume English-language news and entertainment from the US and Britain, he pointed out.

“There is no shortage of criticism about Singapore in the Western media, no shortage of commentaries and articles highlighting the shortcomings in our system and asking us to be more like Western liberal ideals.”

But the country steered its own course, he said.

“At the end of the day, what is important for us, small though we may be, is that we are our own people, we make our own choices.

“It really comes down to Singaporeans deciding on the future of our country.

“Not China nor the West.”

He was also asked to react to a report published in The Washington Post in July which alleged that Lianhe Zaobao was peddling China’s propaganda.

Mr Wong said the Chinese-language newspaper had defended its editorial stance and strongly rejected the portrayal by the Post.

“If you were to ask Singaporeans, the vast majority of Singaporeans reading the Chinese newspaper daily will not feel that what was portrayed in The Washington Post was accurate,” he said.

“Because we can read and see for ourselves articles on China, and they cover a wide range, including many articles that criticise Singapore’s perspectives as they have to reflect our society.”

This is as it should be, he added.

“Our newspapers cannot resemble The Washington Post, neither do we ask The Washington Post to become like Singapore newspapers.”

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Shanti Pereira wins gold in 200m in Hangzhou, Singapore’s first athletics title at Asian Games since 1974

Tearful Shanti Pereira says it’s a ‘so crazy, incredible season’ after historic 200m gold at Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games
By Kimberly Kwek, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2023

Shanti Pereira is squatting on the track at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Singapore flag draped over her as she buries her face in her hands crying, staying there for 10 seconds.

She had won the women’s 200m at the Asian Games in 23.03sec and when she finally understood what had happened, Asia’s fastest woman in the event needed a moment of stillness to process the magnitude of what she had achieved.

In the final on Monday, the 27-year-old finished ahead of China’s Li Yuting (23.28sec) and defending champion Edidiong Ofonime Odiong (23.48sec), ending the Republic’s 49-year wait for an athletics gold medal.

“I just passed the finish line and I knew I won and I was like what a season this has been, it’s been so crazy,” said an emotional Pereira at the mixed zone, choking up at times during the interview.

“I immediately teared up. It means a lot, it means a lot. I never thought I would be here but I am.

“I can’t really describe what I’m feeling right now, it’s so much joy. I have so many people to thank – everyone knows who they are. It’s been incredible.”

She had gone into the final as the top qualifier with her heats time of 23.14sec and was seen as the leading contender.

There was drama as the race had to be restarted after Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, the 2019 world champion in the 400m, was disqualified for a false start, adding to the tension of the night.

But Pereira was unaffected and as she settled back into the starting blocks, all that went through her mind was “execute, execute, execute”.

Then she ran the race of her life, beating a field that included 2014 winner Olga Safronova of Kazakhstan and Bahraini Odiong, who had bagged the 100m-200m double in 2018.

After posing for some photos, Pereira ran to the other side of the stadium, flag raised while she greeted the Singapore supporters seated in the stands.

This is the crowning achievement in what has been a stunning season for the Singaporean, who on Saturday claimed the 100m silver.

In addition to her Asiad medals, Pereira’s accolades in 2023 include golds in the 100m and 200m at the Cambodia SEA Games and Asian Athletics Championships, as well as meeting the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifying mark.

But it has not been an easy journey for the sprinter, who endured a difficult period of self-doubt as her times stagnated after she burst onto the scene at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore where she won the 200m crown.

Pereira has been candid about her struggles and continues to do so. When a minder in the mixed zone told her she had one minute, she bargained for five, wanting more time to describe this athletic pursuit.

She said: “There’s a lot of respect for everybody out there. We’re all on this very incredible journey, just racing and finding ourselves as well so that was a big thing that happened for me.

“I really fell in love with this sport again last year and this year and I’m just embracing every opportunity I get, including this one.”

Her coach Luis Cunha, who had been watching the race from the warmup track at a nearby stadium, was proud of what Pereira had achieved.

She had come into the continental meet with eight of the top 10 times this season by an Asian runner in the event – now nine after Monday’s race – but she still had to perform on the night, he noted.

The Portuguese said: “For this championships, the most important thing was not time but classification – we knew she was the favourite but she needed to go there and deliver...

“The entire season was perfect and to finish it with a gold in the Asian Games is something incredible.”

He said: “I feel blessed to be part of her journey. It’s a journey that inspires Singaporeans. Now she’s going to be on the podium, the national anthem is going to play. It’s more important for Singapore than me.”

It was a wave of emotions for Pereira after the victory and one prominent one that stood out was relief.

She added: “Especially this particular race because it’s been such a long season. I’m just excited to rest and reset.”

Friday 29 September 2023

$1.1 billion Cost-of-Living Support Package: Additional payment of up to $200 cash for 2.5 million eligible adult Singaporeans in December 2023

$1.1 billion Cost-of-Living Support Package to provide more relief for Singaporean households, especially lower- to middle-income families
Extra $200 CDC vouchers for Singaporean households in 2024
By Jean Iau and Natasha Ann Zachariah, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2023

Some 2.5 million adult Singaporeans will receive an additional cash payout of up to $200 in December, and every Singaporean household will receive an extra $200 in Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers in 2024 to help with the rising cost of living.

These support measures, among others, are part of a $1.1 billion Cost-of-Living Support Package to provide relief for all Singaporean households, with more support for lower- to middle-income families. They build on the measures announced at Budget 2023.

The measures include an $800 million enhancement to the Assurance Package (AP) and the AP will now be more than $10 billion.

Announcing the support package on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong acknowledged that many Singaporeans are anxious about the overall economic outlook, price increases and the impact on their cost of living.

“The Government is committed to supporting Singaporeans through these uncertain times,” said Mr Wong, adding that it will not be dipping into the past reserves for the package.

“As Prime Minister said at the National Day Rally recently, the Ministry of Finance has been studying how we can do more, to provide better support for Singaporeans.”

Mr Wong noted that the measures will cushion the impact of higher utility bills arising from the increases in the price of water, and also the upcoming increase in carbon tax.

AP cash special payment

The additional payment of up to $200 cash for 2.5 million eligible adult Singaporeans will be disbursed in December 2023, together with the existing AP cash component.

In total, eligible adult Singaporeans will receive up to $800 cash in December 2023. This will provide more support to lower- and middle-income adult Singaporeans.

Singaporeans aged 21 and above in 2024 who own no more than one property, and have an assessable income of $34,000 or less for the Year of Assessment 2022, will receive an additional $200, on top of the $600 under the earlier announced AP cash payment.

Those in this group who have an assessable income of more than $34,000 and up to $100,000 will receive an additional $150 on top of the $350 payout from the existing AP.

Those who own more than one property, or have an assessable income of more than $100,000, will not receive an additional payout under the AP cash special payment, but will receive $200 from the existing AP cash component.

CDC vouchers

Every Singaporean household will get an additional $200 in CDC vouchers in 2024, bringing the total amount of CDC vouchers for each Singaporean household to $500 in 2024.

The $200 worth of additional CDC vouchers will be spilt in half, with $100 of these vouchers allocated for spending at participating heartland merchants and hawkers, and $100 for spending at participating supermarkets.

The 2024 CDC vouchers should be claimed digitally at from Jan 3, 2024. The vouchers can be claimed at any time during their validity period. They will expire at the end of 2024.

S&CC rebates

Some 950,000 Singaporean HDB households will receive an additional one-off 0.5-month service and conservancy charges (S&CC) rebate in January 2024, together with the regular S&CC rebates.

This will, on average, fully offset the S&CC increase in the first year of increases for one- to four-room Housing Board flats and about 85 per cent for larger HDB flats, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

U-Save rebates

The 950,000 Singaporean HDB households will also receive an additional $20 per quarter in U-Save rebates from January 2024 to December 2025, or a total of $80 a year for two years.

These rebates will be disbursed together with the regular U-Save rebates, and will cushion the impact of the carbon tax and water price increases in 2024 and 2025.

Over these two years, the additional U-Save rebates will, on average, fully offset the increase in utility bills for one- to two-room HDB flats. For three- to four-room HDB flats, they will offset about 80 per cent of the increase in utility bills, and for larger flats, about 65 per cent.

On average, this translates to 3- to 4- room HDB flats paying about $2 more per month, and 5-room and larger HDB flats paying about $4 more per month.

Public transport support measures

There will be additional subsidies of about $300 million in 2024 to cover the deferred fare adjustment quantum of 15.6 per cent that will be carried over to future fare review exercises, as announced by the Public Transport Council on Sept 18.

The additional subsidies will help to moderate the increase in fares and pay for the higher costs of providing public transport services due to the continued increase in energy prices in 2022, core inflation and strong wage growth, said the MOF.

Resident households with a monthly household income per person of not more than $1,600 will each receive public transport vouchers worth $50.

The vouchers, which will be disbursed from end-December 2023, can be used to top up fare cards or buy monthly travel or concession passes.

Mr Wong said on Thursday that while the goods and services tax increase was already planned for, there were certain things that could not have been anticipated, such as some of the recent price increases, and “also the more uncertain economic outlook, possible disruptions to energy and food supplies... and the uncertainties in the global environment”.

He said the Government has been monitoring income growth very closely, and there is a likelihood that real income growth will moderate in 2023, because employers are more cautious about salary increments.

“These are the considerations that motivate us to consider whether or not there ought to be more help for Singaporeans, particularly households and families (in) the lower- and middle-income segments,” he added.

“And we’ve decided, after looking at all the factors, looking at our fiscal position, we will be able to provide within our budget for such an additional package.”

Mr Wong was also asked about the need to raise prices for water now, and the GST, which will increase to 9 per cent next year.

He explained that there are measures such as the AP in place so the majority of Singaporeans will not feel the impact of the GST rise for a few years.

“We don’t want to wait until we are at the very brink (of having) not enough money and then start raising taxes. We want to put in place all the measures that are necessary to ensure sound public finances, not just for one, two years, but for the medium- and longer-term,” he said.

On water, he noted that it is an essential, strategic resource to Singapore.

As a “water-stressed nation”, he said efforts have been made to price water properly to “make sure that consumers understand what the full price of water is.”