Tuesday 18 December 2012

PM drops in on four feedback sessions

Health care, housing are hot topics among seniors
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2012

HEALTH care and housing emerged as the top issues among elderly Singaporeans yesterday when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong dropped in on several national conversation sessions.

Mr Lee had spent his morning listening to presentations at each of the four different sessions being held in conjunction with the Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC Active Agers Carnival.

The cost of housing and the increasing demand for health care and seniors' facilities were key concerns raised by nearly every group.

In response, Mr Lee gave his assurance that the Government would build more capacity in health care, including training doctors and nurses, to keep up with the growing demand. "All this we need to build up, which will take time," he said.

The Government is also building more flats and will continue to invest in them so future generations can have good homes.

Business consultant Henry Goh, 57, was particularly concerned about waiting times at polyclinics and hospitals.

PM Lee acknowledged the problem and said the Government was working to make sure Singapore does not become like some European countries, where waiting times can be as long as 18 months, even though services are provided for free.

"We are trying not to be in that position, which means we must build more hospitals, train more doctors, we must get more nurses.... we need physiotherapists."

The four sessions yesterday included English and Mandarin sessions for senior citizens. There was also one led by the Indian Activity Executive Committee and another by the Malay Activity Executive Committee.

Another participant, Madam Zubaidah Osman, 45, who works in education, was worried that Singapore would one day become like Hong Kong, where many people have to live in small shoebox apartments.

PM Lee said he hoped it would not be the case, as Singapore has more space, more time and the opportunity to organise itself.

"We can build more houses and we have built more houses. We have invested. And we make sure that everybody has got a home. And I think our children can also have good homes," he said.

There were also questions from the small number of young participants. Aerodynamicist Gautham Ramesh, 26, shared his belief that Singapore would be prosperous even 60 years from now as it has a strong foundation.

But PM Lee warned that while it is good to have confidence and optimism about Singapore's future, it has to be supported by hard work and the ability to change. "We have to continue to work on it. There is never a final position," he said.

"The world is changing so fast. If we are still the same, if every time you come back, it is the same shop, same neighbourhood, exactly the same layout, I think we will be left behind."

Away from the consultation sessions, PM Lee participated in a range of activities to encourage active ageing. He flew a kite, watched a Zumba fitness dance performance by elderly residents, launched two senior activity service centres and then stopped to greet residents at a hawker centre.

Middle-aged men 'caught in between' share woes
Those at Our SG Conversation chat worry about living costs, health care
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2012

THE 50 or so middle-aged men at a Tampines coffee shop yesterday afternoon were not just making kopitiam small talk.

They were taking part in one of the first all-male Our Singapore Conversation sessions. There, it surfaced that many felt sandwiched between aged parents and children, and did not want to burden their own children in future, said Tampines Member of Parliament and grassroots adviser Baey Yam Keng, who led the session.

"They felt that more needs to be done to address the rising cost of living and health care," Mr Baey said.

"From what they see from their own parents, I think they worry - when the time comes for them to grow old and have no income, they are very concerned about whether the Government can do more. At the same time, they don't want their children to be trapped into caring for them.

"I'm touched by their sense of duty towards their parents, and yet they want their children to have the flexibility and freedom to enjoy their lives," he added after the session.

The session was meant for men aged 45 to 60, though grassroots facilitators turned no one away.

It was the fourth of five national conversation sessions in Tampines, each with a different focus - senior citizens, youth and the general public. The last, next month, will focus on women.

Among those present yesterday were small-business operators, lorry drivers, couriers, operations managers and administrative officers. Some brought their wives.

In English, Hokkien, Malay and Mandarin, over coffee and sandwiches, they spoke of long polyclinic waits and high health-care costs, while suggesting greater health-care and transport subsidies for seniors.

Mr Yap Swee Kiat, 57, and Mr Abdul Jalil, 41, each worried that their young adult and primary school-aged children would not be able to afford their own HDB flats in future.

Labourer Tan Kok Bin, 63, who is single and lives with a younger brother and his family, worried that he would not even be able to afford one on his own.

And Mr Mustafa Mohamed, 57, a school operations manager and Tampines resident of three decades, spoke of watching the area become more built-up. He asked for more green spaces "like Punggol Waterway".

In the past three months, more than 10,000 Singaporeans have taken part in the national conversation exercise, either online or at face-to-face dialogues here and overseas, while another 4,000 are being polled on their aspirations for the country.

The first phase will last until February next year and the second phase will group discussions into three themes: "Hope", which is about aspirations; "Heart", which focuses on a more caring Singapore; and "Home", which talks about values, culture and national identity.

Asked what the top concerns were from yesterday's discussion, Mr Baey said people felt the pace of life was becoming too fast.

"A lot of them feel that they can't keep pace and hope it can slow down. They're prepared that there will be trade-offs in their lives, in the focus of the country, if it means that people are happier and can enjoy life in Singapore."

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