Monday, 18 February 2013

PM Lee Hsien Loong: A bright future for Singapore's babies

He urges citizens to work with Govt to keep country a good place to raise children
By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 17 Feb 2013

The decision to have more children will depend on whether Singaporeans still have confidence in the country's future, more so than any specific pro-family initiative, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

And to that end, he urged Singaporeans to work together with the Government to make sure the island remains a good place to settle down and raise children.

He said: "We want this to be the best place for parents to have children, to realise, to believe that here there's a bright future...

"We can do it. We built Singapore starting from nothing. Starting with today's Singapore, we can transform it, improve it, make it much, much better."

One week after Parliament endorsed the Population White Paper, the divisive debate and the country's long-term population challenges were clearly still on his mind as he addressed the 2,000 residents at the Chinese New Year dinner for his Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC yesterday. He began his speech in Mandarin and English, noting that more than 42,000 babies were born here last year, which was "quite a good harvest".

But they were still fewer than in previous Dragon years: 47,000 in 2000 and 53,000 in 1988. This dip reflects societal changes also taking place in Asian cities like Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo, he said.

He went through with his residents the various measures announced in the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package announced last month, including building more childcare facilities and having paternity leave.

And though he did not offer any clues last night, analysts expect that the Budget on Feb 25 will do more for pre-school education and health care as a further boost to making Singapore more family friendly.

Yesterday, government ministers continued to stress that the White Paper is about more than just a single headline population figure.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that he was not surprised by the strong reaction to the government road map.

Speaking to reporters at the Chinese New Year dinner in his Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC constituency, he said: "I think we've heard Singaporeans clearly, and we need to work with Singaporeans, serve them, improve Singapore, improve their quality of life, and it's very clear we cannot have as many foreign workers come in as before.

"How do we do this and yet achieve some growth?... I think we have a lot of work to do and we can only achieve that if we work together."

Separately at an event at the Float@Marina Bay, Senior Minister of State (Law and Education) Indranee Rajah sought to make clear what the road map that Parliament endorsed stood for.

"What Parliament really approves is not the target, it's (a) planning parameter. Parliament is asking (the) Government to focus and prioritise on current issues which are causing difficulties in infrastructure. It is also calling upon the Government to see how the benefits of population policy can actually flow down to people, in terms of job opportunities and salaries.

"Those are very important things that still need discussion because you want to see how we can achieve that for Singapore."

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