Friday 30 May 2014

Parliament Highlights - 28 May 2014

Debate on President's Address to Parliament: Day 3

Right politics vital to ensure that policies work: PM
He spells out five qualities of constructive politics
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

CONSTRUCTIVE politics can help Singapore scale new heights but the wrong politics will doom it, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday as he set out policies to address key concerns about the future, and explained why the right politics was crucial to making them work.

Joining the debate in Parliament on the President's Address, which entered its third day yesterday, Mr Lee said politics is not just about words but that "Singaporeans' lives and Singapore's future are at stake".

He then gave his Government's most detailed definition to date of constructive politics, an issue that has become a running theme in this debate, with Workers' Party (WP) and People's Action Party (PAP) MPs locking horns over it.

Speaking for an hour and 20 minutes, Mr Lee first took the House through the Government's plans to tackle key challenges in housing, transport, manpower, education, health care and retirement security.

He will speak more on improvements to the Central Provident Fund system in August.

Effective policies which improve Singaporeans' lives are the first of five qualities of constructive politics, Mr Lee said. And that also involves making difficult trade-offs but persuading and leading people to get things done.

The other four qualities are: putting forward good leaders, having a robust and open debate, maintaining high standards of integrity and rallying people together around a common cause.

Good politics puts forward capable people of integrity and character, he said. "Institutions are important, yes. But equally critical is the quality of the ministers and the MPs and of those who aspire to be ministers and MPs."

Next is robust and open debate, as opposed to "sound-bite politics". Such debate ensures proposals are scrutinised, and "that we find out what their strengths are, identify the weaknesses and the problems, and come up with the best ideas and solutions".

Politicians must also be subject to scrutiny, but not through anonymous innuendoes or insinuations, especially online, which deter good people from entering politics. Instead, scrutiny should be responsible and open, to keep "incompetent, dishonest or self-serving people from getting into positions of responsibility".

Mr Lee said honesty is an absolute necessity and is what differentiates politics here from that elsewhere.

Lastly, constructive politics should also rally people together around a common cause.

"If we end up with factional politics, each group pushing for single issues... or dividing society in pursuit of political advantage, then our politics would have failed Singapore," Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also took WP chief Low Thia Khiang to task for saying on Monday "that whatever way 'politics' is described and coloured, it is still politics". Calling it a "breathtakingly cynical view of politics", Mr Lee said politics must be about what one believes in and wants to achieve for Singaporeans.

He also took issue with Mr Low denying that the WP has flip-flopped on foreign workers, saying that Parliament records show that it has done so.

Mr Low immediately rose to rebut Mr Lee at the end of his speech, and for nearly 20 minutes, they traded ripostes, with Mr Lee saying the WP had no clear stand on many issues.

Mr Low defended his party's position, adding that on foreign workers, they have said their piece but respect the decision of the Government to move on.

Mr Lee replied that it is such attempts to "weasel away, play with words, avoid the issue and then claim to be responsible, that is what we fear can drive Singapore's politics into the same place where many other countries have gone".

CPF Life payouts to keep pace with cost of living
Moves to boost retirement security include raising re-employment age
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

MEASURES will be rolled out to boost Singaporeans' financial security in retirement, one of which is for CPF Life annuity payouts to keep pace with the cost of living, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He outlined three ways the Government aims to help Singaporeans to secure an income stream to live on when they retire.

First, it will work towards raising the re-employment age beyond 65 within a few years, to make it easier for those who wish to work longer to do so.

Next, older Singaporeans will get help to unlock the savings in their flats. "Many Singaporeans have significant savings in their flats... yet some still feel asset rich, cash poor," he said.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) is looking into improving monetisation schemes for flats, and increasing their take-up rates. This includes schemes such as the Silver Housing Bonus, which gives seniors a cash grant if they downsize their flats.

"(MND is looking into how we can) come up with different variations which are emotionally more continual and easier for people to understand and to accept, and to use without feeling that they are giving up their home or not going to have anything to hand on to their children," he said.

Finally, the Government will look into improving the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and CPF Life annuity scheme so that payouts keep pace with the cost of living.

In particular, lower-income groups who may not have very much put away in CPF will be given "stronger assurance in retirement", he said.

More details will be released at this year's National Day Rally, usually held in August.

Mr Lee also specifically addressed government pensioners who might be worried about having to pay premiums for MediShield Life, the upcoming universal medical insurance programme.

Some in this group, particularly those who retired earlier, already benefit from comprehensive medical benefits for themselves and their dependants, and might not want extra insurance coverage.

While this group of retirees cannot opt out from MediShield Life as it is universal and compulsory, the Government will make sure that they are not adversely affected, said Mr Lee.

The National Wages Council is also looking into helping Singaporeans with MediShield Life premiums as part of its wage guidelines this year, he added.

Parliament is expected to debate MediShield Life in July when it next meets.

Mr Lee said Singapore is increasing social spending at a time when many other developed countries are cutting back due to chronic budget deficits, and stressed that it would be "easy for Singapore, a small country with no resources, to fall into the same problems".

"Strengthening safety nets is the right thing for us to do. But we have to proceed very, very carefully, because it's human nature to want more without wanting to pay more for it," he added.



We are going against the tide - increasing our social spending, at precisely the time when many developed countries are trying to cut theirs.

- On the caution his Government must take with regard to social spending


We are keeping flats affordable for their children's generation too.

- Giving an assurance to the pioneer generation that every Singaporean will have a roof over his head and a stake in the country


These trade-offs are necessary - I hope Singaporeans understand.

- On the decision to defer $2 billion worth of projects, like a new Science Centre, to ease the demand for foreign construction workers


Running a world-class system means investing more resources... We must find the right balance in cost-sharing between the Government, private sector and commuters.

- On commuters having to be prepared to pay their share, even as the Government improves the transport network


(We should) exercise restraint in school spending and activities, so no one feels left out... discourage lavish infrastructure upgrades or study trips to exotic and expensive locations.

- On how school culture could change so that students can interact regardless of family backgrounds

Pledge to keep flats affordable for all
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

HOUSING will remain affordable for Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged yesterday, as he gave a recap of the progress made on that hot-button issue since 2011.

In the last three years, 52,000 flats have been built, the equivalent of two Clementi new towns.

The amount of subsidies given out for flats has almost doubled.

"And the situation is now under control, as many MPs have acknowledged," he said. To applause from the House, he praised the good job done by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the ministry and HDB.

But Singaporeans are still focused on housing, PM Lee noted.

On May Day, he met unionists from the pioneer generation, aged 65 or older, who reminisced about buying three-room flats for just $6,800 on a salary of $300. Rising flat values means they now have "sizeable nest eggs in retirement". Yet their children still worried about housing prices. "So I explained what I have explained so many times before - how we are keeping flats affordable for their children's generation as well."

Home ownership is not just about providing shelter, but giving everyone a stake in the country and boosting the assets of lower-income Singaporeans, he said.

That is why there are generous grants. For a household with a $1,000 monthly income, these can amount to two-thirds the value of a two-room flat.

Mr Lee said he explained this to the unionists, then asked if their children had houses. They did. Were these affordable? The answer: "Well, they've all afforded it. But still, you know, lah."

This is why the Government has to "continue to explain... and to make people understand how unique and special this position is", he said. "Where for $1,000 income, you can start to buy an HDB flat and have a substantial nest egg for your retirement, with the help of this Government."

'Find right balance' in cost-sharing
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

WHILE the Government will continue to subsidise public transport costs, commuters must also be prepared to pay their share, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Running a world-class transport system means investing more resources, he added.

"We have to find the right balance in cost-sharing between Government, private sector and commuters," he said during the parliamentary debate on the President's Address yesterday.

He stressed that the Government is committed to improving public transport frequency and expanding the network.

While train services are still "a work in progress", service providers have been working to reduce disruptions and spread out peak-hour traffic, he said.

New trains will come on board this year, and upgrades to signal equipment will begin in 2016.

"We can expect significant improvements in the train service by next year, and this is a problem which we can and we will solve," he added.

The billion-dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme - where the Government pays for a fleet of buses and their running cost for 10 years - has also been rolled out.

"Our aim is not just to have more buses and trains running, but to build a first-class public transport system in Singapore," said PM Lee, outlining efforts to improve the public transport system since the 2011 General Election.

He added that Singapore can learn from cities with good public transport systems, such as London.

The British city runs a hybrid system with both government and private-sector participation.

"The fares are not cheap... But even then, it doesn't cover all the costs and (the government) subsidises the service heavily with taxpayers' money."

Pathways 'will be kept open to all'
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

MORE will be done to shape the culture and ethos in schools, so that students can interact with one another comfortably regardless of whether they are rich or poor, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday when he pledged that the Government will keep pathways open for all.

This endeavour to ensure social mobility starts in schools, as "education has been and remains an important way to level up", he said.

It is part of the Government's move to keep pathways open for Singaporeans at every stage of their lives, from school to the workplace and in society at large.

On schools, PM Lee promised the Government will keep improving the education system, to fulfil every child's potential no matter their background. One way it will be done is to shape an open culture in schools, he said.

Starting this year, he noted, all primary schools will be required to reserve at least 40 places for pupils with no prior links to the school, to avoid being closed institutions. Schools have also been encouraged to exercise restraint when building new infrastructure and organising activities, he said.

Citing study trips, Mr Lee said there was no need to go to exotic and expensive destinations as "there are... things you can learn just in our own neighbourhood".

The key point, he stressed, was to make sure students from poorer homes are not put off from studying in top schools "because they feel left out, out of place or socially uncomfortable".

To this end, the Government will also push for top schools to seek out talented students from humble backgrounds, he said.

The Government has schemes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, said Mr Lee, such as scholarships for poor children to study overseas. "We will make a special effort to seek them out and we must continue to give these and many more Singaporeans every chance to succeed."

Public construction projects deferred to ease labour demand
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

MORE than $2 billion in public construction projects will be deferred to spread out demand for foreign workers.

But urgent projects such as Housing Board flats will not be affected, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The move is part of efforts to manage the inflow of foreign workers, whose overall arrivals have almost halved since 2011, he added.

Excluding construction workers, the foreign worker growth rate is now a quarter of the rate in 2011.

In construction, the Government has already raised levies and reduced quotas for foreign workers and is improving productivity.

Now it will defer some projects to stagger demand for labour.

"When it comes to HDB houses, when it comes to trains, projects which are urgent, we are going full steam ahead," he said.

But other projects can wait one or two years. These include new ministry and statutory board offices, extensions to Gardens by the Bay on the Marina East side, and the new Science Centre.

Singapore may save on 20,000 or 30,000 foreign workers that way, he said. "These are necessary trade-offs and I hope Singaporeans will understand."

Keeping an eye on foreign labour is part of the Government's policy on population, an issue which "has preoccupied us for these last few years", he said.

The debate on the Population White Paper in February last year was "vigorous and emotional", but helped people to understand the issue and the Government to work out its plans, he added.

Inflows of immigrants and workers have been reduced, the economy is moving towards higher productivity, and the Government will review population planning parameters closer to 2020.

As for foreign workers, the inflow was slowed but not frozen.

Yet this has already been painful for firms, so it is good Singapore did not aim for zero foreign worker growth as suggested by the Workers' Party, said Mr Lee.

He also reassured the House that the Government is paying attention to foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

It has tightened standards, is developing Singaporeans and ensuring a level playing field, he said. "So we will continue to do more to give Singaporean PMEs every opportunity to succeed."

Shirt with holes and vision of egalitarian Singapore
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

A PERSON wearing an old, torn shirt deserves as much respect as the next person, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he smilingly related how he often wears shirts with holes himself.

He gave his personal experience to illustrate how people should not look down on others because of physical appearances, when he urged Singaporeans to uphold an ethos of openness and informality to keep pathways open for all in society.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, he recalled reading about a hawker's assistant who was made fun of over a hole in his T-shirt.

A beauty queen had snapped a picture of him travelling on the MRT and posted it on Facebook in March with a sarcastic remark, sparking outrage among netizens who chided her for mocking him.

Mr Lee said: "I wear shirts with holes all the time, not in Parliament, but my wife says, 'It's got a hole in it'. I tell her, 'Only one, when it has three I'll consider the matter'."

In a society where there is an ethos of openness, this would not matter, he added.

Painting a picture of such a society, which he wants Singapore to be, he said it would be egalitarian, without rigid hierarchies or class distinctions. People would feel comfortable to interact "up and down the social ladder... without obsequious scraping and bowing".

They would treat one another with respect and easy camaraderie, whether one is a prime minister, a cleaner or a parent, he said. The rich will not flaunt wealth but adopt a "low-key and unassuming approach". Status should not be determined by the clothes people wear, cars people drive, and the way they talk, he said.

Relating an incident at the Botanic Gardens, Mr Lee said he bumped into a man by accident and apologised quickly. The man looked up, recognised the PM, apologised too and went on his way. There was "no embarrassment, no obsequiousness, no awkwardness. I think that's something valuable".

Still, it is not possible to be a completely classless society, he said. Every society had a natural sorting and pyramid, he noted, and "those who are in positions of responsibility have to have due regard". At the same time, they have to remember their duty to the rest of society, he added.

"Your respect has to be earned, but a society without leaders who are respected, that's doomed to fail," he said. But he noted Singapore was starting from a much stronger position today than at any other time in its history.

There are many people who feel Singapore has done well. He quoted from two letters from Europeans who had lived here in which they praised Singapore and its leaders, including former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

-- PM Lee, WP's Low spar over constructive politics

PM Lee and WP chief cross swords in Parliament
Low-profile in Parliament but "tigers and heroes" when campaigning - the Prime Minister's assessment of The Workers' Party sparks a feisty exchange with Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang.
Channel NewsAsia, 28 May 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang crossed swords in Parliament after Mr Lee's speech on Wednesday (May 28), in a vigorous 10-minute exchange that saw the two debate the performance and role of the Opposition so far.

Mr Low said he had focused his earlier speech on constructive politics because he felt it to be an important issue. “From what the Prime Minister has said, it seems to me that it's more constructive for the PAP, rather than constructive politics in terms of the society moving forward,” he said. His stand was that “we should be able to move forward together, despite the differences”.

The discussion then moved on to Mr Lee’s assertion that the Workers’ Party has flip-flopped on issues. Mr Low said he has clarified the party’s stand, adding: “I also noted that when the PAP has to make a policy U-turn, they call it policy shift. I don't know whether if that is a shift or a flip flop.”

To this, Mr Lee responded: “I think the record will speak for itself where we make a shift, we acknowledge a shift. When the Workers' Party changes position, they pretend they haven't. That is the difference.”

He also stated that as the Opposition leader, Mr Low had a responsibility to state his party’s stand on the big issue: “Is the government doing right? Is it doing wrong? Do you agree with the government? Do you have a better view? Or do you abstain? Or do you abstain from abstaining?”

Mr Low then gave this assessment of the Government’s performance: It has solved some problems and still needs to improve on other areas. The other Members of Parliament from the Workers’ Party would be giving their assessments of specific fields in due time, he said, and would offer alternatives and suggestions to improve policies.

This was characterised as a “reasonable explanation” by Mr Lee, who quipped: “I hope he takes an equally reasonable approach when it comes to election rallies, because the Workers' Party approach has been to be extremely reasonable, indeed low-profile, in Parliament, but come election time to turn into tigers and heroes.”

Mr Low thanked the Prime Minister for “praising the Workers' Party's ability to fight in the elections”. "We have no intention to hide ourselves in Parliament. We seek the mandate from people to come to Parliament to (serve as a) check against the Government. We have done it honestly and sincerely. We have not turned this place into a theatre. That shows we are responsible and we will behave continuously, as a rational and responsible party."

“We have not come here with some wild policies or wild suggestions,” he said. “We debated the policies, we came up with some suggestions, but these are not bankrupting the government coffers or suggesting to you to use the reserves.”

He also had this comeback to the Prime Minister's “tigers and heroes" remark: “You are the Government and you have been the governing party for 50 years and you got more people, talented people than the Workers' Party. How can you say that we are tigers and we are something else in Parliament? I am sure the PAP can equally be tiger or lions.”

Mr Lee then stepped up his criticism of the Opposition’s performance: “In a serious Parliament, the government presents its policies, the Opposition presents the alternatives,” he said. The Workers' Party may not have alternatives on every issue, but it does have a responsibility to explain to Singaporeans what they stand for.

“What you stand for cannot be what the PAP is doing and a little better. That means you have no stand,” he said. “Where do you think this is the completely different way to do things better? Where do you think in principle we do not want Singapore to be like this? These are big issues which deserved to be debated and not elided over and avoided in the House. And that is what first-world Parliament should be about.”

He cited the example of the debate on the Population White Paper, and asked if the Workers’ Party was still demanding zero growth of foreign workers. Mr Low replied: “We have said our piece, but we have to respect the decision of the Government to move on.” That was the mark of a “responsible opposition”, he said.

Mr Lee said the explanation did not clarify the Workers' Party’s stand. “That is the mark of a sub-standard opposition,” he said. “We have to call a spade a spade. If you have changed position and your previous position was wrong, say so. If you hold by your position, have your guts to reaffirm it and to take the consequences. But to weasel away, play with words, avoid the issue and then claim to be responsible, that is what we fear can drive Singapore's politics into the same place where many other countries have gone.” 

Later on Wednesday night, Mr Lee recapped highlights of his speech in Parliament on his Facebook page. He noted that he had a "vigorous exchange" with Mr Low, after he explained his view that the Opposition "fell short" of their role in Parliament. "Naturally, Mr Low found reasons to disagree."

Singapore politics still free from cynicism: Hri Kumar
Disillusionment of mature democracies not seen here
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

CYNICISM and hopelessness mark politics in many "mature democracies", but these attitudes have yet to infect Singapore politics, said Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) yesterday.

"The vast majority of Singaporeans still believe that politics remains a noble cause, that politicians and political parties must have integrity and the Government is, and must always be, a force for good," said the People's Action Party MP.

He was taking aim at Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang's comment on Monday that everyone had a role in constructive politics in a diverse and open society like those in "mature democracies".

In his speech, Mr Nair also criticised the WP for not proposing policy alternatives, with details.

He began his attack by saying WP's Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam was mistaken in suggesting the Government was good at managing its own risks, but not the risks of Singaporeans.

The lawyer said the Government allocates risks between different groups in an equitable, sensible and sustainable way.

"So when you say you want one group to bear less risk, you are in effect saying that another should bear a higher risk. Except opposition politicians find it inconvenient to mention this second group of people - so they call it the Government," he said.

On "mature democracies", Mr Nair said their politics is more about winning elections than improving people's lives. Elected politicians do not honour their promises and voters get disillusioned.

Recent voter turnout was in the mid-50 per cent in the United States, 65 per cent in Britain and 66 per cent in Germany, he noted.

He warned that with people tuning out of politics, well-organised pressure groups will shape the Government's agenda even though they are in the minority.

Fortunately, he noted, Singaporeans are more optimistic about their politics: "The people expect the Government to deliver and most are confident that it will."

Most respondents to The Straits Times' survey on the Government's half-time performance since the 2011 General Election were confident that almost all the hot-button issues such as education and transport would be better in the future, he added.

The role of Singapore's politicians, he argued, is then to be honest with the electorate, avoid grand promises and offer practical and workable solutions to improve the lot of all Singaporeans.

But the opposition, he charged, was not engaging in such politics: "One gets the impression that their role is to find out what the Government is doing and then to find out what's wrong... Proposing alternatives means giving proper details. Issuing Meaningless Motherhood Milestones is not an alternative 3M framework."

He pointed to Mr Giam's call that before the Government raises taxes, it should "look first to increasing the net investment return contributions or taxes on profits derived from economically non-productive activities".

Mr Nair said: "So, the Government should take more money set aside for future generations? What are 'economically non-productive activities'? And how much money will that raise? He should be clear to Singaporeans."

Mr Low rose to say the WP has made many suggestions.

Active citizens, civil society and Govt can be 'strong partners'
The key to win-win outcomes - keep an open mind and remain civil, says minister of state
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

CIVIL society, active citizens and the Government can work together as "strong partners" to build a better Singapore as long as all parties are open-minded, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

He gave as an example the project to enhance and protect Pulau Ubin that he spearheads.

Yesterday, a website was launched to update Singaporeans on plans for the island, and also to get their views on how it should be redeveloped, he said.

This is just one instance among many of how an active citizenry has worked alongside the Government, he added.

Mr Lee's speech in Parliament follows calls by Nominated Members of Parliament Laurence Lien and Faizah Jamal for the Government to welcome and encourage the contributions of civil society, even "if they have a few sharp edges".

Mr Lee said civil society, when it had good proposals and was "mindful of the sensitivities and dynamics across broader society", had effected change in tandem with the Government.

While both sides could disagree, they can still work together to find win-win outcomes, he added.

The key, he said, was for both parties to keep an open mind and to remain civil.

This cooperation, though, does not preclude any party pushing its points of view robustly and passionately, Mr Lee said.

However, he cautioned that people should not listen only to those who are like-minded as it will result in an echo chamber effect, and eventually cause gridlock.

In such situations, even when a decision is made, the result is "more likely to be sub-optimal compromises rather than genuine win-win outcomes".

Mr Lee also argued that when common ground is found, there should not be the perception that "everyone falls in line or the people are compliant".

Acknowledging that the Government "doesn't have a monopoly on all knowledge", he said its decision-making can "benefit greatly from wide and inclusive consultation on many fronts".

"As a whole, we are feeling our way forward as society develops and matures to find the right balance for constructive debate and inclusive decision- making."

Poor need greater access to justice: Sylvia Lim
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

THE poor should have greater access to justice, especially regarding plea bargains and bail conditions, argued Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

"It is a fact across the world that the rich and the poor access the criminal justice system differently," said the Workers' Party chairman yesterday.

"While the rich have the resources to engage expensive lawyers... the poor have to make decisions based on their means."

This sometimes means pleading guilty, when they do not have the time or resources to contest their charges.

The former police officer and current criminal lawyer gave two suggestions.

The first: ensure that an upcoming plea-bargaining framework grants those entering such bargains legal representation, even if they cannot afford their own lawyers.

"Early resolution of cases is good for the court system and for public resources," she said.

But there is a risk of those who take up such bargains "not being aware of the effect of certain types of convictions on their future prospects".

Her second suggestion was for the courts to consider non-monetary bail.

"The ability to be released on bail before trial is important, especially when one intends to contest the charge," she said.

"Being at liberty allows a person to keep his job - he can also prepare his defence more effectively."

Reforms in the United States, like those providing more information about a defendant's background before a judge, enable more of the poor to be released before their trial, she added.

She said she "still comes across residents who say there is no way they can bail their son or daughter out due to the sums set", and urged the courts to look at the possibility of more non-monetary bail conditions.

Ms Lim also highlighted challenges facing the Ministry of Home Affairs, in a speech on crime and justice-related issues.

Commuters at the Woodlands checkpoints are understandably facing slower clearances, she said, referring to a recent spate of checkpoint breaches.

But even as a committee is reviewing and strengthening security measures, "it is important not to add any more red tape to slow down clearances", she said.

At the same time, Singaporeans should not add to officers' problems, she said.

Referring to the aftermath of an incident six years ago, when a man cleared immigration at Changi Airport using his son's passport, she said "some Singaporeans found it amusing to ridicule" immigration officers.

"(They asked) them to re-check their passports, in case they were travelling on their father's or mother's passports."

She also wondered if there are enough police officers on the ground.

Pointing to the new headquarters in Woodlands and two upcoming neighbourhood police centres, she asked if the force would be accepting more Malaysians and Nepalese Gurkhas to meet manpower needs.

MPs discuss perceived bias against Malays
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

THE number of Malays in leadership positions in the public and private sectors have increased over the last 50 years, said Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

But views of job discrimination are still apparent in the Malay-Muslim community, she acknowledged in Parliament.

"Negative perceptions of Malays having fewer opportunities for promotion or being less likely to be given leadership positions still exist," she said.

Concerns of Malay-Muslims' loyalty to Singapore surfaced in the House again yesterday, as three MPs spoke on the perceived discrimination. Workers' Party MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) had raised the issue on Monday, reflecting points in the Suara Musyawarah report released last year. He had called for a committee to be formed to address these concerns.

While she disagreed with Mr Faisal's recommendation, Dr Intan urged for "concrete steps" to be taken to correct negative perceptions.

She highlighted that many Malays had achieved success through sheer hard work and leveraging on opportunities afforded in Singapore's meritocratic system.

She suggested holding up examples of successful Malays in the public and private sectors as role models for the community.

"We must not diminish the importance of the hope and belief that opportunities to succeed are equal for all - regardless of race, background or financial capabilities," she said.

Also speaking on the issue yesterday, Workers' Party's Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said policymakers should be reminded that the "fear of putting a Malay serviceman behind a machine gun are already over".

Now "more than ever", he said, race is not a factor in conscription.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) then sought a clarification on this point, asking if Mr Singh was saying that Malays were not deployed to handle machine guns.

Mr Zainal also asked him if he was aware that many Malays are today deployed in various parts of the armed forces, including in artillery and signal units.

To this, Mr Singh cited his personal experience of serving as platoon commander of a combat engineering unit during national service, where he observed that there were no Malay servicemen in the rank and file.

He acknowledged that the situation had changed in recent years, but said there were concerns from the ground that there were still questions over the loyalty of the Malays to the nation.

'Collective vision' for S'pore needed
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

WHILE Singaporeans might have different ideas about what is best for the country, they should not lose sight of the need for a "collective vision," said MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) in Parliament yesterday.

Singapore's progress over the years, he said, has largely been a result of collective action, a "common Singapore dream" that has shaped policies in housing and transport, among others.

But he stressed that this collective action will be "very much more difficult" to achieve in the future.

"We all want what is good for Singapore but the trouble is, we don't all think 'good' is just one thing," he said.

So even as Singaporeans make suggestions for the betterment of the country, they should be "undertaking this exercise in good faith that we work for the collective good, and not personal gain", he added.

Political leaders also bear an "additional duty" to not just live an ethical life, but also shape the larger morality and "steer a course that stays true to the values of Singaporeans".

He added: "Collective action can only be possible when we see each other as fellow Singaporeans working for the larger good, not vote-grubbing politicians seeking popular advantage."

In his speech, Mr Seah also lobbied for the scrapping of the Primary School Leaving Examination, an exam that has "passed its time".

"Why do we insist on a narrow and insular measure of educational abilities and potential for 12-year-olds when the demands and entry requirements for tertiary education already make such tests obsolete?" he asked.

Also commenting on the future of politics in Singapore yesterday was MP Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir), who said the Government has taken steps to review and refine its policies to keep them relevant.

He pointed to the Pioneer Generation Package and the Committee to Strengthen National Service as examples of "fundamental changes" for the country's future.

He said: "If there is one thing we can learn from all this, it is the Government and PAP MPs are not only ready for change, we have embraced change."

Speech by PM Lee, in the Debate on the President's Address
PM Lee, WP's Low spar over constructive politics

No comments:

Post a Comment