Saturday 31 May 2014

Parliament Highlights - 30 May 2014

Debate on President's Address to Parliament: Day 5

"Passionate" debate an example of constructive politics: MP Zaqy Mohamad
The final day of the five-day debate on the President's address in Parliament saw the hot topic of immigration taking the spotlight.
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 30 May 2014 

Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad described the five-day debate on the President's address in Parliament, to chart the Government's agenda for the second half of its term as a "robust" and "passionate" debate.

Mr Zaqy, who had tabled the motion of thanks to the President, wrapped up the debate on Friday (May 30). He said MPs conducted themselves with decorum despite differences of opinion, which is a good step forward in constructive politics.

A total of 62 MPs spoke during the five-day debate which featured some vigorous exchange on topics such as constructive politics, immigration and retirement adequacy.

"The passionate discussion and the clashes of ideas we had this week is an example and a good step forward in the direction of constructive politics which means putting Singapore and Singaporeans at the heart of every one of our policy goals," said Mr Zaqy.

A clash of ideas was again displayed on the last day of the debate, with MP for Pioneer Cedric Foo asking opposition member Chen Show Mao what his view was on immigration.

"I would like Mr Chen's comments on whether he welcomes immigrants and whether he would rally the support of Singaporeans to bring in immigrants so that they are on our side, they help us compete, they help us stabilise our society," said Mr Foo.

Mr Chen replied: "Of course we have nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore but we are talking about an orderly growth within limits that hopefully we would have debated and agreed on, and that is not inconsistent with what we have said on immigration on foreign workers in Singapore."

The volley of exchanges prompted Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang to step in.

"Let's make it clear here. We are not anti-immigration. We need to have quality immigrants,” said Mr Low, who is also the MP for Aljunied GRC.

“Secondly, we have to keep Singaporeans’ core strong. I think it is too simplified to assume that when immigrants come to Singapore, they will integrate in Singapore and be part of Singapore. I think it's not that simple."

MP for West Coast GRC Arthur Fong also spoke on the issue of immigrants, warning that xenophobia should not take root in Singapore. He cited the example of how organisers of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations had decided to drop the event after being slammed by netizens for wanting to hold it at Orchard Road.

“Xenophobia, I hope, will not take root but this group has been organising it for many years, I'm told 20 years, and this time round we have this reaction from Singaporeans,” said Mr Fong.

“I think this is a shot across the bow to tell us to re-look and examine ourselves. Look at our society. Is this what we want? And if this takes root, what kind of Singapore will we have? We need to be aware and keep this in view so that we will not polarise."

MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Seng Han Thong suggested ways the Government can "actively maintain and promote constructive politics" through online and offline platforms in various languages. This includes sharing more information with citizens, especially the vested interest groups, before formulating long term policies affecting their livelihood or lifestyle.

He said these platforms should not be top-down, but one where all can talk and discuss good ideas.

"The coffee shops and new media are also platforms for constructive politics if the participants are well informed and the Government has an overall strategy to engage them with short and sharp messages and adequate information sharing,” said Mr Seng.

“In fact, market stalls, provision shops and shopping malls are also places where ordinary Singaporeans exchange views and information daily and instantly."

Mr Zaqy noted that while the Government has laid out its plans in areas such as healthcare, housing, manpower and education, it is all still very much a work in progress. He said that what this parliament debate has shown is that the Government has the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart.

"I also note that members have given general recognition to the Government's efforts in improving the lives of Singaporeans in the last three years and responding to their immediate concerns,” said Mr Zaqy.

“This Government has clearly shown that it is about the people, and for the people. Regardless of positions taken, members pointed out concerns and suggested solutions on issues including healthcare, ageing, retirement adequacy, making Singaporeans lives better and many more."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated on Facebook late Friday, that even though the debate is over, the Government will continue working on issues such as refining the Central Provident Fund system to better provide for Singaporeans when they retire. He said he will have more to share during the National Day Rally.

Makeover for *Scape to attract more youth
Revamp part of efforts to bring young people together to pursue passions
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

A POPULAR Orchard Road haunt called *Scape, where the youth hang out and showcase their talents, will be revamped, in a move to make it a more appealing place where young people can pursue their passions.

Among the changes in store are the way the space is used, the mix of tenants and new programmes in music and media.

The impending makeover is one of three strategies in a government plan to update and strengthen the infrastructure to bring young people together and empower them to do good.

The second is to introduce more youth spaces islandwide and expand programmes for them with partners, such as Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), which organises outdoor learning activities for students.

The third is to restructure and strengthen the National Youth Council (NYC) as a national body overseeing youth affairs.

In announcing the three measures yesterday, the fifth and final day of the debate on the President's Address, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong pledged to redouble efforts to engage youth.

He said: "We will do more to support the aspirations of all youth. We will equip them with vital life-skills and help them discover their calling and passion.

"We will enable them to create their own ground-up initiatives, go for their dreams in diverse areas, and lead fulfilling lives."

*Scape, conceived by youth 10 years ago and opened in 2010, is a popular youth hangout, he said.

It attracts an average of 440,000 visitors a month, according to his ministry.

They include more than 1,000 young people who take part weekly in 30 youth-led interest groups, ranging from cajon percussion box players to graffiti artists.

"But the youth landscape has evolved over the years and we need to keep up with the changes," he added.

To operate more youth spaces and programmes, *Scape and the National Youth Council will forge closer ties with the Education Ministry and its schools, and voluntary groups, the minister said.

OBS' programmes, in particular, have received good feedback from many youth who said they were a "transformational, life-changing experience", he added.

The restructuring of NYC will build on an already active ground presence. More than 4,000 youth a year take part in its overseas community service programme.

But Mr Wong felt there was scope to do even more and raise awareness of NYC's offerings.

He plans to build up its capabilities in several areas to reach out to all youth and youth organisations, and to champion youth engagement and coordinate youth programmes nationwide.

Also, it needs to gather feedback from the ground, do research to better understand the needs of young people and give voice to them to influence and shape national policies.

More details on the various changes will be announced in the coming weeks.

Mr Wong also addressed MPs' concerns about social mobility.

He promised that all youth will continue to have fair access to opportunities, regardless of their background.

Pointing to programmes that expose youth from poor homes to sport and the arts, he said: "In Singapore, no one should be deprived of the chance to broaden his horizon or develop a talent because of his family circumstances or social background."

'Lucky' to be born here and keen to give back
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

AT 28, Ms Nur Huzaima Mahrom has spent her youth trying to make a difference.

She has done so overseas, travelling to Nicaragua to help build a community centre, and to the Philippines, where she had a hand in running a social enterprise on the outskirts of Manila.

Back in Singapore, the copywriter has played tutor to needy children. Now, she's hoping to join Youth Corps Singapore, a new scheme to groom young volunteers which has drawn more than 250 applicants.

Cited by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong yesterday as an exemplar of passionate young Singaporeans, he quoted her as saying: "I am lucky, by some accident of fate, to be born in Singapore: healthy, young and strong. But there are many who are struggling. I feel it is my duty to do something in the world."

Ms Huzaima wants to see a better, brighter Singapore 50 years down the road. She feels, said Mr Wong, that everyone has a part to play in this.

He quoted Ms Huzaima as saying: "I would say to my peers - What do you hope for Singapore 50 years down the road? And what will you do about it?

"You have the energy to make things happen. You should get out there and be proactive. The future belongs to you."

Flood of ideas for S'pore golden jubilee bash
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

IN JUST two months, over 11,000 suggestions have poured in on how to celebrate Singapore's golden jubilee next year.

These include organising potlucks with neighbours and giving 50 people hugs, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong shared in Parliament yesterday.

"We want Singaporeans to take ownership of the celebration and to play an active role," he said, adding that Singaporeans can look forward to home-grown, ground-up events at the country's 50th birthday bash.

More details on the Singapore 50 (SG50) calendar of events will be revealed next week, said Mr Wong, who is also chairman of the SG50 Programme Office.

The SG50 Celebration Fund was also set up to provide selected projects with up to $50,000 in funding.

The team has so far received more than 100 proposals, from performances and publications to charity work and volunteer projects.

This flood of ideas, said Mr Wong, is proof that Singaporeans want to invest their time and energy in the event, and are "re-affirming deeper values and beliefs that bind us as a nation".

He added that in a time when some countries are caught up in increasingly "acrimonious and divisive" politics, and negative remarks are so quickly amplified, it is all too easy to become cynical.

But the lively public response to the SG50 bash, garnered since January, is uplifting, he said.

"It should give all of us hope," he added.

Malay-Muslim community against tokenism: Maliki
Many Malay senior officers in SAF but they don't want to trumpet attainments
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

THE Malay-Muslim community does not believe in affirmative action and tokenism, said Minister of State for Defence and National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman yesterday.

This is why top Malay leaders in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) toil away on the ground and do not trumpet their achievements.

In a heartfelt speech in Parliament, Dr Maliki said that he had met many Malay senior officers in the military since he became a junior minister in Mindef.

"I feel extremely proud and respect their ability to hold such high positions despite coming from a minority group," he said.

"Each time I encourage them to show themselves, because our community needs stories of success from the community.

"But they feel humble and that it is rather awkward to do so because to them, this is just something normal," he said in Malay.

He made the point that they do not believe in affirmative action as this would be a case of a minority being given special privileges.

Instead, "their principle of success is to work hard and success will come", he added.

His comments came after Workers' Party's Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) on Monday suggested forming a committee to look into perceived discrimination of Malays in jobs and other areas. This was one way to address feedback from some in the Malay-Muslim community and reflected in the Suara Musyawarah report released last year, said Mr Faisal.

This became a heated topic of debate which several ministers and MPs weighed in on.

Many People's Action Party legislators argued that Malays had achieved success through their own merit and sheer hard work.

Said Dr Maliki: "We do not want our community to be in a position of success just because of... tokenism. We want our people to be proud that when they achieve high position, it is out of their own hard work which is recognised after competing fairly with everyone in Singapore. Then the success will be more meaningful."

Guidelines on flexiwork to come in November
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

COMPANIES will receive guidelines on how to put in place flexible work arrangements in November, during a week-long work-life balance campaign.

The aim is to "enlighten employers and employees on the benefits of work-life balance", said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi yesterday.

Mr Hawazi's announcement came after backbenchers from both sides called for more action to encourage work-life balance.

People's Action Party MP Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) wanted the Government to discourage companies from encroaching on employees' personal time.

He suggested that Singapore take a leaf from the French book, in which "unions and employers came to an agreement to prohibit workers from replying to e-mails after leaving their office".

Mr Lim also urged the public sector, as the largest employer, to take the lead by discouraging staff from replying to e-mails after office hours, unless these are very urgent.

The previous day, Workers' Party MP Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) pointed out that work-life harmony "has been tackled exclusively in the domain of manpower policy", an approach which "has not worked".

Mr Hawazi disagreed.

The Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, which will issue the guidelines, involves "different parties and government agencies which try to promote different aspects of working, work- life and enhancement of productivity".

Also, the practices of companies have been improving, he noted.

In 2012, 41 per cent of companies offered at least one form of flexible work arrangement, a rise from 25 per cent in 2007.

"Does more need to be done to promote work-life? Yes, indeed. But all tripartite partners are working very hard," he added.

Responding, Ms Lee agreed that work-life harmony does not rely solely on the Manpower Ministry.

For this reason, she said that she suggested the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council address the topic, as concerns over productivity might keep companies from offering flexible work arrangements.

PAP and WP argue over immigration issue
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

THE People's Action Party (PAP) and the Workers' Party (WP) tussled over immigration again, two days after a fiery debate between their party leaders.

Backbenchers sparred over the subject of foreign workers yesterday, albeit on a far less feisty note than the exchanges between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and WP leader Low Thia Khiang on Wednesday.

PAP's Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) pressed WP's Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) on whether he felt immigrants were necessary to deal with Singapore's ageing population. This came after Mr Chen's speech, which focused on successful ageing in Singapore.

Replying with pauses in between, Mr Chen said the focus should still be on "the growing of a resident workforce".

He added: "When targets we set for the growth in our resident working population... are not met, then I think at that time foreign workers may be... increased so that we're on a path to growth as we have planned."

But Mr Foo took issue with this, stressing that he was asking specifically about the flow of immigrants into the country.

"There will be 900,000 Singaporeans above the age of 65 and families are getting smaller... we do need immigrants and I'd like Mr Chen's comment on whether he welcomes immigrants and whether he would rally the support of Singaporeans to bring about these immigrants," he said.

Mr Chen said the WP has "nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore", but also is in favour of "orderly growth within limits".

Mr Foo pursued his point but this time, Mr Low jumped in and said the WP is "not an anti-immigration party".

He added: "We welcome foreign talent but talent, real talent, not immigrants who are taking away the jobs of Singaporeans or taking away opportunities that Singaporeans could have been better served."

Mr Low also stressed the need to keep a strong Singapore core. He argued that with immigrants coming in, it would be too simplistic to assume "they will integrate with Singapore and Singaporeans".

Later, PAP's Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) hit out at Mr Chen, saying he had "prevaricated on Mr Foo's question on immigrants". Mr Chen pointed out that he was himself an immigrant, and said helping older workers stay productive would help to grow Singapore's workforce and prevent an over-reliance on immigrants and foreign workers.

MPs Cedric Foo and Chen Show Mao clash over immigration
Channel NewsAsia, 30 May 2014

Members of Parliament Cedric Foo and Chen Show Mao go back and forth over the need for immigrants, in light of Singapore's ageing society, and Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang says his Workers' Party is "not anti-immigration".

Immigration proved to be a hot topic in Parliament on Friday (May 30). Member of Parliament for Pioneer SMC Cedric Foo, quizzed Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao on his party's stance on the issue.

Mr Chen had just spoken about investing in elderly Singaporeans, when Mr Foo fired the first salvo. Their exchange is reproduced below.

Mr Cedric Foo: "He speaks about ageing issues and ageing society and I want to thank him for supporting the effort to engage Singaporeans in a dialogue to see how we may address this. But really, underpinning the ageing population, is the need to bring in immigrants, and I would like to seek his view to see if he thinks it's necessary for Singapore's long-term future to bring in immigrants."

Mr Chen Show Mao: "I believe our focus should be on the growing of a resident workforce. That includes the elderly workers whom we can help to participate more in our economy. When targets we set for the growth in our resident working population are not met, when targets we set are not met, then I think at that time, foreign workers may be - the number of foreign workers may be increased, so that so that we are on a path to growth as we have planned. The Workers' Party position on this is clear, and that is we will focus on the growth of the resident workforce and when that falls short, the population of foreign workers in Singapore may be increased."

Mr Cedric Foo: "Madam Speaker, thank you, the honorable member for his reply, but I was really asking about immigrant inflow into Singapore. Do we reverse the pyramid that has now been inverting? Because by 2030 as this House has heard, there will be 900,000 Singaporeans above the age of 65 and because families are getting smaller, we do need immigrants. And I'd like Mr Chen's comments on whether he welcomes immigrants and whether he would rally the support of Singaporeans to bring about these immigrants, so that they are on our side; they help us compete, they help us stabilise the society."

Mr Chen Show Mao: "I have worked abroad for many years in my life and I thank foreigners, foreign governments, foreign friends for the opportunities that I was given, to work in the country. Of course, we have, of course I have - we have nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore, but we're talking about an orderly growth within limits that hopefully, we would have debated and agreed on, and that is not inconsistent with what I have said, what we have said on immigration on foreign workers in Singapore. And I would like to ask Mr Foo if that is what he had in mind in asking the question."

Mr Cedric Foo: "We have debated this issue of ageing population robustly. The Government has put up a plan under Deputy Prime Minister Teo. I've been trying to explain also to my residents why we have to do this.

On the economic front, if we allow the society to age, our tax base will narrow and there is no guarantee that high tax payers, talented people will remain in Singapore. We hope they do and we will work hard that they will do, but there is no guarantee of that. On the security front, our battalions will have to be smaller. On the political front, people will vote for ageing issues. I mean, the old in our society when they start to outnumber the young, would ask for even more than healthcare.

Where does this leave future Singaporeans? We discussed constructive politics, how members of different parties should come together and enlighten the population, the populace, the voters about the trade-offs, but so far we gave not heard the Workers' Party hand-in-hand if they believe in this policy to reach out to the people to support immigration and listening to Mr Chen, I'm still not very clear whether the party and himself supports bringing in immigration.

And you cannot do this overnight, because you need time for them to assimilate. You cannot wait until the labour participation fails and decide to bring in a deluge of immigrants to flood the population. We need to do this gradually, to plan ahead. We need to do it in a consistent assimilable way. Thank you."

At this point, Workers' Party Chief Low Thia Khiang stands up to clarify his party's position on the issue.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: "On the issue of immigration, I thought we stated clearly and many a time, I believe the party's MPs have repeated the position of The Workers Party. The Workers' Party is not an anti-immigration party. I make it clear here. We're not anti-immigration.

We welcome immigration which can contribute to the well-being of Singapore and to the economy of Singapore. We welcome foreign talent. Talent, real talent, not immigrants who are taking away the job of Singaporeans or taking away opportunities that Singaporeans could have been given, or be better served, having. So let's make it clear here, we are not anti-immigration. What we're saying is we have got to have quality immigrants.

Secondly, we have to make the Singaporean core strong. I think it is simple, too simplified, to assume that when the immigrants come to Singapore, they will integrate with Singapore and Singaporeans and be part of Singapore. I think it's not that simple.

I think in the Population White Paper - we've debated a lot on this - we have set out The Workers' Party position clearly. I hope members go and read the White Paper, it's published on the website, so you understand our position. We are not running away from the position."

MOE's focus: Build strong values among the young
Sim Ann sums up ministry's moves in last 3 years to achieve its key aims
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

MR CHUA Kang Loong was in the weakest stream in primary school and could not get into a polytechnic after he finished his studies at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

But he was undeterred and applied for a more advanced ITE course. It paid off and he obtained a place in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, studying electronic and computer engineering.

This year, the 26-year-old graduated with a near perfect grade point average of 3.96. He also won the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal, given to each polytechnic's most outstanding graduate who came from ITE.

Mr Chua now has a place to read electronic engineering at the National University of Singapore and, in March, returned to ITE to be a teaching associate. He will also be going back to ITE to be a lecturer after attaining a degree.

He was cited by Minister of State (Communications and Information, and Education) Sim Ann as an example of someone who is giving back to the education system which "groomed" him and helped him succeed.

His story, said Ms Sim in Parliament yesterday, also highlights the Ministry of Education's priorities and values that it hopes to inculcate in young people.

These include ensuring there are different ways to succeed, helping students progress at their own pace and customising teaching to meet learning needs.

There are programmes and resources to support students who have difficulty coping in school, she said.

Ms Sim also pointed out the need to "find the right balance between individual and collective achievement".

"We want our students to be good citizens, with a heart for Singapore, compassion for others, and gratitude to those who have helped build their lives," she said.

But this does not mean "competition and excellence are no longer relevant", she added.

In her speech, she also summed up MOE's moves in the last three years, including abolishing school ranking, not naming the top Primary School Leaving Examination scorers and broadening direct school admission. These changes reflect key aims such as reducing the chase for academic grades and building strong values among the young, she said.

She outlined the ministry's efforts across the education sector, from its pre-school pilot to an Enhanced Nitec Foundation Programme it started this year for ITE students to learn literacy and numeracy.

She also spoke about how MOE is boosting support for students with special needs, through ways such as school-based dyslexia remediation, which has been expanded to one-third of all primary schools, and a transition scheme for students finding work.

There are 13,000 students with special needs in mainstream schools and another 5,000 in special education schools.

Students do learn about political system
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

PRIMARY and secondary school students in Singapore learn about its political system and Constitution, said Minister of State for Education Sim Ann yesterday.

She was responding to points by Workers' Party (WP) politicians about the need for political education in Singapore.

"The concepts of citizen rights and obligations, democracy, our electoral system, principles of our Constitution and the structure of government are covered in the character and citizenship education, social studies and history curricula in primary and secondary schools," she said in Mandarin.

In a wide-ranging speech in Parliament addressing several education issues, she said the Ministry of Education wants to drive home the message that values matter, including the importance of the collective good.

She noted that over the course of the week's debate on the President's Address, Members of Parliament had asked if the national education curriculum included information on the Constitution and Singapore's political system.

The answer, she said, was yes.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, both of the WP, had raised the issue earlier.

Mr Low had argued on Monday that national education should enable students to understand their rights and obligations as citizens in a democratic society, as well as values and concepts associated with democracy such as mutual respect and diversity.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong also responded to this point yesterday.

"No doubt, it is important to be informed about the political system and the principles of governance in Singapore," he said in his speech. But education must prioritise developing character.

Mr Wong said that Singapore must encourage its youth to be involved in causes and projects which build a better society so that they do not become cynical with democracy, unlike youth in other countries.

"We must aspire for Singapore to be a problem-solving democracy, a democracy of deeds."

Call for homework-free days
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

TO REDUCE stress and promote family bonding, schools should have at least two homework-free days a week, suggested Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) yesterday.

"This will benefit not only the students but will also ease the workload of the teachers who can then spend more time with their own families."

He urged the Minister of Education to make this a policy, and also consider cutting the primary and secondary school curricula by 20 to 30 per cent.

His suggestions stemmed from a concern that young students are under stress. Many parents ask why their children are given so much work, especially at the primary school level, he noted.

"I am concerned that in our desire to develop our children holistically, we may inadvertently take away their childhood," he added.

However, he defended the Primary School Leaving Examination against Mr Seah Kian Peng's (Marine Parade GRC) view that it is "past its time". The PSLE helps schools allocate resources to assist students to achieve their best, said Mr Lim. "For those who do not have interest in academic subjects, it is better to assess them earlier and allow them to choose a different path so that they can excel in a different manner."

What is important is having different paths to success: "So if a student does not do well in PSLE, he must not think that it is the end of the world."

Upgrade void deck noticeboards too
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

SINGAPORE has the Lift Upgrading Programme and the Hawker Upgrading Programme, so why not a Noticeboard Upgrading Programme, asked Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

People are no longer looking at the noticeboards at their void decks for longer messages, he said in a speech about improving communication between the Government and citizens yesterday.

Instead, more are looking at their mobile phone's small screens for shorter ones.

But this does not mean the big screen is not effective. Just look at Suntec City's big screen, he said.

"It is colourful and with short, moving messages."

A Noticeboard Upgrading Programme in the same vein as electronic screens would help improve communications and promote constructive politics, he said.

The noticeboards remain important, he believed, because not everyone uses the social media or goes to coffee shops to talk about the latest policies.

So the authorities must devise ways to reach out to them, a segment he referred to as the silent majority.

He pointed to his constituency's "Conversations in Corridors" as a suggestion.

"I have found this (to be) one of the humble ways to engage our silent majority," he said.

Critical to get S'pore politics right
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

A WEEK-LONG debate on the President's Address ended yesterday with Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) reminding the House that "our work does not end here".

In all, 60 MPs and six ministers made their cases on many important issues, from education to the elderly, and the type of politics that is good for Singapore.

The issues raised this week focused almost entirely on social needs, illustrating the continued shift in the Government's policies.

One big concern was retirement adequacy. Many MPs voiced their desire for the Government to improve the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system, as more people age and cost of living goes up.

Another issue that got a lot of MPs fired up was whether the system of meritocracy is working as it should, given concerns over inequality of access to good schools and jobs.

The Government listened, and put forward its own case, with a pledge to do more to address concerns in these areas.

The issue that drew the most attention and heat was that of constructive politics.

Workers' Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang devoted his entire speech to it, engendering rebuttals from PAP MPs.

Mr Low questioned if the PAP government was building an environment for constructive politics and called for efforts to enable a more robust political process, "to cultivate political norms and to build an environment for constructive engagement in politics".

This in turn was flipped on its head as the PAP questioned the WP's contribution to constructive politics, and said it lacked honesty and integrity in not admitting

that it had shifted its stance on foreign workers, and in its management of contracts at its town council.

The most memorable moment of the week was the near 15-minute war of words between PM Lee and Mr Low on Wednesday.

Yesterday, two PAP MPs - Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) and Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) - continued to raise questions about the WP's stance on immigration and foreign workers.

The back and forth between the parties livened up proceedings, but it was unfortunate that it took away time to discuss the broader aspects of Singapore's political system and the space for political participation.

Yesterday, two office holders made a pitch to show that the Government is encouraging more space for community and civic participation.

Minister of State for Education Sim Ann spoke of the need for a "collective understanding" of Singapore's circumstances, the importance of mutual respect and tolerance, and the need to secure peace and prosperity.

"We wish for every generation of Singaporeans to find the right balance between individual achievement and collective achievement," she said.

"We want our students to be good citizens, with a heart for Singapore, compassion for others, and gratitude to those who have helped build their lives."

It was a view shared by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong is spearheading a new Youth Corps initiative to support young people in their community projects, and had a simple message - join us!

The heart of a "healthy democracy" is the "collective engagement of an active citizenry for the public good", he said.

This means encouraging young Singaporeans to get involved in causes and projects that help build a better society.

Also, to aspire for "Singapore to be a problem-solving democracy, a democracy of deeds".

These calls to action should be welcomed.

But even so, some would argue that the Government's increased openness towards civic participation does not yet extend to the political arena.

Critics often point to the group representation constituency system, the regular redrawing of electoral boundaries, the neutrality of grassroots organisations, and the Government's perceived heavy-handedness in dealing with opponents and detractors.

It was a pity these issues were not taken up more fully by MPs, who thereby passed up on an opportunity to go deeper into the question of not just what constructive politics is, but how to foster a political culture that best serves Singapore's interests.

Getting Singapore's politics right is critical, as many MPs noted, since politics undergirds everything that can go right or wrong with the country.

No doubt, with Parliament having kicked off its second half on this note, there will be many more occasions to return to this issue in the rest of the term.

They came, they saw, they loved S'pore
The Straits Times, 31 May 2014

THIS week's five-day debate focused mainly on ways to improve policies and society, but Members of Parliament also took stock of Singapore's achievements through the de-cades as the Republic prepares to celebrate its 50th year of independence.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Singapore brand name stands for something good in the world. "Many who visit us are very impressed by what they see," he said.

He also read out portions of two "unsolicited" letters - one sent to his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and the other to him - from foreigners recounting their stay here.

The first was written by an Italian woman who had accompanied her fiance to the Youth Olympic Games here in 2010.

"I spent the happiest period of my life in Singapore," she wrote.

In the letter, she recounted her favourite dishes ("I am crazy for Chinese carrot cake") and her joy in seeing the Alexandra Park Connector completed when she returned last year.

She also expressed her admiration for the elder Mr Lee and wrote: "When I look at my beautiful country ruined by bad politicians... and bad political choices, I think we would need someone like you to adjust everything."

The other letter was from a Danish man, who studied at business school Insead in Singapore, to PM Lee.

Being in Singapore changed him as a person, he said.

The man wrote: "The proudness of the Singaporeans, the climate, the perfectly working infrastructure, the hospitality you meet as a student at Insead, the police officers who several times took their time to say hi to my boys on the streets, the kindness from everyday people all around, of course it is the sum of all this that makes Singapore what it is to me."

He added: "I just want to say thank you Singapore - for what you have given me and my family. And if I can do anything to give something back, I would be happy to do so. And it could be anything."

Rounding up his point on what Singapore has achieved, Mr Lee said: "We must build on this foundation and aim high, so that Singapore will remain a special place, and we can create an even better future for our children."

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