Wednesday 4 March 2015

Parliament Highlights - 3 Mar 2015


MPs back Budget, but warn about spending
Programmes to help middle class must be sustainable, they say
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

THE ''shift to the left'' in the Government's social policies dominated the first day of debate on this year's Budget, sparking some soul-searching yesterday among Members of Parliament over the consequences.

Most welcomed the largesse of new programmes such as the Silver Support Scheme to give the poorest elderly a basic pension.

The opposition Workers' Party (WP) said it supported the leftwards shift and suggested that it should have come sooner.

But several backbenchers worried that the Government is nearing a ''red line'' of social spending that could lead to the deficit ridden, debt-laden economic situation of developed countries in the West.

Almost half of the 25 MPs who spoke in Parliament yesterday expressed this concern to varying degrees, with Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong summing it up thus: ''I fear that if we lean too far to the left, we will have nothing left.''

Some spoke urgently about their discomfort with the direction of greater social spending not just on the lower-income, but also on the middle class.

''While I am happy for those (getting more support), I am ill at ease over the ability of future governments to sustain such programmes,'' said Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC), referring to schemes like generous childcare and domestic helper support.

Noting that spending is a ''one-way street'', Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) cautioned that the Government has few levers left to pull in plugging its deficit - contrary to popular belief that it has unlimited means.

Referring to the inclusion of Temasek Holdings' gains in the calculation of projected returns that it can use for spending, he said: ''After Temasek, there is no 'next'.''

As long as the mindset among Singaporeans is that the Government must have the solution to everything, the country's social contract will always be under pressure to be rewritten for the benefit of one or more groups, he said.

But MPs yesterday still largely welcomed the moulding of the social contract that this Budget, together with the few before it, had accomplished.

Rather than a ''Robin Hood'' move, this year's Budget is Singapore's ''New Deal'', said Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), referencing the massive expansion of social support in the United States after the Great Depression.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) argued that there is room to raise taxes on the rich further, beyond the 2 percentage point hike from 2017 announced in this year's Budget.

''To a very large extent, the way we raise national revenue and allocate expenses says something about our values as a nation,'' she said, adding that in its leftwards shift, ''perhaps the Government realises that it has been too calculating with the people, and is now making adjustments''.

Yesterday, amid the voices in the House urging caution over the expansion of state spending, several MPs also peppered their speeches with requests for more government support for a variety of groups, such as small businesses facing rising costs, or elderly folk ineligible for the Silver Support Scheme because they live in private property.

The debate continues today.

MPs query fiscal sustainability
Singapore’s healthy reserves ‘should not be taken for granted’
By Tan Weizhen, TODAY, 4 Mar 2015

About a week after the Republic unveiled a Budget that was hailed by various quarters for its generosity and far-sightedness, several Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday raised concerns about the Government’s fiscal sustainability, given that the projected spike in social spending coincides with a moderating economy.

An ageing population would also mean less revenue that could be derived from taxes, they added, stressing that the Republic’s healthy reserves should not be taken for granted.

In all, 25 MPs rose to speak during the first day of the Budget debate. Apart from concerns about fiscal sustainability, MPs generally welcomed Budget measures such as the SkillsFuture initiatives and the Silver Support Scheme, and offered suggestions on the implementation of the new programmes. They also highlighted the continuing struggle among businesses to raise productivity, but stressed the need to stay the course.

The introduction of more social safety nets and other measures to mitigate social inequality prompted Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim to observe a “leftwards” shift.

In particular, she said the Silver Support Scheme — which gives cash payouts to needy elderly — came as a surprise to most. “It embodies what the People’s Action Party government has always eschewed — having any form of rights-based, ‘defined benefits’ welfare scheme,” Ms Lim said. “Up to now, government assistance schemes were usually temporary and subject to continuous means-testing and conditions, with applicants needing to fill up forms and provide documentary proof of illness and family income.”

She added: “This Budget explicitly talks about strengthening social safety nets. This suggests a shift to the left, a direction which I believe is right ... A shift left does not necessarily undermine economic performance, but could well enhance it.”

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa said the Budget signalled a further shift to the left, but this was possible only because “over the past 50 years, we have built a stronger and more sustainable financial position through careful budgeting and sheer discipline”.

Still, Nominated MP (NMP) Chia Yong Yong urged prudence, quipping: “If we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced during the Budget statement last Monday that Temasek Holdings will be included in the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework — joining GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore — so part of its projected long-term returns can be spent. Personal income taxes for the top 5 per cent income earners will also be raised. With these moves, the MPs felt the Republic has seemingly exhausted ways to boost its coffers, without raising taxes for the masses.

West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har noted that this year’s budgeted expenditure was 19 per cent higher than that in the previous year.

“While it is assuring to know that these expenditures can be provided for from current reserves accumulated since 2011, it appears that we have come to rely more and more on past reserves to fund our spending, and have now resorted to including Temasek in the NIR framework to make ends meet,” she said. “How will we know when we have gone too far, when we have crossed the line in fiscal prudence — that tried-and-tested principle that has seen Singapore through many economic crises?”

Distributing a table showing figures from the Ministry of Finance, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair pointed out that if Singapore had not been drawing from its reserves via net investment income contributions, it would have run up “large deficits for a number of years”.

Noting that government expenditure will continue to rise, he warned: “We are running out of levers to pull. After Temasek, there is no next.”

He added: “Increasing taxes on the top 5 or even 10 per cent will get you only so far, and there will be considerable pressure on the Government not to raise taxes for everyone else ... There will no doubt be calls on the Government to raise the NIR contribution beyond 50 per cent, but that means leaving behind less for our children, so where do we go from there?”

Mr Liang suggested that the Government regularly review the country’s fiscal sustainability, with additional scrutiny and oversight on spending programmes that last longer than 10 years.

With the economy moderating, NMP Randolph Tan said, ultimately, the fiscal strength to fund more social programmes would have to come from strong economic growth. “Singapore has to be cautious and prepare for the possibility that — unlike resource-rich and larger economies —slower growth may not turn out to be the idyllic experience we imagine,” he said. “By simultaneously drawing on surpluses, proposing a deficit and announcing a surprise rise in taxes on the wealthiest, this Budget gives us a glimpse of the stark realities we face.”

The Budget debate continues today.

MPs concerned about rise in govt spending
They worry about sustainability and citizens' sense of entitlement
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

CONCERNS that the rising trend of government spending is unsustainable and may breed an attitude of entitlement among Singaporeans were aired frequently in yesterday's Budget debate.

While several MPs praised new measures to help the elderly poor and struggling workers, a third of the 25 MPs who spoke had reservations about how Singapore's spending needs have been growing in recent years.

They voiced misgivings about the effects this would have on future generations, governments and public expectations.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), for one, worried about people taking government aid for granted.

"Everyone agrees that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but we tend to forget this when we ask the Government to spend more because we all believe that our requests or interests deserve more attention and will benefit everyone," he said.

The MPs' budgeting fears come as the Government steps up moves to support the needy.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), for instance, raised concerns that spending on the new Silver Support Scheme - which will provide cash payouts to the elderly poor - may balloon as more Singaporeans turn 65.

As it is, the Government is already tapping more resources to fund its higher spending.

Pointing to how the Government has drawn more from the returns on its reserves since 2000 to fund regular spending, Mr Hri presented a chart in Parliament to debunk the "enduring narrative" that it was squirrelling money away and sitting on massive reserves.

He added that with the move in this year's Budget to include Temasek Holdings under the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework - which will allow the Government to spend up to 50 per cent of the expected long-term returns on Temasek's assets - there is now one fewer untapped source of revenue.

"Every additional dollar spent today simply means more than a dollar less for the future," he said.

"More importantly, what this tells us is that we are running out of levers to pull.

"After Temasek, there is no 'next'."

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) also warned that Singapore must not follow in the footsteps of Iceland, Greece and other developed economies that overspent and ran into trouble.

"A country's reserves once spent will mean dark days for its people."

Mr Liang had a similar take, warning that Singapore must never "cross the red line" of failing to balance the budget within each term of government.

Meanwhile, Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) wondered if the Government was being too aggressive by including Temasek in the NIR framework, making it more reliant on how the investment firm performs in a hyper-competitive world.

She asked: "Can we be certain that they will continue to perform well?

"Are we in danger of becoming overly dependent on uncertain and unassured sources of revenue?"

Ms Tin also worried about how the added contributions from Temasek would affect Singaporeans' work ethic and national spirit.

"I am concerned that Singaporeans will become over-reliant on this source of revenue, and lose the drive to save and invest, and leave something for future generations," she said.

Prudence was also the focus of Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong's speech.

She stressed that those who benefit from this year's Budget moves should not be cavalier about the help they receive.

They "have to ensure personal responsibility in acting with integrity in their claims for the money," she said.

"When we exercise our personal choice, there is a price to be paid... that price should not be paid by someone else," she concluded, as MPs thumped the armrests of their seats in approval.

Raising income tax for top earners a 'progressive move'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

SEVERAL MPs yesterday hailed the raising of income tax rates for those in the top brackets in this year's Budget as a progressive move, but two MPs said there was room for improvement.

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said there was room to make the personal income tax rate for top earners more progressive while still staying competitive.

Meanwhile, Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) questioned the effectiveness of the latest hike, saying the truly rich would find a way around it.

In his Budget statement last Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the top 5 per cent of income earners - those who earn at least $160,000 annually - will pay more personal income tax.

The increases will be larger for those earning the most, with the top marginal rate for those earning above $320,000 annually increased by two percentage points, from 20 per cent to 22 per cent.

The new rates will apply to income earned next year, for taxes to be paid in 2017, and are expected to raise government revenue by $400 million a year.

Ms Lim said while tax compe-titiveness should not be taken lightly, "the fact is that many foreigners choose to come here because our tax rates are far lower than the 40 to 50 per cent range they pay in their home countries". "I believe we still have room to increase progressivity of personal income tax to beyond 22 per cent for the top marginal rate."

Ms Tin said the higher rate could see rich individuals "incorporate themselves", or form companies to pay lower taxes.

"The truly rich are more than capable of structuring their finances so they can avoid paying the expected increase in taxes.

"Given that the top personal income tax rate is now 5 percentage points higher than the top corporate income tax rate of 17 per cent, surely there is enormous incentive for high-income earners to incorporate themselves," she said.

"Bosses who own their firms probably have more leeway to do this. Only high-earning employees who have limited flexibility to do tax planning will pay the increase in taxes.

"What is the government's assessment of this and what is it going to do to address it?"

Shift in Budget approach in right direction: WP
Move may be because Govt realises it had been too calculating: Sylvia Lim
By Tham Yuen-c, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

WORKERS' Party chairman Sylvia Lim welcomed the shift in approach in this year's Budget, but said it stemmed from the Government being too calculating in the past and now wanting to set things right.

In a speech that alternately praised and criticised the Government, Ms Lim said the strengthening of social safety nets signals a move from the traditional emphasis on self-reliance towards collective responsibility.

"This suggests a shift to the left, a direction which I believe is right... Perhaps the Government realises that it has been too calculating with the people and is now making adjustments," she added.

The first opposition MP to speak yesterday, Ms Lim said the rich-poor gap in Singapore is wide, and the country has also gained a reputation as a "playground for the rich".

But two key measures in this year's Budget - the SkillsFuture initiative for adults to upgrade their skills, and the Silver Support Scheme that will give cash payouts to low-income elderly people - would help reduce this income and wealth inequality, she said.

SkillsFuture could help to increase social mobility if it leads to higher wages, she added.

To this end, the programme should not just focus on "upskilling the workforce", but should also help those "who may not have had the best school results to try to catch up".

Silver Support, meanwhile, would provide a "pension" for up to 30 per cent of elderly Singaporeans, and "comes as a surprise", said Ms Lim. She pointed out that it was a departure from the Government's practice of avoiding welfare schemes for specific groups without taking into account their needs.

While she welcomed Silver Support, she said it was a worrying acknowledgement by the Government that the Central Provident Fund system and family support did not provide adequately in retirement for some.

She praised the Government's "refreshing" decision to raise money for these measures by including as well the contributions from state investment firm Temasek Holdings and hiking income taxes on the rich.

Laying out the Budget on Feb 23, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said the Government would be including Temasek's projected returns in the calculation of its Net Investment Returns, which currently include only those of the GIC and Monetary Authority of Singapore.

On this move, Ms Lim said: "Probably the Government has concluded that there is a better balance to be reached between locking up for the future and investing in the present."

She said it shows the Government has ways to fund its annual expenditure, but also shows that costs imposed on Singaporeans over the years, such as exam fees, "may have been unnecessary".

Citing various new schemes announced in this and previous Budgets, Ms Lim said the Government's budgeting philosophy had changed.

"This and recent Budgets call on the spirit of collective responsibility in several notable ways - providing Silver Support to seniors in need, implementing risk pooling for life's vicissitudes via MediShield Life and emphasising social responsibility of high- income earners to pay more progressive taxes."

Ms Lim also praised the Government's move to use more of the investment returns of Singapore's reserves.

"To a very large extent, the way we raise our national revenue and allocate expenses says something about our values as a nation... These are welcome directions as they carry the ingredients of building social solidarity and a united nation," she said.

Scheme to help elderly poor 'should leave no one behind'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

WHO should qualify for the new Silver Support Scheme, which gives lifetime cash payouts to the elderly poor, was a question that cropped up repeatedly in Parliament yesterday.

At least 10 MPs spoke about the scheme during the Budget debate, with most praising it as an important addition to Singapore's social support network even as they pressed for more details on the programme.

About 150,000 seniors are expected to benefit from the initiative, which was fleshed out in last month's Budget speech.

The scheme will support the poorest 30 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above, and will cost an estimated $350 million in the first full year of implementation.

Details of eligibility for the scheme, which will be rolled out next year, have yet to be announced.

So far, the Government has said only that several factors, such as lifetime wages, housing type and the level of family support, will be considered.

But MPs yesterday called for case-by-case appeals to be allowed so that no one will be left behind.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) said elderly folk who are asset-rich but cash-poor should also be considered for inclusion in the scheme. These include people who are not well-off but live in landed homes they inherited.

"Expecting or asking them to sell their homes to generate cash is (an) extremely sensitive (issue)," she noted.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam from the Workers' Party highlighted the plight of needy seniors whose children are financially unable to provide support, or who are estranged from their children.

MPs such as Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) also urged the Government to help people understand how the eligibility criteria are established.

Mr Nair said he had reservations over whether these criteria are easy to understand and apply. He added: "I am concerned that it will cause deep resentment in those who miss out."

Those who qualify for the Silver Support Scheme will be automatically enrolled into the scheme, and receive quarterly payouts of between $300 and $750. This would amount to between $100 and $250 each month.

Mr Giam suggested that the money be paid monthly instead of quarterly to allow seniors to better manage their cash flow. He also asked if the sum will increase over time to account for inflation.

In addition, he was concerned that the payouts are "much lower" than the current spending trends of the elderly poor.

Each member of the bottom 20 per cent of retiree households - defined as those comprising solely non-working persons aged 60 and above - now spends $317 a month, Mr Giam noted, citing figures from the Household Expenditure Survey 2012/2013.

Meanwhile, Ms Tin wanted reassurance that retirees who receive payouts under the Silver Support Scheme will not suffer any "reduction or withdrawal of the aid given" in other government programmes.

Amid the calls to widen the coverage and increase the flexibility of the Silver Support Scheme, Nominated MP Randolph Tan was the lone voice in proposing that the scheme's coverage be kept narrow for better impact.

"Giving, say, a few hundred dollars to everyone of a certain demographic group would spread the amounts out too thin," said the SIM University economist. "It is better to give to those who need them in a structured manner."

He added that it was important to develop clear rules about withdrawing support for initial Silver Support recipients who no longer need the aid.

This is to benefit others who need the help, Dr Tan said.

Some MPs also worried about the financial burden that the permanent Silver Support Scheme will place on government spending in the future, given the ageing population. Singapore is expected to be a "super-aged" nation by 2030, when one in five people will be 65 or older.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) cautioned: "Given the stark demographic reality of an ageing population, a shrinking tax base and a more sedate pace of economic growth, this would represent an increasing burden for Singapore."

Sweeper hopes family's financial burden will be eased
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

MR KAMIS Ahmad is already 73 but to make ends meet, he toils for nine hours a day, six days a week, as a sweeper at a condominium.

He lives with his 53-year-old homemaker wife Rapeah Idris and their 26-year-old son in a three-room flat in Bishan.

They have two other children, who moved out after they got married.

Mr Kamis and his wife get by on his monthly salary of about $1,100, on top of the $500 a month which their three children give them. Their eldest child works as a deliveryman, while the other two work as managers at McDonald's fast-food chain.

Mr Kamis was delighted when he heard about the Silver Support Scheme.

If he qualifies for the programme, which will give quarterly cash payouts to the poorest 20 per cent to 30 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and older, this will greatly ease his family's financial burden.

Mr Kamis wheezed several times when speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, and Madam Rapeah said he was not feeling well.

He has to visit the doctor monthly, and is on medication for conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The family qualifies for subsidised rates under the Community Health Assist Scheme, but medical bills still amount to about $50 a month, Madam Rapeah said.

On top of that, she spends about $150 on tonics or health supplements each month.

The family also spends $150 a month on groceries.

To keep to their budget, Madam Rapeah has to be careful when shopping for groceries.

She sometimes has to buy a smaller sack of rice, which costs less, even though it would be more economical to buy a larger one, she said.

When she was asked what she would do with the extra money if the family receives benefits from the Silver Support Scheme, Madam Rapeah's thoughts turned to daily meals.

"Maybe I can buy bigger fish to cook for my family in future," she said.

NMP opposes greater flexibility in withdrawal of CPF savings
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

SINGAPOREANS have a "moral obligation" to spend their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings wisely, so they do not end up being a burden to others in their twilight years, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong said yesterday.

Questioning the popular idea that Singaporeans should be entitled to decide how they want to spend their retirement money, Ms Chia went against the grain in taking a firm stand against calls for greater flexibility in the withdrawal of CPF savings.

In a spirited speech during the Budget debate in Parliament, she reminded the House that CPF members were not the only ones contributing to their own accounts - contrary to those who argue that "it is our money, it is in our account, it is our retirement money, I want it out, I will spend it any way I want".

Instead, Ms Chia noted, "our CPF savings are enhanced, enforced CPF savings which are accumulated through our own deferred consumption, through co-payment by our employers and through top-ups from public funds".

"Because I am not the only person contributing to that fund, I cannot be the only person to call the shots as to how I am going to spend it. At the very least, I have a moral obligation to spend it wisely."

Those who squander their money will eventually have to depend on someone else to support them, Ms Chia warned.

"Ultimately, it means someone else is bearing (this cost), right? Another taxpayer."

There has been a rising tide of calls for more flexibility to access CPF savings, including the Workers' Party suggestion during yesterday's Budget debate that CPF monthly payouts begin earlier, at age 60.

But Ms Chia voiced a "great unease" at this recommendation.

"I have unease because I think we are placing a very great fiscal obligation upon our future generations living off what our forefathers have built for us."

In the same vein, she said that while this year's Budget in general was "arguably very generous" and has been praised for "leaning to the left" by spending more funds to strengthen social safety nets, there should be some limits.

"I would argue that if we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left," Ms Chia quipped to applause from some in the House.

Separately, Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) warned of "the risk of a mindset of dependency and expectation for continued increased spending", if the benefits for Singaporeans in this year's Budget were taken for granted.

While she believed that the Government's higher spending on social support measures to mitigate the effects of growing income disparity and cost of living would help bring about a more cohesive society, she said Singapore "must stay vigilant to managing the delicate balance" of fiscal prudence and judicious spending.

Ms Tan said the culture here of a strong work ethic and personal effort and responsibility must be preserved.

"If we are to succeed in building a stronger Singapore, we must preserve this Singapore ethic," she said.

Educate public better about CPF
Help members understand how fund works and debunk myths, say MPs
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

MEMBERS of Parliament yesterday called for better public education on the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme and how members' savings can help them meet their retirement needs.

The call was made by both People's Action Party and Workers' Party MPs who spoke on the first day of the Budget debate. They noted that many residents held misconceptions about the national social security system, which aims to ensure workers can look after themselves in old age.

Suggestions ranged from inviting CPF members to one-on-one sessions with CPF Board officers as they approach the age of 55 and have to decide how they want to draw on their savings, to providing better explanations about the scheme for workers and new entrants to the workforce.

These views come as a CPF Advisory Panel last month recommended letting people withdraw up to 20 per cent of their retirement savings at the age of 65, and offer an option for those who want to go beyond the Basic and Full Retirement Sums to pick an Enhanced Retirement Sum.

The Budget will also see older workers aged 50 to 65 gaining from enhanced CPF contribution rates and extra CPF interest for all CPF members aged 55 and above, among other changes.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said recent enhancements to the scheme should ease anxiety about retirement adequacy, but asked: "Will the man in the street comprehend the scheme well enough to fully leverage its benefits?"

"From dialogues and feedback, I am afraid there is still much to be done to debunk persistent myths about CPF," she said, calling on the Government to launch a comprehensive education campaign to help Singaporeans "reset" their understanding of how CPF works.

These myths include a belief that CPF returns are poor and members can get better returns from investments elsewhere, and that it is better to minimise the amount kept in CPF so members can gain easy access to their retirement savings.

She said the Government should explore more incentives for people to keep funds in CPF and allow them the flexibility to withdraw part of their savings as and when they need to, after they reach the age of 65.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) cited a Facebook post by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob on Monday, where she recounted a meeting with two workers who had not heard of the enhancements to the CPF interest rates announced in the Budget speech last week.

"We need to do a lot more work in communicating the changes as it is still not well understood on the ground," Madam Halimah wrote.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam of the Workers' Party suggested that every CPF member be invited to meet a CPF Board officer in person a few months before turning 55, to get an explanation on his savings, and how they can be managed.

He also said the age at which CPF members can start receiving monthly annuity payouts - 64 this year and 65 from 2018 onwards - should be lowered to 60, as some members may have a genuine need to start receiving payouts from an earlier age.

"They may have been retrenched and, because of a skills mismatch or age discrimination, may not be able to secure another job. Or they may be labourers who are simply too old to do manual work," he said.

Different takes on productivity debate
MPs point out high employment rates, magnitude of restructuring task
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE'S restructuring efforts may be lagging in tangible productivity gains so far, but employment and labour force participation rates have reached record levels, and this is to be celebrated, said Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

She was among at least eight Members of Parliament who gave a different take on the issue and offered a slew of suggestions on ways to lift productivity as the Budget debate yesterday tackled one of the country's most pressing economic problems.

The Government has set a target of an annual 2 per cent to 3 per cent productivity growth over a 10-year period to 2019.

But last year, productivity actually contracted 0.8 per cent, following a 0.3 per cent rise in 2013.

Most advanced economies have raised productivity by reducing overall employment, said Ms Foo.

In contrast, Singapore has created more jobs and opportunities for its citizens, largely by increasing the participation of older workers and women in domestically oriented sectors that have been laggards in productivity growth.

This might have hit productivity levels, but creating employment opportunities for Singaporeans who would otherwise remain economically inactive "is in itself a noble social objective worth pursuing", she added.

"Perhaps we should include growth targets in employment rates and labour participation rates as stated outcomes of our restructuring efforts, as these clearly have a positive impact on household incomes and standards of living," she said.

Nominated MP and labour economist Randolph Tan also offered an alternative perspective on the productivity debate. Some economists say Singapore's productivity targets are too ambitious, but Dr Tan believes the goals "are not unreasonable".

While there has been a tendency to blame manpower policies directly for the lack of progress in productivity, "this is unfair, and we should instead consider the magnitude of the restructuring task Singapore has embarked upon".

He noted that last year was likely to be the first non-recession year in a decade that the pool of foreign labour grew slower than that of local manpower. This is a "huge" change, and more time will be needed for the economy to adapt.

Dr Tan called for patience, and said the timeframe for meeting the labour productivity target should extend beyond the current decade.

While the focus has been on helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) raise productivity, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said large companies also deserve attention.

There will come a point when the marginal productivity gains that SMEs can "squeeze out" will be less than the marginal effort put in, said Mr Liang, who added that many SMEs are "down to bare bones" in trying to boost productivity.

"Larger companies are better positioned to bear the costs of trial and error as they find the right innovative change to make. Once the large companies move, the whole industry moves, because competition will compel them to do so," he said.

Mr Liang, who is the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance as well as Trade and Industry, also said more publicly available data can help businesses work smarter, in line with the Government's Smart Nation initiative.

Nominated MP Thomas Chua, who is the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called on the Government to appoint a single authority to help local enterprises, particularly SMEs.

This would "improve effectiveness (and execution)" of the Government's policies, he said.

Labour MPs said unions and companies can work together to create better jobs and workplaces.

Mr Heng Chee How (Whampoa), NTUC's deputy secretary- general, said more needs to be done in job and process redesign.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) added that instead of complex fixes, it is more important for SMEs to eliminate redundancies and bottlenecks through the innovative use of technology.

Save wage support for a rainy day: NMP
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

EMPLOYERS should not receive so many wage subsidies from the Government when the job market is healthy, Nominated MP Randolph Tan said during the Budget debate in Parliament yesterday.

Dr Tan, an economist at SIM University, warned against extending wage support programmes, in which the Government helps companies subsidise part of the salaries of local workers.

This is because the "overuse" of employment credits now, when unemployment is low, is done at the risk of limiting the Government's policy options in times of real labour market weakness, he said.

He cited three such programmes: the Wage Credit Scheme (WCS), the Temporary Employment Credit (TEC) and the Special Employment Credit (SEC). Saying that they "distort the labour market", he added that they "provoke serious concerns" and "deserve reconsideration".

The programmes are meant to help employers adjust to the pain of ongoing economic restructuring. Under the WCS, the Government co-funds wage increases for Singaporean workers, while the TEC and SEC give companies payments to offset higher Central Provident Fund contributions and wage costs for older workers.

This year's Budget extended the WCS and TEC, while enhancing the SEC. But Dr Tan noted that the Government expects to spend $9.1 billion on the WCS, which was first announced in 2013. This is more than double the $4.3 billion spent on the Jobs Credit Scheme following the global financial crisis in 2009 and 2010. That scheme, which gave businesses cash to retain workers, helped pull the economy out of recession.

As "the danger of a downturn is not negligible", Dr Tan urged the Government to "conserve" its policy options for a rainy day. He also said overreliance on temporary wage support schemes may lull firms into putting off moves to raise productivity. While these schemes raise local workers' wages, "they also actually end up delaying the adjustments that businesses should make in order to complete restructuring", he said.

MPs call for more guidance and flexibility on SkillsFuture
They also highlight need to ensure quality of courses and trainers
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

SINGAPOREANS should be given more guidance in choosing what courses to enrol for under the SkillsFuture programme outlined in this year's Budget, MPs told Parliament yesterday.

Under the SkillsFuture drive to help citizens master new areas of expertise and keep Singapore competitive, citizens aged 25 and above will get $500 in SkillsFuture Credit from next year to offset the cost of upgrading themselves.

Suggestions for the scheme, a key feature in this year's Budget, were aplenty on the first day of the Budget debate, with 14 out of the 25 MPs who spoke addressing the new scheme.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested that Singaporeans could be guided to spend their credits with "a longer-term view of their careers, rather than choose impulsively based on short-term interests".

Nominated MP Rita Soh said that the courses should have flexible schedules so that more workers could attend them.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) called for the SkillsFuture Credits to cover more courses such as master's programmes at local institutions.

She said: "Why not broaden the selection of courses to let Singaporeans decide for themselves (what to take)?"

But Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) was concerned that doing so might "lead to the mushrooming of different courses of widely varying merit".

If so, workers may not get the training they need, he added.

MPs who spoke said the process of accrediting courses also had to be robust.

Dr Chia, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and NMP Chia Yong Yong asked how the Government will ensure the quality of the courses and trainers.

Doing so will ensure that the money pumped into the SkillsFuture programme is put to good use, said Ms Chia, who called for key performance indicators to track and measureits success.

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) said that in the long run, "the sum total (of SkillsFuture) must be good for Singapore's workforce".

MPs also said that for the SkillsFuture effort to truly take off, a change in the mindset of both employers and workers is critical.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said workers need to be motivated and take ownership of their skills upgrading.

"While the Government is providing the catalyst to drive the culture change through SkillsFuture, its success will lie in how individuals, businesses and industry play their part," she said.

Employers should do their part to train their workers, said Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Foo, who added that companies should not reduce their training budgets, but should instead step up their in-house training and give study leave to employees attending courses.

Mr Heng Chee How (Whampoa) said older workers should not be left out of this training drive.

He said companies still operate as if workers will retire at 55 or 60, and reason that there is no point investing in the training of older workers.

But Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and a National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general, said such an assumption is flawed as older workers are much less likely to switch to other companies, compared to their younger counterparts.

There is also a need to reach out to low-wage workers to let them know how they can benefit from SkillsFuture, said Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) reminded the House that rapid technological advancement hollows out middle-skilled jobs.

"There are no other alternatives to meeting this onslaught other than constantly upgrading and sharpening our skills to remain relevant and versatile," he said. "SkillsFuture may well be the secret weapon that we need in the new landscape."


Unfortunately, many outsourced workers and those in non-unionised companies may not be benefiting from the National Wage Council's quantum recommendations for low-wage workers. The days of moral suasion are over.

I would like to call for the Government to exert greater pressure for companies to adopt the NWC recommendations for low-wage workers by using existing levers relating to grants and foreign workers to ensure compliance.

While companies must do what they can to remain competitive, it should not be at the cost of the livelihood for our Singaporean labour force.

- Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), urging the Government to ensure that firms do not short-change low-wage workers

'Provide e-courses so mums can study from home'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

SINGAPOREANS who do not have employers to set aside funds for their training will not have to dig deep into their pockets to acquire fresh skills, thanks to the new SkillsFuture Credit account.

This account, which will see the Government giving each Singaporean aged 25 and older an initial sum of $500, can be used to pay for training courses and will help even long-neglected groups such as freelancers and the self-employed to improve their skills.

But MPs have called for more to be done for stay-at-home mothers and cabbies, particularly in lifting their retirement savings and whittling down long working hours. Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) was a leading voice in speaking up for homemakers yesterday.

She wants to see measures that will help them keep up with the demands of a changing job market.

Reiterating suggestions made by the Women's Wing of the People's Action Party last week, she said husbands should be allowed to transfer some of the unused money in their SkillsFuture Credit accounts to their wives, and children to their mothers.

Training courses could also offer e-learning classes so women can learn from home. "This will help homemakers have confidence to return to the workforce should they wish to do so in the future," said Ms Tan.

"It may seem trivial to some, but this is a very important point as I've seen many women... (who) can't stay connected and can't keep their skills updated. What happens is they lose the confidence to (return to work)."

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) suggested that the Government look at new ways to help stay-at-home mothers with their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Meanwhile, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who is executive adviser to the National Taxi Association, said that while the Budget brought good news to cabbies, in terms of skills upgrading, they still struggle with low CPF savings and long work hours.

A recent local study found that cabbies are plagued by fatigue, he said. These drivers, many of whom have health problems, spend more than 10 hours cooped up in their taxis each day.

One of his suggestions is to explore ways to reach out to new drivers, or tap the inactive pool of people who hold taxi driver licences, to help cabbies split the burden of long shifts.

Of the 28,000 taxis plying Singapore roads, only 66 per cent are shared by a hirer and a relief driver. "We should find more ways to make our taxis work harder, not the taxi drivers," he said.

Apps to help drive up cabbies' productivity
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

THREE decades into his job, hunting for passengers is no longer a chore for cabby Gerald Chan - because he now has some technological help.

Mr Chan, 65, spends 10 long hours on the road each day, but he has stopped wasting time coasting up and down the roads, hoping to happen upon waiting passengers.

Instead, he uses third-party booking applications, which means he can immediately pinpoint locations where taxi drivers are in demand.

"It used to really be about luck. Some days, you just drive round and round and there are just no passengers," said Mr Chan, president of the National Taxi Association (NTA).

"But now, if I have that problem, I can just use an app to find out where people are waiting for taxis. This helps (taxi drivers) raise our income."

During the Budget debate yesterday, MP Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke about how such apps could help raise the productivity of taxi drivers.

"This is one way in which we can make the taxi work harder, and it's a smarter approach as well," he said.

Mr Chan is also looking forward to his new SkillsFuture Credit account, which cabbies can dip into to pay for training, including safe driving courses.

And drivers can also learn new skills outside the scope of their job, he said.

"It's good for people to learn new skills to boost their confidence. Just because they're a taxi driver now doesn't mean they'll always be a driver. Maybe if they learn something new, they can also find out they're interested in something else also," he explained.

But he - like many other elderly cabbies - is hoping the Government will look beyond boosting skills and productivity. Their savings, too, need a boost, he said.

Taxi drivers can voluntarily contribute to their Medisave accounts through a "Drive and Save" scheme set up by the NTA, but Mr Chan hopes the Government will consider matching their contributions.

Most of his peers are 50 and older, and many have kidney and heart problems, aggravated by long hours on the road.

"Health is a serious worry for taxi drivers. Our health is affected by our work, but most of us don't have enough in our Medisave accounts," he said.

Look to Norway 'as collaborator, not competitor'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

THERE are parallels between Norway and Singapore, according to Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Sam Tan.

Both are small countries with very large neighbours and both have overcome the odds to be very successful in their respective regions.

Still, Singapore cannot rest on its laurels. It needs to maintain its strong and innovative edge and be aware of global developments, Mr Tan (Radin Mas) said yesterday.

So far, it has punched above its weight.

He noted that despite being much smaller than China, Singapore was its largest direct foreign investor in 2013. Singapore is also China's largest trading partner in Asean.

"For a country of 716 sq km in size and 5.4 million in population, I think our achievements are remarkable, and this is why Singapore is well regarded, respected by others internationally."

Mr Tan spoke at length about Norway, which he visited in January to attend an Arctic Frontiers conference.

Both countries have been working closely on issues related to the Arctic. With Arctic ice melting, ships sailing from Europe to Asia can bypass Singapore.

This is why Singapore takes an active interest in the Arctic. "It concerns our survival," he said. Singapore has permanent observer status in the Arctic Council.

Mr Tan said Norway and Singapore could become collaborators rather than competitors as both are "quite evenly matched and share similar strategic visions".

But if Singapore were not to remain strong and innovative, "the collaborator can turn into competitor or even predator", he added.

Should it happen, the Norwegians - whom he praised for being able to stomach pain from enduring temperatures that go as low as minus 50 deg C - might "move our cheese and eat our lunch".

Hence, instead of navel-gazing and resting on its laurels, it is crucial to remain aware of developments both internationally and regionally, he said.

"We must not allow ourselves to become oblivious of what we have and unaware of the dangers of losing them.

"We need to develop a new narrative when we speak about building our future," he said.

"We have to move beyond the triangulations of jobs, homes and growth and come back to the fundamentals, the very foundation that built Singapore 50 years ago," he said. These include the willingness to sacrifice for the next generation and the perseverance to meet challenges head on.

Earlier in the debate, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) drew attention to Singapore's first Budget speech after Independence, made by then Finance Minister Lim Kim San in December 1965.

What struck Mr Liang most was its international outlook. Besides discussing Singapore's ties with Malaysia, it focused on trade with Indonesia and other markets.

"We were a new country then, a very small one, in a very scary world. We were keenly aware of how important the world was to us," he said.

"We are in a much stronger position today, but we must continue to pay the same amount of attention to the world around us."

Doing so and learning from best practices elsewhere, among other things, would ensure Singapore is "well poised to make the most of the next 50 years."

What Sami people and Samsui women have in common
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

A YOUNG man's words to Mr Sam Tan, as the Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office) braved a dog sled ride in Norway and withstood excruciating pain from the biting cold, have had an enduring impact on him.

"Pain is good. If you feel the pain, it means you are alive. If there's no pain, you are dead," the handler, in his 20s, told Mr Tan after the ride in Karasjok near the North Pole, where temperatures fall to -50 deg C.

"We live in pain every day and the pain makes us stronger the next day."

Said Mr Tan (Radin Mas) of the man, one of Norway's indigenous Sami people: "I was mentally prepared to meet an old, mean, tough and a seasoned guy. All these young (people) are as tough as their forefathers who succeeded in an unforgiving environment."

Mr Tan recounted the experience - which took place when he visited the Sami Parliament in January this year - to underline how determination and resilience are important traits for the younger generation.

This was the case for the pioneer generation, who overcame pain to build Singapore, sacrificed for the next generation and persevered to meet challenges, he said.

He recalled a meet-the-people session last year when he met a middle-aged man whose mother, in her 80s, was a Samsui woman.

She worked during construction of the 52-storey OCBC Centre in Chulia Street in the 1970s, carrying bucket-loads of cement and bricks. She came home tired every evening. But instead of resting, she cooked dinner for the family, washed dishes and did the laundry before going off to sleep.

"This son recalled very vividly that he used to massage his mother's shoulders to reduce her pain before she went into sleep," he said. This was the routine until she could not work any more.

"The mother once told the children that their education was built by the pain."

Paying tribute to the pioneers, Mr Tan said they were simple people, but focused on building a better future for their next generation, "and in that pursuit they also collectively built this nation".

He said the words of the young Norwegian "still ring in my ears: 'The pain makes us stronger the next day.' How similar this is to the pain endured by the Samsui woman."

He said Singaporeans of his generation, those aged above 50, witnessed the pioneer generation's struggles and heard directly from them about their experiences.

"But this connection is similarly lost in the third generation of Singaporeans, who have somehow lost direct touch with their grandparents' generation."

Noting that a special budget had been allocated to schools for meaningful projects, he hoped they would use it for oral history projects to record the recollections of the pioneer generation.

Added Mr Tan: "If we spend this money wisely and find an effective way of connecting the younger generation to the pioneer generation, then (their) legacy will be preserved. And the successive generation of Singaporeans will benefit from this legacy."

Keep Budget inclusive but financially sound
Need to safeguard reserves, look after low-wage workers and homemakers
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

IT'S easy to praise a Budget as generous and forward-looking as this year's.

So it wasn't surprising that the 25 MPs who spoke on Budget 2015 in Parliament yesterday had many good things to say about it.

Its business measures help pave the way for future growth.

SkillsFuture will kick-start lifelong learning; the Silver Support Scheme adds a vital plank of old age support to care for the most vulnerable elderly.

It's inclusive, with many measures for the low- to middle-income earners.

It's progressive, with higher taxes for the top 5 per cent. It taps additional revenue sources, adding Temasek Holdings' returns to the cocktail allowed for use in each year's Budget under the Net Investment Returns Contribution framework.

But pick through MPs' six hours of speeches yesterday, and a few concerns emerge.

First, fiscal sustainability.

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) noted that since 2009, the Government has run deficit Bud-gets in four out of the last seven years.

"Should this be of concern? Several academics and professionals in finance seem to think so. Many of them argued that without the provisions from contributions from our Net Investment Returns, our Budget would be out of whack and is in reality in deficit," he said.

"For example, FY2014 sans the transfer from NIR contributions, the deficit should be $8.4 billion, and even with the transfer, we still have a deficit of about $0.13 billion. This is a sobering thought."

Social spending is expected to go up as the population ages and fewer working adults support more retirees.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said: "Every additional dollar spent today simply means more than a dollar less for the future. More importantly, we are running out of levers to pull."

One lever that Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) suggested: The top income tax rate can go up, beyond the current 22 per cent.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested that a fiscal sustainability review be added as a term of reference for Parliament's Estimates Committee, especially for spending programmes expected to last 10 years or more.

Indeed, this is not a local concern. Australia, New Zealand and Britain have all introduced fiscal sustainability review as part of a fiscal responsibility regime. There's momentum worldwide to set fiscal rules to bind govern-ments' hands from over-dipping into public funds or borrowing too much for spending.

The fiscal conservative in me listened to the calls for prudence with relief. If every deficit draws a chorus of jeremiads, the reserves are safe - for now.

Second, MPs are concerned about the plight of people who remain marginalised and in a poor position to benefit from the growth and income distribution measures in Budget 2015.

One group singled out by Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) is low-wage workers working for cleaning, security and landscaping companies.

Many government agencies and statutory boards enter into unequal "master-servant" service contracts with these companies, he said.

He added: "'Master-servant' contracts are often one-sided, demanding services at ridiculously low prices, punitive, and often it is the outsourced low-wage workers that bear the brunt because their companies could not provide better welfare and employment benefits to save costs."

Mr Zainal urged service buyers to give weightage to companies that treat workers fairly, such as those that offer decent increments and benefits. He also wanted the Government to pressure employers of low-wage workers to offer medical benefits and an-nual wage supplements and follow National Wage Council pay rise recommendations.

If moral suasion fails, use the law, he urged.

Another group left out of what is arguably Singapore's most inclusive Budget to date is homemakers. People who stay home to care for children or sick family members do not benefit from Central Provident Fund top-ups or CPF interest rate hikes or tax rebates.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) suggested that husbands and working children be allowed to transfer SkillsFuture credits to their homemaker wives/mothers.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) went further: "There can be a formal programme for spouses to transfer (CPF) funds into their non-working wives' account.

"This will be beneficial for the women, as they can have an independent account and be subjected to all the benefits that come with having a proper CPF account, like others who are working.

"If these women do have working, grown-up children, they too can be the ones making the transfer to their stay-home mum's accounts. This will give the stay-home mums some level of recognition and empowerment."

Alas for Dr Fatimah, the Government is unlikely to heed her sound advice. Over the last decade, Singapore has strengthened social safety nets for the low-wage, the very old, the unhealthy, and the elderly poor. It can now move on to other marginalised groups. Low-wage workers will remain high on the agenda.

The disabled will likely get their day in the sun.

Homemakers and their retirement adequacy, however, are likely to remain on the backburner and their old-age peace of mind at the mercy of their husbands and children for years to come.

Dr Fatimah suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that a couple have a prenuptial agreement or incorporate something into the wedding vow, on CPF funds.

Now that sounds like sensible advice from a friend to another.

But alas, it's likely not something the Finance Minister can concern himself with.

Direct caregiver allowance may monetise family support and filial piety: Gan Kim Yong
Channel NewAsia, 3 Mar 2015

Caregivers in Singapore play an important role but introducing a direct caregiver allowance may monetise family support and filial piety, said the Minister for Heath Mr Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 3).

In a written response to MP Christopher de Souza’s Parliamentary question about whether the Ministry will consider the provision of allowance to caregivers taking care of an elderly, a family member with special needs or disabilities, Mr Gan said family support and filial piety are “priceless” and should not be monetised.

However, Mr Gan noted that several financial schemes that are available for caregivers, saying that they "play an important role and we should indeed support them in their caregiving roles".

For example, families with children below 12, family members above 65 or with disabilities currently benefit from a lower Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Levy, he said.

“In his Budget 2015 announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman announced a further reduction of the concessionary levy to S$60 and extension of the lower levy to families with children between 12 and 16,” he added.

“This is on top of the enhancement of existing tax reliefs such as parent and handicapped relief for parent, spouse, sibling and child, announced last year, to provide greater support for working caregivers.”

Mr Gan also gave examples of other channels of financial assistance, such as the Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Grant, ElderShield, and the Pioneer Generation - Disability Assistance Scheme that was introduced in Sep 2014.

Besides financial support, there are eldercare and disability services caregivers such as home and community care options and respite care that can help caregivers their responsibilities.

“For instance, they can receive an annual Caregiver Training Grant to equip themselves with the necessary skills in caring for the physical and emotional needs of their care recipients,” Mr Gan said.

He added that MOH has also made respite services more accessible, with weekend respite services introduced at nine centres across Singapore. For the disabled, the Ministry of Social and Family Development is also “expanding the Day Activity Centres and piloting home-based care services”.

Mr Gan said the Health Ministry will continue to study new ways to beef up support for caregivers.

No age limit for daily-rated workers hired by NEA: Vivian Balakrishnan
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Mar 2015

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 3) the National Environment Agency (NEA) does not have an age limit when it comes to re-employing its daily-rated workers.

Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA will continue to re-employ daily-rated workers beyond 62 years old, if they are medically fit to continue working and have shown consistent satisfactory work performance and good conduct.

Currently, NEA employs 622 daily-rated workers, with the majority of them working as street cleaners and vector control staff. Almost half of them are 62 years old and above.

Dr Balakrishnan was replying to a question from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari, who wanted to know if there is scope to retain the daily-rated worker scheme in NEA to offer local low-wage workers more stable and secure jobs.

The minister said the Daily-Rated Employment scheme was discontinued in 2001, and new recruits are placed on contract or permanent service. 

250,000 public transport vouchers given to needy families
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Mar 2015

A total of 250,000 public transport vouchers worth S$30 each were given to needy families last year and this year. In 2011, 200,000 of such vouchers worth S$20 each were made available.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said this in a written Parliamentary reply to Holland-Bukit Timah MP Christopher De Souza, who had asked what measures have been taken since 2011 to help alleviate the impact of bus fare increases in recent years. 

Mr Lui said the Public Transport Council ensures that fares remain affordable for commuters, when considering public transport fare adjustments. 

He noted that those who are financially vulnerable are aided by public transport concessions, while frequent commuters can use monthly passes to cap their expenses.

Several concession schemes, including those for students, senior citizens and full-time National Servicemen, have also been improved over the years.

"This year, fares will remain unchanged for more than 1.1 million commuters. These include senior citizens, persons with disabilities, lower-wage workers and commuters travelling on monthly travel passes," said Mr Lui.

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