Sunday, 3 February 2019

Merdeka Generation Package to include those who missed out on Pioneer package, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Those born in 1949 or earlier, and got citizenship by 1996, eligible for scheme that covers healthcare subsidies
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Sunday Times, 3 Feb 2019

The beneficiaries of the Merdeka Generation Package will extend beyond the 500,000 Singaporeans born in the 1950s, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Besides these men and women whose resourcefulness, determination and sense of duty played a key role in shaping Singapore, some of those who did not qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package will also receive help for their healthcare needs, he said.

The Pioneer Generation Package, given out in 2014, was for Singaporeans born in 1949 or earlier and received their citizenship by 1986.

The latest move extends benefits to those who obtained citizenship up to a decade later. There are no available figures for how large this group is. They will join the Merdeka Generation - Singaporeans aged between 60 and 69 this year - who are eligible for the latest multibillion-dollar scheme.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will announce details of the Merdeka Generation Package in Parliament later this month, PM Lee said at a tribute event for about 200 members of the Merdeka Generation at Gardens by the Bay's Flower Field Hall.

The package was first announced during PM Lee's National Day Rally speech last year, where he coined the term "Merdeka Generation" to refer to about 500,000 Singaporeans born in the 1950s.

The generation "lived through the battles and upheavals of the Merdeka struggle", accepting hardships and making sacrifices to help shape post-independence Singapore, he said then.

The men of the Merdeka generation were among the earliest batches to do national service, while many women had to cut short their education to support their families and siblings in the early years of independence.

Like the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, the Merdeka Generation Package will cover subsidies for outpatient care, Medisave top-ups, MediShield Life premium subsidies and payouts for long-term care, but the benefits will be less.

This is because the later generation had more advantages in life in terms of education, lifetime earnings and Central Provident Fund savings, PM Lee had said last year.

He said yesterday, however, that the latest package would still be "substantial". Thanking them for their contributions, he said: "Our grandchildren enjoy educational opportunities beyond anything that our generation imagined.

"Our economy is more vibrant, our companies more prosperous, our jobs more fulfilling and rewarding, our social fabric is stronger... the Merdeka Generation played a big part in making all this happen."

He said members of the Merdeka Generation are now passing on the baton as Singapore faces new challenges, including keeping the economy competitive, preparing for an ageing population and maintaining social mobility.

More challenges will come, and Singaporeans cannot afford to take them lightly as success is never certain, warned PM Lee, who turns 67 on Feb 10 and is himself part of the Merdeka Generation.

"But neither have we any cause to be daunted, for as the Merdeka Generation has shown time and again, Singapore can and will come through, provided we pull together and tackle the challenges as one."

Passing down their life experience and survival values to future generations will do another great service to Singapore, he said.

"If future generations share your resourcefulness, determination and sense of duty - the Merdeka spirit - Singapore will continue to do well."

Merdeka Generation grew up together with the nation: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Those born in the 1950s helped the country weather crisis after crisis
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Sunday Times, 3 Feb 2019

The Merdeka Generation's story is closely intertwined with the Singapore story, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Those in his generation grew up when Singapore became independent and lived through tumultuous times, he said at an event that paid tribute to those who helped build the nation.

PM Lee is among about half a million Singaporeans born in the 1950s, termed the Merdeka Generation.

"We were barely in our teens, but we could sense that the times were different, and we were about to experience a major change," he said at Gardens by the Bay's Flower Field Hall.

During those critical years, the People's Action Party won the General Election in 1959 and formed the Government for the first time.

Then in 1963 came the merger with Malaysia, followed by separation and "unexpected independence", said PM Lee, who spoke in Mandarin, Malay and English.

"We witnessed the violence on the streets during the communal riots, and were afraid for our lives and also of one another," he added.

"When Singapore declared its independence, while some were so excited that they set off firecrackers to mark the occasion, there were others who were sceptical if this tiny country could survive."

That experience shaped their generation's outlook and propelled them to make sacrifices for the country.

They have since built good careers, provided for their families and lived full lives, and can look back with some satisfaction on what they have achieved together, said PM Lee.

Singapore has transformed over the years, with the Marina Bay sitting on reclaimed land that was once the open sea.

Modern Housing Board flats are a far cry from the "chap lau chu" (10-storey) flats in the first housing estates and kampung houses without running water, he noted.

In retrospect, success in overcoming crises and problems may have seemed foreordained, but "in reality, this was not a superhero movie", PM Lee added.

With each crisis, the Merdeka Generation had to prove that it had the tenacity and unity to pull together and rise to the challenge.

Its members faced vulnerable moments, from the early years of independence, when Malay Singaporeans became a minority overnight and relatives found themselves divided by a political border, to the shock withdrawal of British troops barely two years later.

"We risked being left exposed and vulnerable in a volatile and unstable region, but we gritted our teeth and served national service, built up the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) quickly and kept Singapore safe," PM Lee said.

Other storms that were weathered included the discovery of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist group's plans for suicide attacks in Singapore, which threatened security and racial harmony, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, when fear and anxiety gripped the nation.

There were also major economic challenges, from the 1973 oil crisis to Singapore's first major recession in 1985, which led to deep and painful cuts in employer Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions. A decade later came the Asian financial crisis, when neighbouring economies began to topple and more CPF cuts were needed, followed by the 2008 global financial crisis.

These were defining moments for the Merdeka Generation, which faced the problems resolutely, worked with the Government and, when necessary, "accepted the bitter medicine that made us strong again", said PM Lee.

The event yesterday featured performances by local musicians and fellow Merdeka Generation members Dick Lee, Jacintha Abisheganaden, Mel Ferdinands and Rahimah Rahim.

They sang for the first time the Merdeka Sayang song, a riff on Dick Lee's 1989 remix of the Malay folk song Rasa Sayang.

The veteran singer-songwriter, who penned the lyrics, said that as a teenager, "the most frustrating thing for me was having a voice as a musician, wanting to be heard and understood, and trying to make Singapore music when the Singapore identity was not yet formed".

The song also emphasises that members of his generation are still active, with dreams to pursue, he added.

"We're getting tired of being regarded as oldies... we had energy then to build, and we have energy now to carry on."

Merdeka Generation Tribute Event: Honoured for 'can-do' spirit that helped in nation building
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Sunday Times, 3 Feb 2019

After completing secondary school and receiving his O-level certificate, Mr Mohamed Salleh Ali did not seek higher education.

Instead, he took on a job at the fire brigade at the age of 17 to help support his parents and five siblings, who lived in a kampung in Radin Mas.

His mother, a housewife who did some needlework to supplement the family income, did not initially approve of such a risky line of work.

"When I got the first pay packet, I gave it to her," Mr Salleh, 61, told The Sunday Times.

The $239 was "something I earned for my family," he added.

In his 44 years with what is now known as the Singapore Civil Defence Force, he has served as a first responder during the construction of the first MRT train tunnels and rescued survivors of the 1986 Hotel New World collapse by digging with his bare hands.

The Regimental Sergeant Major at the Civil Defence Academy was among 200 members of the Merdeka Generation - Singaporeans born in the 1950s - who were honoured for their contributions to nation building yesterday.

The racial riots that erupted around the time of Singapore's independence in the 1960s were an "eye opener", said Mr Salleh.

Speaking about founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, he began to tear.

"I salute him... even though I'm Malay and he's Chinese, he came to the consensus that we are Singaporeans. That's why we have one united Singapore."

Mr Nijinder Sharma, who was among the earliest fighter pilots in the Singapore Air Defence Command when he joined in 1969, said there was an urgent need at the time to put together a strong defence force for the new nation.

"There was no one to hold our hands - we had to develop our own procedures, learn from our own mistakes, and even draft our own doctrines," said Mr Sharma, 68, who now runs a firm that provides support services for private flights.

"When we started it was a very different era... I'm very proud to say that the generation at that time had a 'can-do' attitude," he added.

Housewife Goh Fang Lui, 64, recalled that her primary school was a basic attap house in a kampung with few amenities.

In contrast, students nowadays study in schools that are very well equipped, she noted.

"So for future generations, I hope we can encourage them to have the spirit of being able to overcome difficulties and withstand hardship," she said.

Mr Eric Wong, 63, said life in the early days was "very basic - we would think only about what we needed on a day-to-day basis."

But he fared better than the generation before him due to its sacrifices, "and my children better than me".

"Hopefully this goes on and Singapore becomes more successful in future," said Mr Wong, a mediator.

The biggest lesson he hopes to pass on to the next generation?

"The most important thing is to be resilient, no matter what happens - have a positive outlook for the future."

Watch four short films that pay tribute to Merdeka Generation
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2019

Four short films on growing up in the 1970s are being released today as a tribute to citizens from the Merdeka Generation who helped to shape post-independence Singapore.

They will be shown in cinemas before movies, on the YouTube channel and on free-to-air television.

In one, a schoolgirl with a promising future is forced to leave school early so that she can help supplement her family's income. In another, a young man listens to his grandfather recount his experience of being one of the first to perform national service.

Each three-minute film was directed by a local filmmaker, and touches on themes like resilience, sacrifice and the kampung spirit.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first used the term "Merdeka Generation" during his National Day Rally speech last year to refer to some 500,000 Singaporeans born in the 1950s.

He was announcing a new multi-billion-dollar package - dubbed the Merdeka Generation Package - to help this group with their healthcare needs.

All four short films - known collectively as The Merdeka Stories - were written by playwright Jean Tay, who has written more than 20 plays and musicals, and was also the scriptwriter for two National Day parades. They were directed by Mr Don Aravind, Mr Martin Hong, Ms Priscilla Ang Geck Geck and Ms Wee Li Lin.

The films are being launched by media group mm2 Entertainment in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information.

During a media preview yesterday, Ms Tay said that one of the challenges in writing the films was having to tell a complete story within a three-minute timeframe.

"Even within that short space of time, you can see that the characters have gone on a journey," she said. "It's part of the craft of it."

Mr Aravind, who worked on long-running Mediacorp drama Tanglin, said key elements in his short film were inspired by the experiences of his parents, both of whom are from the Merdeka Generation.

"I referred back to a lot of the stories my parents used to tell me, about how my father used to woo my mother," Mr Aravind said. His film focuses on a young Indian man who must try to win the approval of his Chinese girlfriend's father.

Ms Ang added that working on her piece - about a young girl who helps her mother sell home-made kueh door to door - helped her learn new things about her own family.

"I learnt a lot about my own relatives whom I never get a chance to speak much to," she said. "My grandfather and my aunties had a lot of fun sharing their past stories."

The films are a lead-up to an event this Saturday, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be hosting a tribute to the Merdeka Generation. A separate seven-part documentary series on this group has also been launched.

* Merdeka Generation Package will not burden a future government: Chan Chun Sing
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Feb 2019

Addressing what he said were concerns from young people on how the Government will fund the Merdeka Generation Package, with some labelling it an "election gimmick", Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday gave the assurance that funds will be set aside by this term of government.

He also made it clear that money for the multibillion-dollar scheme will not come from a future hike in the goods and services tax (GST).

Mr Chan said every term of government has to make sure it earns its keep, and in the first two to three years, it works very hard to carefully manage the Budget and grow the economy.

"Because the rule in the Singapore system is that no government can make - or should make - empty promises on behalf of a future government," he said in a speech at a Chinese New Year dinner for Tanjong Pagar GRC and Radin Mas SMC.

"If we decide to have the Merdeka Generation Package... then it is the responsibility of this term of government to harness its resources to put them into a fund, to make sure that this burden is not passed on to the next government or future governments." Revenue from the two-point GST increase - to take place some time between 2021 and 2025 - is not funding the package, he added.

The Merdeka package, which will benefit Singaporeans born in the 1950s, along with some of those who did not qualify for the earlier Pioneer Generation Package given in 2014, will cover subsidies for outpatient care, Medisave top-ups, MediShield Life premium subsidies and payouts for long-term care. The details will be announced on Feb 18 during the Budget statement.


Merdeka Generation Package unveiled at Singapore Budget 2019

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