Saturday 31 December 2022

National Awards COVID-19: More than 100,000 individuals to receive special state awards for helping Singapore fight COVID-19 pandemic

9,500 individuals will receive the National Awards (COVID-19)
99,000 individuals and 800 teams will receive the COVID-19 Resilience Medal and Certificate
By Joyce Teo and Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2022

More than 100,000 individuals in the community, business sectors and Government who went beyond the call of duty to help Singapore battle the Covid-19 pandemic will receive national recognition.

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Thursday that the awards affirm the contributions and sacrifices that these people have made.

“These recipients come from across different sectors, different segments of the society.

“They include our front-line healthcare workers (in the) public health sector, public service sector, private sector, as well as the people sector, which will include non-government organisations, volunteer organisations, as well as community organisations,” he said.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the Project Lionheart art exhibition at Changi Airport Terminal 1 that celebrates individuals who embodied the Singapore spirit during the pandemic.

“I am proud of this Singapore spirit, the spirit of resilience, the spirit of unity and mutual support,” said Mr Gan, who is co-chair of the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force (MTF).

“I am confident that with this Singapore spirit, we will always come out of any crisis in the future stronger and more united.”

An overwhelming majority of the award recipients will receive either the Covid-19 Resilience Medal or the Covid-19 Resilience Certificate – new national awards – for their contributions in the nation’s fight against Covid-19.

The names of these award recipients will be announced at a later date.

They include familiar names such as Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services and adviser to the MTF and other government agencies in crafting the overall strategy for managing the outbreak. The crew of a Scoot flight that travelled to Wuhan in early 2020 to bring back Singaporeans stuck in the Chinese city will also be receiving an award.

Award recipients also include nurses, general practitioners, patient service associates, pilots, school principals and scientists whose contributions helped see Singapore through the pandemic.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement on Thursday that the number and spread of individuals receiving the awards reflect how the fight against Covid-19 has been a whole-of-nation effort. They include individuals who provided medical care, surveillance and testing, organised the vaccination drive, oversaw safe distancing and ran dormitory operations.

The three recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal (Covid-19), which is the apex of the National Awards (Covid-19), come from different sectors. They are Prof Mak, Ministry of Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Pang Kin Keong and PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first mentioned the special Covid-19 awards in his National Day Rally speech in August, when he thanked those who had participated directly in the pandemic fight.

“When doors around the world were closed, our people kept our hearts open to help one another, staying stronger together,” he said in a Facebook post on the awards on Thursday.

“As we now learn to live with Covid-19, let’s continue supporting one another to see ourselves through the challenges ahead.”

About 99,000 individuals will receive the Covid-19 Resilience Medal and 800 teams will receive the Covid-19 Resilience Certificate, the PMO said.

About 4,000 individuals are from the public healthcare sector, 4,500 from the public sector, and about 900 from the private and people sectors.

The national awards for Covid-19 include the Public Service Star (Covid-19), the Public Administration Medal (Covid-19), the Medal of Valour (Covid-19), the Commendation Medal (Covid-19), the Public Service Medal (Covid-19) and the President’s Certificate of Commendation (Covid-19).

A full list of the National Awards (Covid-19) recipients is available at

Friday 9 December 2022

How BTO Flats are Priced, and what are the land and building costs? HDB gives the breakdown

HDB reveals for the first time breakdown of development costs of BTO flats, reiterates it 'doesn't apply profit margin on costs'
By Michelle Ng, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2022

Build-To-Order (BTO) flats are priced such that they remain affordable for buyers – an approach that is “fundamentally different” from that of private developers, who price their residential units for profit, said the Housing Board on Wednesday.

In a statement, HDB added that as BTO flats are highly subsidised, their selling prices cannot fully cover development costs, which include construction and land costs.

In the 2021-2022 financial year, the total development costs for the 13,506 new flats HDB handed over to buyers came to $5.346 billion.

Revealing the breakdown of development costs, HDB said the bulk – $3.167 billion – went to land costs, while $2.077 billion went into building costs. The remaining $102 million was incurred when HDB acquired flats from former owners.

This means it cost HDB on average $396,000 to develop each of the new flats handed over to buyers in that year, with an estimated $365,700 collected in sales proceeds per unit. The proceeds after including housing grants amount to $347,000. The figures do not account for flat attributes such as flat types and locations.

HDB’s statement comes after the issue of affordability and pricing of BTO flats was raised multiple times in recent months, including in Parliament.

In November, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh had pressed Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah for details of the development costs of BTO flats and subsidies provided to buyers, with the minister saying it was not meaningful to provide such information, as what mattered was whether people could afford a flat.

Following that exchange, netizens had called for HDB to be more transparent about the way it prices new flats.

On Wednesday, HDB detailed how it prices BTO flats and contrasted its approach with that of private residential developers, which it said price for profit.

HDB’s flat pricing approach is totally separate and independent of the BTO projects’ development costs,” the board said, citing how it increased subsidies to keep flat prices relatively stable amid rising property prices and construction costs increasing by nearly 30 per cent due to Covid-19-related factors.

All subsidies are factored into flats’ prices when they are launched as BTO flats.

HDB noted that the increase in BTO flat prices over the past decade has kept within the growth rate of household incomes.

From 2012 to 2021, the median resident employed household income grew by 26 per cent, while incomes for those in the second-lowest income bracket grew at a faster rate of 32 per cent, it said.

In comparison, the average selling price per square foot (psf) of a BTO flat in mature estates grew 22 per cent from 2012 to the first three quarters of 2022 – from $479 to $584. Those in non-mature estates grew 16 per cent, from $311 to $362.

HDB’s flat pricing approach and costs are also available to the public, unlike those of private residential developers, said the board.

First, construction costs of every BTO project are publicly available, as prices of awarded contracts are published on the HDB InfoWeb and government procurement portal GeBiz.

Second, HDB publishes the cost of building flats and the revenue from the sale of flats in its annual report, similar to private developers. However, HDB’s report reflects the development loss from its home ownership programme, while private developers’ annual reports mostly show profits, it said.

On land costs, HDB said it pays fair market value as determined independently by the Chief Valuer. Land price for public housing is lower compared with that of private housing in the same area, which reflects the more stringent eligibility criteria and conditions that BTO buyers must meet in terms of income, citizenship and minimum occupation period, said HDB.

HDB incurred a record $4.367 billion deficit in its latest financial year 2021/22, of which $3.85 billion was due to the home ownership programme.

The substantial deficit shows “in real terms” HDB’s commitment to affordable, accessible and inclusive public housing, it said.

To determine affordability, HDB said it looks at residents’ household incomes and compares them with the range of flat types and selling prices of BTO flats for every launch.

In the first half of 2022, 90 per cent of buyers who collected keys to their flats in non-mature estates and more than 80 per cent of those who did so in mature estates spent 25 per cent or less of their monthly income on their mortgage, HDB added. This compares with international benchmarks of around 30 per cent to 35 per cent.

A new flat’s market value is established by considering the prices of comparable HDB resale flats nearby as well as the unit’s individual attributes, HDB said, adding that it then applies a significant subsidy to ensure new flats are affordable for buyers.

Prices of recently transacted comparable HDB resale flats are shown alongside BTO selling prices at each launch.

“These prices clearly show that each BTO project is priced substantially lower than comparable resale flats, due to the significant subsidies applied,” said HDB.

ERA Realty’s head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said HDB’s statement clearly details how the “entry-level pricing” of BTO flats is kept affordable, but noted that some Singaporeans may still think prices are not low enough.

“Given that people tend to see housing affordability as a whole – both the BTO market and the HDB resale market – the rapid price growth in the resale market in the last two years has raised many concerns,” he said.

“But there is a difference between ‘affordable pricing’ and ‘low pricing’. If you’re comparing the HDB flat that you bought from the Government 20 years ago with BTO flat prices today, of course the absolute price has risen, and it has risen in line with income growth,” said Mr Mak.

Associate professor of economics Walter Theseira of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said the contentious issue is whether land costs – which form the bulk of development costs – should or should not be considered part of the true cost of building flats.

While HDB makes clear that affordability is the main factor in determining prices of new flats, there is still room for interpretation on some matters, he added.

For instance, taking the comparable market price for HDB resale flats in the area as the starting point when pricing BTO flats is, in a way, taking land costs into account.

“Market price reflects the value buyers place on the location and affects the official valuation for land costs, albeit with a discount for public housing use. As much as HDB says that land costs do not matter, land costs unavoidably enter into the equation through the reference to HDB resale market prices,” said Prof Theseira.

“Thus, both HDB and private developers do take reference to market prices, but the difference is that HDB then alters the selling price with affordability in mind while the private sector marks up for profit,” he said.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Why is Singapore raising the GST?

Singapore's GST hike to go through after Bill passed in Parliament on 7 Nov 2022

GST will increase from 7 per cent to 8 per cent from Jan 1, 2023 and from 8 per cent to 9 per cent from Jan 1, 2024

Tourists, foreigners living in Singapore paid half of net GST in 2018 and 2019

Assurance Package to help households offset GST hike to get $1.4 billion boost, will now total $8 billion

Workers’ Party’s alternatives to GST hike do not add up, GST hike among options needed to meet funding gap: DPM Lawrence Wong
By Hariz Baharudin and Ng Wei Kai, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2022

The suggestion that the goods and services tax (GST) increase should be postponed due to current inflationary pressures does not hold water, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Monday.

The Government’s support measures delay the effect of the hike by at least five years for the majority of Singaporean households, he said.

That the support is targeted at lower- to middle-income households, rather than broad-based, will also minimise any additional inflationary pressures, he added.

“We have designed the overall package to ensure we neither stoke inflation inadvertently nor choke aggregate demand, and this is an appropriate macroeconomic stance to adopt at this juncture,” he said.

Rounding up the debate on the GST (Amendment) Bill, which saw 15 MPs speak, Mr Wong rebutted alternatives raised by Workers’ Party MPs Louis Chua and Jamus Lim (both Sengkang GRC) saying these entailed spending more from past reserves and leaving less for the future.

The Government has also explored other sources of revenue, and still needs to raise the GST, he said.

Why increase GST now?

The Government had considered the GST hike carefully and decided that it was necessary to do so, given how Singapore’s economic challenges are not just near-term or cyclical in nature, Mr Wong said.

The ongoing war in Ukraine, disruptions to energy and food supplies, rising geopolitical tensions and more fragmented supply chains are realities Singapore has to deal with possibly for a more prolonged period, he added.

“International economic conditions have fundamentally changed,” he said.

While inflationary pressures here are expected to ease in the second half of next year, inflation rates are unlikely to go back to what they were over the past decade, he added.

It is for this reason that the Government has extended comprehensive support to Singaporeans, especially lower and middle income families.

Mr Wong had at the start of the debate announced a $1.4 billion boost to the support package for households to offset the GST hike’s impact, amid higher inflation. This means the Assurance Package, first announced in 2020, will now be worth $8 billion, up from $6.6 billion before.

Responding to a point Mr Chua made on how households’ annual expenditure will increase due to inflation, Mr Wong said that the support they get will increase.

Mr Chua had cited the example of a middle-income couple with two young children, and estimated that with inflation, their annual expenditure would go up by $2,500.

Mr Wong acknowledged the rise in spending, but pointed out that the support they get this year would be around $1,500.

This support will keep to the Government’s commitment to offset more than half of the inflation-driven increase in cost of living this year for middle-income households, he said, adding this does not take into account wage rises for individuals which many will likely enjoy.

Associate Professor Lim had also cited how Japan saw an increase in inflation after it increased its version of the GST three times in the past 25 years.

Mr Wong pointed out that Japan was in a deflationary environment, and had raised the GST and had its inflation double from a “chronically low” 1 per cent to 2 per cent - and temporarily.

“Let’s avoid raising these alarmist examples that may not be so relevant to our context,” he said, adding that Singapore must continue to learn the right lessons from others.

He noted that while there are considerable uncertainties in the economic outlook, there is nothing uncertain about government expenditures, especially in healthcare.

Noting that MPs like Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang), Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) had made this point, Mr Wong said even as Singapore deals with healthcare spending, it has to resource many other spending needs.

These include planned investments on early childhood education, efforts to uplift lower wage workers as well as helping to ease concerns of SMEs, self-employed persons and those keen to purchase HDB flats.

“It’s a few billion here, a few billion there, they all add up. None of these needs has become less urgent because of the global economic situation. On the contrary, we must do more, especially in an uncertain and volatile environment,” said Mr Wong.

“That is why having considered this so carefully before the Budget, after the Budget, even in the last few months when the global economic environment had deteriorated, we felt that there was no possibility for us to delay the GST increase any further.”

Why not try alternatives to the GST hike?

Mr Wong also addressed four alternatives to the GST hike that WP MPs had raised.

One, the suggestion that Singapore has enough fiscal surplus to delay the hike of 1 percentage point set for January 2023.

Mr Wong said: “I wish that were so.”

He noted Prof Lim had suggested the Government is shielded from inflation because when inflation goes up, so does its revenues as prices also increase.

“But he didn’t mention this: Government spending must also go up correspondingly,” said Mr Wong, citing public servants’ salaries and support schemes for residents.

He added that while the Government collected more revenue than expected in the last financial year and had a surplus of $1.9 billion, it had already used this surplus as well as the return from the first half of this year to fund two support packages.

In June and October 2022, the Government announced two $1.5 billion support packages targeting lower-and-middle income Singaporeans.

Mr Wong said: “The bottom line is that any surpluses are imaginary - they are not there and will not allow us to delay the GST.”

Two, there have been suggestions to use more of Singapore’s reserves, including increasing the proportion used from returns on investments and changing the definition of land sales revenues.

Mr Wong said WP’s position, which it said was not raiding but slowing down the rate of accumulating reserves, sounds attractive but will leave future generations with less resources.

Such a move would be irresponsible, he added. “Let’s not succumb to the temptation of taking this easy way out, making things worse for our children and grandchildren.”

Mr Wong noted that global uncertainties are also likely to slow the growth of Singapore’s investments anyway, making tapping on these to delay a GST hike even more untenable.

Three, Prof Lim had suggested exempting essential items from GST, a point that had been raised by Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) at the Budget Debate in February.

Mr Wong said this does not work in practice.

Such tiered GSTs are cumbersome, he said, citing a recent BBC article about India’s system.

In August, an Indian firm making pizza toppings went to court claiming their mozzarella topping should be classified as cheese - which had a GST of 12 per cent.

The court disagreed, arguing that because the topping had other ingredients such as vegetable oil it should be taxed at 18 per cent in a class known as ‘edible preparations’.

Mr Wong said there is no end to these challenges, and such tiered systems are not effective.

“When you exempt a basket of goods or essential items in the end you benefit the well-to-do, because the well-to-do will spend more on everything, not just luxury items but basic necessities as well,” he said.

This was a conclusion also reached by studies from numerous governments and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he added.

Mr Wong said Singapore’s GST system - with its series of offsets and rebates - is deliberately designed to be fair and effective, contrary to Prof Lim’s view that these were a patchwork of offsets.

Four, suggestions continue to be made that Singapore should explore other streams of revenue such as property, income, corporate and sin taxes.

Mr Wong said while these have been carefully considered, the sums do not add up.

Increasing corporate and income taxes could result in investors leaving Singapore, especially amid tight global competition for talent and investments, he said.

He added that GST revenue alone is in fact not enough to fund policies the Government wants to push through, from healthcare spending to improving conditions for low-wage workers.

“Really, that question is not GST or these other alternatives - we need GST, and these other alternatives,” he said.

Mr Wong added: “The WP is entitled to your own position. By all means, oppose the GST, adopt a different position, fine.”

Monday 7 November 2022

Singaporeans cannot have it both ways – more opposition MPs but also effective PAP government: PM Lee Hsien Loong at PAP Conference 2022

PAP needs strong mandate to govern Singapore firmly and decisively: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2022

Singaporeans cannot have it both ways, where many want the People’s Action Party (PAP) to continue governing the country but also to have more opposition MPs elected to keep the Government on its toes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

After many years of the PAP in power, many Singaporeans want the party to continue governing the country as it has been doing a good job, and no one else can do it better, he noted.

So they vote for the opposition, fully expecting that the PAP will still be returned to power and can function as effectively, regardless of whether it receives strong or weak support at the polls, he said in a speech at the PAP’s biennial party conference on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, we cannot have it both ways. Whether voters give the new Government a strong or weak mandate makes a very big difference,” he told over 3,000 party members and activists.

“With a strong mandate, when the Government needs to act strongly and decisively – whether at home and abroad – everyone will know that it is acting with the people’s support. And everyone will know that Singaporeans are united, tackling problems as one and moving ahead together.”

PM Lee, who is the PAP’s secretary-general, said a strong mandate will give the government the confidence and backing to make tough calls and steer Singapore safely through ups and downs. He cited how the Government could impose tough measures such as the circuit breaker, mandatory mask-wearing, strict border controls and vaccination regimes as there was no doubt it had the people’s full confidence.

Had the PAP won the 2020 General Election narrowly with a 51 per cent vote share, instead of 61.2 per cent, it would have still formed the government and ruled Singapore to the best of its ability, said PM Lee.

But it would have lost many good MPs and ministers, and its leadership team would have been considerably weakened, he added.

“Singapore would have gone into battle with Covid-19 divided and disheartened. It would have been much harder for the Government to act decisively, or for Singaporeans to respond cohesively and resolutely,” he said.

“Our Covid-19 experience might well have been very different... And I can assure you our international position would have been considerably weakened too, both regionally and globally. A Singapore ruled by a government hanging on to power by its fingernails is bound to be pushed from pillar to post by other countries.”

PM Lee said the stakes are raised at each successive election. The more seats the opposition wins, the more the general election becomes a decision on which party will form Singapore’s next Government, he added. At the 2020 election, the Workers’ Party won 10 seats – two group representation constituencies in Aljunied and Sengkang, as well as the Hougang single seat. The PAP has delivered on its policies and promises through the decades, but this is not enough, PM Lee said, stressing that it needs to convert people’s approval of its performance into votes.

He sketched out three things it must do to “win the political battle”.

First, the party must put across its political message so that people know PAP leaders are “conviction politicians” who adopt policies and programmes because they are convinced these will benefit Singapore in the long term.

“But, more important than the details of policies, we have got to convince Singaporeans why the policies matter to them, and how they match people’s needs and aspirations,” he said.

Second, the PAP has to counter moves by the opposition and show voters where the opposition falls short, he said.

While it is the opposition’s job to scrutinise government policies and highlight mistakes, the PAP, too, has to point out instances when its opponents fail to measure up or they act against Singaporeans’ interests, he added.

“It is very easy for the opposition to support only the pleasant things the Government does, but to oppose the harder moves that are sometimes not avoidable,” he said, adding that a responsible opposition should be accountable for what it proposes and what it opposes.

Third, PAP MPs and branch activists must work the ground and show residents how the party makes a difference to them by improving the amenities in their towns, resolving conflicts and issues and advocating their concerns.

PM Lee said that party branches need to ramp up physical activities, which were paused during Covid-19, and make up for lost time by wearing their party whites and covering the ground comprehensively.

He also paid tribute to party members working in opposition wards in Aljunied, Hougang and Sengkang, and commended them for engaging residents, helping needy households and supporting bereaved families, even though they cannot hold Meet-the-People Sessions.

If Singapore’s politics go wrong, its governance will go wrong too, and so will the lives of all Singaporeans, he warned.

He cited how politics in other countries have turned contentious and volatile – governments get distracted and paralysed, and society becomes divided.

“The government has neither the ability nor the mandate to push through hard decisions or to see beyond immediate problems. What is politically expedient overrides what is in the longer-term good of the people and country. And then, we are all in deep trouble,” he said, noting this has happened in the United States and United Kingdom.

PM Lee noted that the US is having its midterm elections on Tuesday. “There is great foreboding on how the results will turn out, and how that will change their politics, possibly even making it worse”, he said.

Some think that Singapore politics will always work well as it has for 60 years, and that the natural order of things is for the country to keep on succeeding, with the Government always thinking and planning 30 or 50 years ahead, PM Lee said.

But what Singapore has today is not natural at all, and the sort of Government that it has is rare, he said.

Almost everywhere else, the Government hardly thinks beyond the next general election, and Singapore has only become like this through the blood, sweat and tears of many generations.

The PAP does not take its duty lightly, and things can easily go wrong here as well. PM Lee said that Singaporeans are not inherently better, smarter or more virtuous than people in other countries.

“Maybe we are more cohesive (but) there is no vaccine to protect us from the same dark forces of anger, fear, racism, xenophobia,” he said.

“Similar divisive emotions and tensions can build up here too, can well up here too, can explode here too. We can end up with the same messy politics and broken country that we see elsewhere.”

“To prevent this and to keep things working well for Singaporeans, the PAP must stay true to its founding mission. Not only to continue to deliver results, but to keep on convincing minds and appealing to hearts, and winning the political battles.”

On party renewal, PM Lee said the PAP has already identified some promising potential candidates for the next election, with more in the pipeline.

“I am confident that come the next general election, we will again be able to present a talented, diverse and representative team of candidates, both experienced and new, ready to work with voters and take Singapore forward.”

Saturday 15 October 2022

Cost of Living: $1.5 billion support package to help Singaporeans cope with inflation; 2.5 million people to get up to $500 cash in December 2022

$1.5 billion Support Package builds on the support measures announced in Budget 2022, April 2022 and June 2022
By Hariz Baharudin and Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2022

A new $1.5 billion support package will give Singaporean households additional help to deal with rising prices, with more aid going to lower to middle-income groups, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced on Friday.

Some 2.5 million eligible adult Singaporeans will receive a special cost-of-living payment of up to $500 in December, as part of the package.

They will get the payment together with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Assurance Package cash payout that was announced at Budget 2022 to offset the impact of the upcoming one percentage point hike in GST from 7 to 8 per cent on Jan 1, 2023.

Every Singaporean household will also get additional Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers worth $100 next January. This means that together with the $200 CDC vouchers announced during the Budget this year, a total of $300 of such vouchers will be given out then.

The Ministry of Education will also increase the income eligibility thresholds for financial assistance schemes to defray school expenses for more students from January 2023. It will also enhance the bursary quantum for full-time Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, said the latest measures have been designed with two groups of Singaporeans in mind who have been affected by higher inflation - lower-income Singaporeans and elderly retirees with no income from work.

Those earning less would be more disproportionately impacted because their wages may not rise sufficiently to cope with higher prices, said Mr Wong, adding that the older retirees would also be negatively impacted because they do not have incomes and have to deal with higher prices.

“That is why we have been monitoring the situation with respect to these different segments of Singaporeans, and the additional spending that they will have to incur,” he added.

The latest support package, together with earlier measures announced at the Budget as well as in April and June 2022, will fully cover the increase in cost of living for lower-income households on average, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The package will also fully cover more than half of the increase in cost of living for middle-income households on average this year, the ministry added.

Full year inflation for 2022 is expected to come in at 6 per cent, Mr Wong said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore had, earlier on Friday, said there was considerable uncertainty around the outlook for both inflation and growth, with core inflation set to remain high in the first half of 2023.

MOF said more support will also be given to help people deal with rising transport costs.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Government will provide an additional subsidy of about $200 million to cover the 10.6 per cent fare increase that will be carried over to future fare review exercises.

"This additional subsidy helps to mitigate the impact of the fare increase on commuters and pay for higher costs of providing public transport services due to the increase in energy prices, manpower costs and inflation," said MOF.

Additionally, 600,000 public transport vouchers worth $30 each will be given to eligible Singaporean households, which can be used to top up fare cards or buy public transport concession passes.

MOF said there will be no draw on past reserves for the new support package. It will be funded by the better-than-expected fiscal out-turn in the first half of this financial year, which began in April.

The ministry added that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was milder than expected, enabling more sectors of the economy to open up in tandem, boosting the nation's economic recovery.

The support package comes amid rising inflation, it noted. While supply chain frictions have eased slightly, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and geopolitical tensions continue to put pressure on the prices of goods and services.

"As a small, open economy, Singapore is particularly susceptible to imported price pressures, through channels such as food and energy. Domestically, a tight labour market continues to support strong wage growth," said MOF.

"As such, we must be prepared for inflation to stay elevated for some time."

On Friday, Mr Wong also said that there will be an update to the GST Assurance Package, in order to take into account higher than expected inflation.

Details on these changes will come in Budget 2023, and Mr Wong stressed that the Government is fully committed to cushioning the impact of the GST increase for all Singaporeans.

The GST rate will increase by one percentage point from 7 to 8 per cent on Jan 1, 2023, and by another percentage point to 9 per cent on Jan 1, 2024.

Thursday 22 September 2022

Healthier SG: Residents aged 60 and above can enrol in one resident, one doctor scheme from second half of 2023

Singapore Government releases White Paper on Healthier SG on 21 September 2022
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2022

Singapore's ambitious plan to have one family physician and one health plan for each and every one of its residents will start with those aged 60 and above in the second half of 2023.

The Healthier SG Programme will also offer cheaper drugs for chronic diseases at general practitioner (GP) clinics, among other benefits. With it, MOH aims to shift its focus from "sick care" to preventive care so as to eventually help every resident stay on the path to better health.

Eligible residents will be invited to enrol in the programme with a primary care clinic of their choice via SMS. Those in the 40 to 59 age group will be invited to enrol in the following two years, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a White Paper that was submitted to Parliament on Wednesday. The White Paper will be debated in Parliament in October.

Since March, the ministry has engaged more than 6,000 residents and other stakeholders for their views on the strategy.

Under the Healthier SG Programme, residents will develop a relationship with a primary care doctor who will holistically manage their health.

At the first visit, which will be free, the doctor will work out a health plan that can include diet adjustments, an exercise regimen and regular health screenings and vaccinations.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told the media at the MOH headquarters in College Road on Wednesday that the plan has social prescriptions like "how you eat, how you sleep, how you cut down on salt and sugar, quit smoking, exercise, so on and so forth".

Community partners will be roped in to help manage residents' health, as the idea is to move healthcare away from acute hospitals to the community to help keep people healthy. Residents will be able to join free programmes to keep fit, for instance.

A key change that MOH will introduce to get residents on the programme is to make drug prices at participating GP clinics more comparable with those at polyclinics through a combination of enhanced drug subsidies and drug price limits. This will be done for drugs used to manage common chronic diseases.

With this, people will no longer have to end their relationship with their long-time GPs when they develop diabetes or hypertension just because the drugs for these conditions are cheaper at polyclinics.

MOH will announce the details for this at a later date.

The ministry also said that it will fully subsidise nationally recommended screenings and vaccinations for Singapore citizens, and waive the need for residents to co-pay 15 per cent of their bills in cash when using MediSave for the treatment of common chronic conditions under the Chronic Disease Management Programme.

"We are shifting away from co-payment for this basic preventive care to fully support residents (in) preventive care," said Mr Ong.

There will be a health points reward system to get people to take action, such as to enrol and complete their first consultation, and engage in health activities.

However, to get Healthier SG off the ground, MOH will first have to mobilise family doctors in private practice.

MOH will offer GPs an annual service fee for each enrolled resident, which will vary according to the risk profile, scope of care and the progress made, as well as a tech support grant.

These doctors will need to join a so-called Primary Care Network, partner a healthcare cluster, and be digitally enabled. The Primary Care Networks, which hire nurses and coordinators for chronic disease management and other shared tasks, will support the GPs in their work. There are currently 23 polyclinics and about 1,800 GP clinics, of which 670 clinics have formed such networks.

To ensure the level of care is consistent across GPs, MOH is developing a set of care protocols with primary care leaders to guide family doctors on how to manage key chronic conditions.

Healthier SG will start with the care protocols of three of the most common chronic conditions: diabetes, hypertension and lipid disorders. In the future, the protocols will expand to cover more conditions and areas such as mental health.

"Everyone involved, including healthcare providers, the Government and residents, will need to do things differently," MOH said in the White Paper.

"Healthier SG is probably the most significant change to the health system since Independence. We have had six decades where we emphasised reactive sick care rather than health promotion," said Associate Professor Jeremy Lim, director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

The incentives under Healthier SG are created to promote health, rather than healthcare and, for the residents, inertia will be the biggest enemy, he said.

It will take years for such a major transformation of the healthcare system to take off and experts said the start will inevitably be challenging before the results show.

"Healthcare expenditure may rise initially and even more rapidly as we discover more people who have medical problems," said Dr Wong Chiang Yin, a public health specialist in the private sector.

"We must have the tenacity to stomach this and stay the course before the benefits of Healthier SG kick in at a later stage," he added.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Singapore moves to repeal Section 377A

Section 377A: Constitution will be amended to protect Parliament's right to define marriage, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
Government spells out plans to safeguard family as it repeals Section 377A
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2022

As it repeals Section 377A, the Government will also make it clear in the Constitution that it is Parliament's prerogative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and to make other pro-family policies on that basis, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (Aug 22).

This is different from enshrining the definition of marriage in the highest law of the land, which some religious groups and conservative Singaporeans have pushed for. But Mr Shanmugam said the move will stave off legal challenges on the definition of marriage.

His comments, in an interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally that Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, would be repealed.

In tandem, the Government would move to safeguard marriage, PM Lee said. As the law stands, he added, marriage as it is now defined can be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts, just like Section 377A has been challenged.

Religious and conservative groups, some of whom see the colonial-era law as a moral marker, have welcomed this guarantee, and suggested that marriage will be defined in the Constitution.

To this, Mr Shanmugam said: "I want to be clear because I think there's some confusion. The definition of marriage is not going to be in the Constitution. That's not the intention."

Instead, the Government plans to explicitly state in the Constitution that Parliament can define the institution of marriage in the way it has been defined in the Women's Charter, and can make other pro-family policies on the basis of that definition. This will make it difficult to challenge the definition of marriage and the policies that rely on it, he added.

"This will not change... under the watch of the current Prime Minister, and it will not happen under my watch - if the PAP were to win the next General Election.

"Likewise, we will not change the laws and policies that rely on this definition of marriage, and that relates to public housing, adoption, what we teach our children in schools, advertising standards, film classification, and so on. Basically, the overall tone of society will not change - our laws and policies will remain the same," he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said its policies on the issue would not change, and the Ministry of Communications and Information also said its approach to regulating media content would remain.

In the interview, Mr Shanmugam said that if the proposed amendments to the Constitution are not made, the prevailing definition of marriage risks being challenged on the basis of being discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

"It can be challenged, it can be asked...why should marriage only be between a man and a woman? Why shouldn't it be possible for two men, or two women, to be married?, he said.

"Such arguments about marriage have been made elsewhere successfully."

If this happens, "everything could go in one sweep", including many of the other laws and policies built on the current definition of marriage, such as those on public housing, education and media policies, he added.

The danger of this happening became clear when the Court of Appeal said in a February judgment that Section 377A could be discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Mr Shanmugam, who with Attorney-General Lucien Wong advised the Cabinet on the issue, said: "If Parliament doesn't act, either because of fear or because of a lack of will, and therefore doesn't deal with the law which may be in breach of the Constitution, then...(it) is not doing its job. Then, you make it difficult for the Courts to exercise restraint."

Keeping quiet and letting the Courts deal with it would have been more politically expedient, he noted, since emotions run high on both sides.

But if Section 377A or even the definition of marriage were struck down like that, it would risk damaging the fundamental fabric of society, he added. Such political issues should not be decided by the judiciary, but by the legislature.

In fact, the intended amendment to the Constitution leaves open the possibility for Parliament to change the definition of marriage through a simple majority.

While constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass, changes to other pieces of legislation, including the Penal Code which Section 377A is a part of and the Women's Charter, requires a simple majority.

Mr Shanmugam said: "This government's position is very clear and you've also heard what Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has said.

"We are committed to strengthening the current structure of marriage, strengthening the family structure and the policies that surround that structure of family. We think that's what is fundamental for Singapore. And in fact, we are amending the Constitution to strengthen their position."

He added that any political party or group that wants to push for same-sex marriage will be able to do so. "They will have to put that in their manifesto, fight elections, get a majority and then change the definition of marriage," he said.

Asked when the repeal of Section 377A would happen, he said "the changes itself, in terms of legal drafting and so on, will not take much time".

He added: "I am not in a position to give you an answer on that right now. But I do not expect that it will be very long."

* Singapore Parliament debates repealing S377A