Monday 21 August 2023

National Day Rally 2023: A Better Home, A Brighter Future

From housing to retirement, PM Lee Hsien Loong provides reassurances amid anxieties and storms
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2023

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sought to reassure Singaporeans on Sunday that his government would continue to take care of their needs, as the country faces mounting global challenges and growing anxiety over jobs, housing and costs of living.

His tone of reassurance ran across all three of his speeches during the National Day Rally at the Institute of Technical Education College Central.

PM Lee lauded Singapore’s efforts in pulling through the Covid-19 pandemic, which he called “the most challenging ordeal for our nation since independence”, and said it is a testament to the country’s indomitable spirit.

But challenges from US-China tensions, the war in Ukraine and global warming have affected the global economic order, disrupted supply chains and food production, and will especially hurt small trading nations such as Singapore, he noted.

These will contribute to anxieties over bread-and-butter concerns. PM Lee warned that Singaporeans should expect higher food prices and more job disruptions in the future. Inflation is at last coming down but “will probably stay higher than what we were used to”.

He promised that the Government will weather this storm together with Singaporeans.

During the rally, which lays out the Government’s priorities and is seen as the most important political speech of the year, PM Lee also unveiled measures to support Singaporeans.

These include a $7 billion Majulah Package that will benefit about 1.4 million older Singaporeans, especially those in their 50s and early 60s.

This is a group PM Lee called “young seniors”, who are in a particularly sandwiched phase of life where they might have to care for both the young and the old in their families.

He said to them: “Beyond the daily cost-of-living pressures, you know that retirement is creeping up on you, and you wonder, ‘Will I have enough to get by? Can I cope?’ But don’t worry, the Government will help you. You will not be left behind.”

The new Majulah Package, to help those born in 1973 or earlier meet their retirement needs, will consist of three components:

– An Earn and Save bonus, where the Government will credit up to $1,000 a year into the Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts of lower- and middle-income workers.

– A one-time CPF bonus of up to $1,500 for Singaporeans who have not reached the Basic Retirement Sum in their CPF balances.

– A one-time MediSave top-up of $1,000.

More details will be released in 2024, PM Lee said. He added that the Government will also enhance existing retirement and income supplement schemes.

“Taken together, these improvements will help seniors to meet basic retirement needs, especially for lower- and middle-income Singaporeans, so you can have greater peace of mind in your golden years,” he added.

There will also be more support for those who lose their jobs, said PM Lee, adding that a scheme is being developed that will offer temporary financial support to retrenched workers while they upgrade their skills.

This is part of the Forward Singapore exercise driven by the fourth generation of leaders who will share further details soon, he added. Turning to housing, PM Lee assured Singaporeans that the Government will keep Housing Board (HDB) flats affordable, while maintaining a good social mix in every town and ensuring the system is fair for everyone.

Record-high HDB flat prices have fuelled anxieties among Singaporeans in recent months over the cost of home ownership.

In order to ensure HDB flats remain affordable, new Build-To-Order (BTO) projects will be classified as Standard, Plus or Prime – depending on their location.

This will replace HDB’s current classification of projects as mature or non-mature, and kick in from the second half of 2024.

A Prime flat, in the “choicest and most central locations”, will have the most subsidies and tightest restrictions. These subsidies and restrictions scale progressively downwards with Plus and Standard flats.

The idea is to moderate the higher prices of flats in choice locations while imposing stricter sale conditions on these units.

PM Lee gave the example of how Plus flats will receive more subsidies over Standard flats, but also will face more restrictive sale conditions. He cited a 10-year minimum occupation period before any sale, a subsidy-recovery clause to claw back extra discounts upon such a sale, and an income ceiling on resale buyers.

Another change: Singles will be able to buy BTO two-room flexi flats across all three of the new categories – they are currently restricted to BTO units in non-mature estates.

“We will build a good mix of projects within and across regions, to cater to different needs and budgets. And that is how we can fulfil our commitment to keep high-quality HDB flats accessible and affordable to you and to your children for a very long time to come,” PM Lee said.

On the issue of ageing, PM Lee added that the Government will take steps to prepare for what he called a “super-aged society”.

These will include efforts such as investing more resources so seniors can install fittings, including foldable shower seats and wider toilet entrances at home; revamping housing estates so they are more senior-friendly, and building more flats that have senior care and community facilities integrated.

PM Lee, who was delivering his 19th National Day Rally speech, also said his succession plans are back on track after they were disrupted by the pandemic.

He also sought to allay concerns over recent political scandals involving People’s Action Party politicians. Transport Minister S. Iswaran is under investigation for corruption, and Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and backbench MP Cheng Li Hui resigned in July after their affair was made public.

“Let me assure you: These incidents will not delay my timetable for renewal. We are on track,” PM Lee added.

Future generations of PAP leaders must continue to keep the political system clean and incorruptible, he said, adding that he has every confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and his team.

Thanking Singaporeans for their support, he urged them to give DPM Wong and his team their “fullest support, now and after they take over”.

“The Singapore story has been an unlikely one from the start. Our nation is still young, and will always be tiny. We will forever be an unlikely nation, created out of the sheer collective will of our people. Nobody expected us to survive, much less to flourish, but, each time, we beat the odds; each time, we showed the world what Singapore can be,” said PM Lee.

“It has been an exceptional story but I believe the best parts are still to be written.”

8 highlights of NDR 2023: New Plus flats, $7 billion Majulah Package with retirement help for ‘young seniors’
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2023

An overhaul of the classification system for mature and non-mature estates and a new retirement support package for workers born in 1973 or earlier are among the key announcements in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech on Sunday. Here are eight highlights from his speech:

1. New Standard, Plus and Prime framework to classify BTO projects

The framework will split Build-to-Order housing projects into Standard, Plus and Prime, depending on whether they are in “choicer locations”.

The current system of labelling the estates as mature and non-mature will no longer work as newer towns have become much more developed, with excellent connectivity and a full suite of amenities, said PM Lee.

The classification framework will be implemented for BTO projects from the second half of 2024.

Standard projects will continue to have a five-year minimum occupation period (MOP), regular subsidies and no income ceiling for resale buyers. Most Housing Board projects in the future will still be Standard projects.

Plus projects will be those that are in choicer locations in each region and will have more subsidies than Standard projects to moderate the prices of Plus flats.

They will have a longer MOP of 10 years and tighter restrictions when the flats are resold. This includes a subsidy recovery applied on the resale prices as well as an income ceiling on resale buyers.

Prime projects will have the most subsidies and also the tightest resale restrictions such as a higher subsidy recovery rate than Plus projects. They will also have a 10-year MOP.

2. New $7 billion Majulah Package to help ‘young seniors’ meet retirement needs

This package is meant to help “young seniors” – aged 50 and above this year, or born in 1973 or earlier – meet their retirement needs. About 1.4 million older people will benefit.

The support will be tiered, depending on the individual’s income and Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

There will be an Earn and Save Bonus to help them build up CPF savings as they work. Lower- and middle-income workers will get a CPF bonus of up to $1,000 a year.

There is also a one-time Retirement Savings Bonus of up to $1,500 for those whose CPF balances have not reached the CPF Basic Retirement Sum. Those who are not working will also receive this bonus.

A one-time MediSave Bonus of up to $1,000 will help allay worries about healthcare costs.

The package will cost the Government about $7 billion, and the Finance Ministry will create a new fund to meet the full lifetime costs of the package.

Existing schemes, such as Silver Support, Workfare Income Supplement and the Matched Retirement Savings, will also be enhanced, with details to come in 2024.

3. Financial support for workers who are upskilling after losing jobs

There are plans to introduce more financial support for workers who lose their jobs, while they upgrade their skills, said PM Lee.

These plans will be part of the Forward Singapore nationwide engagement exercise that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong is leading with the fourth-generation (4G) team. The exercise, which was launched in June 2022, will culminate in a report later in 2023.

The financial support will be a temporary safety net for these workers to meet immediate needs. It will also free them to upskill and train as they prepare themselves for a good long-term job.

4. Govt studying whether more support needed to ease impact of GST increase

PM Lee said he was confident that the existing Assurance Package will be effective in buffering the impact of the next stage of the goods and services tax (GST) increase, from 8 per cent to 9 per cent starting Jan 1, 2024.

The Government will continue with the package as planned, and DPM Wong will also study if there can be further enhancements to it.

The Government has already given out various subsidies to reduce the burden of rising costs on Singaporeans as prices soar globally, leading to higher inflation, PM Lee noted.

However, Singaporeans must understand that the Government cannot give out subsidies infinitely.

The long-term solution is to make ourselves more productive, transform businesses and grow the economy so that real incomes can rise, he said.

5. More senior-friendly homes and neighbourhoods

HDB homes and precincts will be made more senior-friendly so that people can live out their golden years in their own homes and neighbourhoods.

There will soon be an expanded suite of fittings that can be installed in homes under the Enhancement for Active Seniors 2.0 programme. This will include foldable shower seats and widened toilet entrances.

The current programme allows for ramps as well as grab bars and slip-resistant floors in the toilet.

In neighbourhoods, streets and linkways frequented by seniors will have more shelters and rest points.

There will also be more therapeutic gardens, fitness trails and exercise machines.

Road will become more pedestrian-friendly, such as having longer green man signals and 3D road markings and narrowed roads to slow cars down.

The Government will also be building more assisted living facilities for those who need more help.

These efforts will be rolled out across Singapore, starting with towns with more seniors such as Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah.

6. Expanding the network of active ageing centres

The network of active ageing centres in Singapore will be expanded to help seniors stay active and healthy.

The Government will invest in this and work with community partners to enhance the centres’ services and reach.

PM Lee encouraged seniors to join a nearby centre to live well and age well.

He noted that one of the biggest threats to the well-being of seniors is loneliness, and they risk becoming socially isolated.

These steps to expand the network of the centres, together with efforts to create more senior-friendly homes and neighbourhoods, will be part of a new national programme called Age Well SG. It will complement Healthier SG in improving the health of older Singaporeans.

7. No delay in timetable for succession plans

The recent controversial issues involving political figures will not delay his timetable for leadership renewal, said PM Lee.

Succession plans are back on track, with the Covid-19 pandemic in the past, he added.

Increasingly, his task is to support the 4G team and their agenda so that they can get off to the best start possible, he said.

PM Lee added that the themes of National Day Rally 2023 are all Forward Singapore themes. He has every confidence in DPM Wong and his team, and shares the same core convictions as them.

“That we are stewards of Singapore, entrusted with the immense responsibility to lead and care for our nation, that our time as stewards is transient, but we are building a Singapore for the ages, and that our best service to this nation is to hand over a better, stronger Singapore to those who follow us.”

8. Founding values of integrity and incorruptibility fundamental to Singapore

Integrity and incorruptibility are fundamental to Singapore, said PM Lee, adding that they are the foundation for the running of a clean and effective Government.

“No matter the price; no matter the embarrassment or political cost – I will do my utmost to keep the system clean,” he said.

Noting that in a few weeks’ time, Singapore will mark the 100th birth anniversary of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee said it was timely to reflect upon the values and ideals championed by Mr Lee and the founding fathers of Singapore.

It is also timely for the Government to renew its commitment to these enduring values and ideals – justice and equality, religious freedom and racial harmony, a commitment to excellence, a fair system of meritocracy, and an uncompromising insistence on an honest, clean government.

These ideals are not just abstract aspirations, but the compass that guides every decision made by each generation of People’s Action Party leaders, said PM Lee.

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