Singapore Opposition: Pioneer Generation Package welcomed, but inadequacies remain

SINGAPORE — This year’s Budget “seems to be overly focused” on the Pioneer Generation Package, such that the future needs and challenges of other Singaporeans in healthcare, education and transport appear to be overlooked, an opposition party said yesterday.

Issuing its response to Budget 2014 announced last Friday by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) yesterday called for better healthcare via the development of more polyclinics, more hospital beds and the enhancement of the Community Health Assist Scheme that subsidises visits to participating general practitioners. Subsidies for individuals on the scheme with three or more chronic illnesses, or with disabilities, should be doubled, the party said.

On education, the NSP proposed that kindergarten education be made compulsory and that pre-primary education be nationalised, even as it noted that the Education Ministry has done “relatively well” in steering the education system towards a meritocracy based on effort.

To address low fertility rates and the stress of parents planning for their children’s education, the party proposed higher tertiary education fee subsidies for the second child of a household, and full subsidies for the third and subsequent children.

As for the S$9 billion Pioneer Generation Package — for seniors born in 1949 or earlier and who became citizens before 1987 — the NSP said it will alleviate some concerns of older Singaporeans, especially on the affordability of healthcare.

A “long-overdue gesture”, it nevertheless missed the opportunity to lay the foundation for a more gracious society, said Party Secretary-General Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss.

Speaking to reporters, she said: “The (package) is premised on rewarding a generation of people who had sacrificed much towards the economic success of Singapore. It is not centred on taking care of our senior citizens regardless of their contribution. A kind and gracious society takes care of its elderly because they are our elderly, regardless what they had given when they were younger.” The NSP suggested an inflation-indexed social pension scheme for seniors.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) yesterday welcomed the Pioneer Generation Package’s assistance to the elderly but called it “an ad hoc measure” to address their difficulties. “The package raises an important and rather glaring point about the social security system as a whole. How did it come to the stage where our elderly, having worked their entire lives, find themselves unable to retire with peace of mind?” said Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan.

The SDP called for the release of money from the Minimum Sum Scheme of Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, which can be used for the CPF Life annuity or for monthly payouts from one’s draw-down age until funds are exhausted.

Earlier this week, the Singapore People’s Party also issued its response to the Budget, stressing the need for “more substantial and substantive innovation breakthroughs to eventually match the capabilities in other advanced economies”.

The party’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam will elaborate further, when Parliament debates the Budget next week.

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