Friday, 16 May 2014

Parliament Mid-Term Break

Key thrusts as 12th Parliament reopens
  • Strengthen safety nets to help the vulnerable and elderly cope; ensure MediShield Life premiums will be affordable for all.
  • Enhance retirement adequacy by improving existing CPF savings and CPF Life annuity schemes, and developing more options for Singaporeans to unlock value of homes in retirement.Support strong families and communities, so that values such as empathy, filial piety, respect and mutual help continue to be part of our lives.
  • Create conditions for better quality of life, with improved transport options, more recreational spaces and rejuvenated neighbourhoods.
  • Create more opportunities for working adults to have a fulfilling career, keep learning, and realise dreams and aspirations.
  • Enable young Singaporeans to fulfil their potential, pursue their dreams and follow their interests in diverse fields.
  • Provide support and recognition for National Servicemen through proposals by Committee to Strengthen National Service.

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No let-up expected as Parliament readies itself for second half
With a record number of Opposition MPs and expectations of change after the General Election in 2011, an increasingly demanding public has set a high bar for the 12th Parliament. Today file photo

When the 12th Parliament kicked off in October 2011 after what many had described as a “watershed” General Election (GE), robust opening speeches by Members of Parliament (MPs) were the order of the day and they hinted at what was to come.

Yet, few — not even the most hard-nosed political junkies — could have predicted what would have transpired by the time the Parliament session took its mid-term break last month: From spirited debates on ministerial salaries to the Population White Paper, the management of town councils and scandals that forced two MPs — one from each side of the political divide — to vacate their seats, there was nary a dull moment in the House.

When MPs were not kept busy addressing hot-button issues, such as public transport and foreign manpower, they had to deal with unprecedented events such as the Little India riot last December.

Singapore Parliament: Types of Bills passed
An active legislative agenda with 89 Bills passed

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President to set out Govt’s plans for 2nd half of term

When Parliament opens on Friday, President Tony Tan will set out the Government’s plans for the second half of its term, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking to the media after the ASEAN Summit wrapped, Mr Lee said the directions set out in the National Day Rally last year will be the starting point on which Dr Tan’s presidential address will build.

“We have done a lot of work in the first half of the term and we are setting the agenda for the second half of the term. The President will set this out,” he said.

Healthcare, transport on govt's "to-do list" in 2nd half of term

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it has been a busy 2-1/2 years for Parliament, with debates over various issues such as the White Papers on Ministerial Salaries and Population.

Political observers also said there has been a lot of ground covered in terms of policy reform -- from education to healthcare and housing.

However as Parliament's half-time pause comes to an end, what's next?

First-term MPs take stock of their work so far
From left: Tin Pei Ling, Pritam Singh and Chia Shi-Lu. (Photo: People's Action Party and The Workers' Party)

Singapore's Parliament will reopen on May 16 after a traditional mid-term break. For the 29 first-term elected MPs, it is also their halfway mark.

Channel News Asia spoke with three of them as they take stock of their work so far.

One was the youngest candidate, at 27 years of age, introduced by the ruling People's Action Party; the other is part of an opposition team that secured a historic win; and the third literally joined the fray at the 11th hour.

Parliament Prorogues Until 16 May
Govt to map out strategies during break for remainder of five-year term

PARLIAMENT will reopen next month, after taking a mid-term break, to discuss new strategies for creating a brighter future and a better Singapore for all.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this yesterday as the House was prorogued, or closed midway through the Government's term, for members to take stock of their work.

The new session will start on May 16, with President Tony Tan Keng Yam setting out the Government's key priorities for its second session until the general election, which must be held by January 2017.

Singapore's 12th Parliament has been prorogued
When Parliament is prorogued, it means the end of a session of Parliament

It is a customary mid-term break for it to take stock of its work and let the government map out a new legislative programme.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had indicated his intention to prorogue Parliament as early as August last year, when he said the government will set out the next half-term, establish a fresh starting point for the rest of the term, and set new a direction for itself.

In a way, it is also a progress report for Mr Lee and his team, as they take stock of their work since GE 2011

Taking stock of Singapore's half-time Cabinet reshuffle

The Prime Minister has announced a Cabinet reshuffle. What significance does it hold for government and also for the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) at the half-time of this Parliamentary term?

This is the fourth announcement of change this term. The first was in May 2011 after the general election, which was radical in that very senior members of previous administrations stood down — the founding prime minister, his successor, the housing and transport ministers were no longer part of the ruling Cabinet.

The PM explained then, “I wanted a fresh start and that’s why I’ve gone for radical change.” Since then, there has been a gradual progression of younger leaders into government portfolio, and today we see what has been termed “the fourth generation of PAP leaders” clearly cast.

Leadership Renewal Continues with Latest Cabinet Reshuffle
Cabinet shuffle 'to see S'pore through next phase'

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promoted Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Lawrence Wong to full ministers and named two new ministers of state to bolster the social and health teams, in a move he said was aimed at strengthening the Cabinet and helping Singapore through an important period of transition.

He said the Government was creating opportunities for Singaporeans through skills upgrading and raising productivity, improving lives through sports, culture and youth engagement, and giving people peace of mind through stronger social safety nets in health and for the elderly. "These major policy shifts require good political leadership, close coordination across ministries, effective ground implementation and strong support from Singaporeans," he added. He was strengthening the Cabinet line-up "to address our priorities and challenges, and see Singapore through our next phase of development".

In this latest round of changes, the fourth since the May 2011 General Election, Mr Tan will be promoted to Manpower Minister and Mr Wong to Minister for Culture, Community and Youth tomorrow. They have been acting ministers since August 2012 and November 2012, respectively.

Latest Cabinet reshuffle to benefit health, social portfolios

To address the Government’s priorities and challenges as well as see the nation though its next phase of development, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put it, a slew of Cabinet changes were announced yesterday.

The third round of changes — since a new Cabinet line-up was announced after the 2011 General Election — will notably beef up the ranks of the teams overseeing the social and health portfolios as leadership renewal efforts continue.

From May 1, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong will be promoted to full Ministers. Mr Wong will also become Second Minister for Communications and Information.

Things have gotten better since GE2011
Getty Images/Getty Images - SINGAPORE - MAY 07: Wedding couple poses for a photograph outside the polling station before casting their vote on May 7, 2011 in Singapore. 2.21 million voters are expected to visit polling stations across Singapore, in the countries 11th elections since independence. The 2011 general election has been the most contested in Singapore's history with 82 seats out of 87 being contested. In 2006 the People's Action Party (PAP) received 66.6 per cent of the vote. on May 7, 2011 in Singapore. The Singapore National election will be held on May 7th. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

Three years after GE2011, some Singaporeans are still feeling sceptical and dissatisfied with the way our country has changed course for the better. We were heading in the wrong direction back then. Today we are back on the right track and even though it can never be perfect, for sure we are more optimistic and confident about the days ahead.

While public policies can never appease every segment of society, it has  addressed most of the salient issues raised during the last election; housing, transportation, influx of foreign workers, jobs, health care, child care and education.

If you just look at the transformation this nation has undergone, you ought to be relieved and surprised at how things have turned around so quickly and drastically all within three years. By any standard of measurement, it is truly amazing.

GE2011: Where are we now, three years on?
AFP News - Voters wait for the gates to open at a polling centre in Singapore. Singaporeans went to the polls on Saturday with opposition parties hoping to reduce the government's overwhelming majority amid voter discontent over the cost of living and immigration policies

I’m sure everyone remembers something of the GE2011 period, whether it was the rousing roar of thehuge crowds at Workers’ Party rallies or the moments of hilarity – who can forget Lui Tuck Yew’snot-so-subtle mushroom fable?

The PAP definitely remembers the last election and its lowest ever vote-share. It’s going to pull out all the stops to make sure that it fares better (or at least doesn’t get worse) in the next round. The government’s rolled out more social policies, such as the Pioneer Generation Package. GST Rebate Vouchers are going to be sent out again, and the property market is finally coming down a little bit. (Yay for the disappearance of COVs, not that this means I can afford a resale flat!)

We are still a long way from establishing a more equal society with universal human rights, but I guess the PAP hopes that these steps will win back some of the disgruntled voters. That said, a recent event has shown how anger against the PAP government is still bubbling away.

3rd Anniversary of GE2011

It’s the 3rd anniversary of GE2011 today and supposedly mid of current term. I randomly googled and found this video ( which summed up my rollercoaster emotions after 2 months of hard campaigning as a then-newbie. So many people came along the way to help an inexperienced politician. We started with just 2-3 persons walking daily in the first week after I was selected to lead the thrust into Joo Chiat, and it grew into a fairly large team by the end of the campaign. So many residents encouraging us along the way, getting our share of brick-brats, old friends that I found again and many new friends made, and the 5 kg I lost through the daily door-to-door house visits (Alas, the 5 kg was gained back too quickly afterwards and in the wrong places too :>).

Polling day was a mix bag of emotions: Casting my vote at St Pats first thing in morning, then moving from station to station to encourage my polling agents, bumping into residents after their voting who cheered me on, and the tense 2 hours of counting. Up one moment, down the next, and not knowing the results for certain until the last numbers were in. I was asked if I wanted a recount, because it fell just at the allowed 2% limit. I knew it was quite fruitless as I had witnessed the counting and it was impossible to have a 2% error, but we called the recount anyway just to be absolutely certain.

Then began the long drive from Victoria JC counting station to Hougang where we were to assemble for the final results with WP supporters. The two months of events and words in the daily gruelling campaign kept playing through my mind in the 30-min drive: What I could have done better that would have changed the result and the hopes of people which I could not fulfil. One that kept flashing through my mind was that of the retired teacher who phoned me a few days before polling to say “I have been voting for many years with my head. I now believe I must be true to my heart. I am a retiree. I wish to give you something but I have nothing to give. I can only give you my vote.” She was voting for the opposition for the first time. Hers and the hopes of many I met along the way weighed heavily on me as I delivered the short speech in that video, choked with sadness that I had to disappoint them.

Should the PM Resign?

Recently a petition has been circulated online calling on the PM to resign over the remarks he made at a community event in AMK.

The particularly offensive lines were, “Singaporeans, new arrivals,  people who are on permanent  residence here, people who are on employment pass here, all participating in one big Singapore family…So we feel that this is a place which is special, which belongs to all of us and where we all celebrate one another’s festivals and happy events together.”  

These lines  seemed to imply that Singapore belonged to everyone living here, including expat bankers, tax dodging billionaires, even abused cheap foreign labour, rather than to the citizens whose menfolk have to give up a considerable portion of their lifetime earnings to save the PAP the cost of employing a professional army and police force.