Singapore—During the Budget debate in Parliament on Tuesday, February 26, Pritam Singh, the head of the Workers’ Party (WP), proposed a permanent senior citizen healthcare package for all Singaporeans from 60 years old and up.
According to him, this would “represent a critical symbol of integration” for everyone.
The WP chief said that this would give citizens a basic level of medical benefits that would help them in keeping up with the cost of living, as well as ease their burdens when it comes to medical expenses.
Mr Singh said that this kind of health care scheme would help the Government in answering claims that periodic benefit packages like the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) and the newly-announced Merdeka Generation Package (MGP) leave others out, therefore rendering them unfair.
The WP head cited certain people who said that the MGP was “pungently timed with the election cycle, giving off the odour of an unfair advantage aimed at the electoral prospects of the People’s Action Party (PAP)”.
He also mentioned that these packages are not fair to certain senior citizens, who failed to qualify for years of medical benefits because of when they were born since there are a number of years between when the packages are given.
According to Mr Singh, the permanent senior citizen healthcare package that he is proposing has funding in the Budget due to two specific reasons.
One, since Temasek was introduced to the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) three years ago, it adds S$5 billion annually, making S$25 billion over a government term of five years.
He claims that the approximately 25 percent growth of the NIRC since 2016, “goes some way to explain the healthy accumulated surpluses accrued to this term of government from the opening of Parliament in 2016.”
Next, since the Budget elaborated by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last year mentioned that borrowing would pay in part for the expansion in infrastructure, Mr Singh inquired if this means that other revenue streams would be freed to fund spending that’s recurrent.
If so, the WP chief said, “it would appear that funding such a universal and permanent healthcare initiative for our seniors cannot be dismissed as dishonest, unreasonable or imprudent.”
Mr Singh was directly referencing words used by Members of Parliament of ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which they used to describe proposals from the WP in the past.
For example last May, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the WP’s suggestion to review that 50 percent cap on spending from the returns of the reserves an “ill-disciplined, imprudent and unwise” mindset that considered rules to be flexible when funding was needed.
The Finance Minister himself called the WP “dishonest and irresponsible” because of its position on the future goods and services tax (GST) hike. In his speech in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Pritam Singh asked for more transparency and openness from the Government.
“Increasingly, as we move into the future, the Government will not have all the answers… If change is indeed going to be deeper and faster, then Singaporeans must be ready to become active participants of this process, with the Government facilitating conversations by sharing more information.
A strong and united Singapore will not be built with some Singaporeans being made to feel that they must conform or support the Government’s narrative, with little room for alternative views.
This is a sure way of heralding not just a divided and insecure population, but a divisive conversation about the choices we have to make collectively.