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On Wednesday (Nov 5), ministers gave replies to MPs' questions on postal rates, music in public places, hawker food prices and mental illness, among other issues. The House also passed the Animals & Birds (Amendment) Bill. During the 3-day sitting, Parliament debated and passed a total of 10 Bills.

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Govt has made steady progress in past three years: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech in Parliament addressed housing, transport and population issues, and the strengthening of social safety nets. 

SINGAPORE: The Government has made steady progress in the past three years in the areas of housing and transport, as well as with population issues, and the strengthening of social safety nets, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech on the President's Address today (May 28).

Recapping the progress made in the first half of the Government's term, Mr Lee highlighted the title of the People's Action Party manifesto in 2011, which was to "Secur(e) Our Future Together".

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The manifesto stated the Government's goal, which was to develop a "fair and inclusive society, where every citizen has a rightful place and the opportunity to fulfill his or her aspirations".

Mr Lee said housing was a big concern for Singaporeans when the 12th Parliament opened, and the government mobilised all resources to tackle the problem. This included building some 52,000 flats, and almost doubling the subsidies disbursed so flats could be more affordable.

The housing situation is under control, he said, commending National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, his ministry and the Housing Development Board.

On transport, Mr Lee said that there has been "steady progress".  He pointed out the aggressive rolling out of the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), saying there would be more buses and routes to come.

Enhancing train services is still a work-in-progress, and the Government can and  will solve this problem, he said.

The Government is working hard to improve services and reduce disruptions, and free early morning rides have spread out peak hour traffic. But trains are still crowded during those hours. Mr Lee said with new trains coming in, and the upgrading of signalling equipment, Singaporeans can expect significant improvements from next year.

The aim: to build a first-class public transport system, where people can get around comfortably, without the need for a car.

He said Singapore can learn from other cities too, and recounted his trip to London in March for Singapore Day. London has a hybrid system, where the Government owns, plans and regulates the bus system. The private sector operates the bus routes on fixed-price contracts.

While fares are not cheap, Mr Lee said they are heavily subsidised. He said London has been refining its system for many years, and Singapore too will learn from it, as well as other cities.

Running a world-class system means investing more resources, and the government has done so by expanding the BSEP and building and upgrading train networks. Public transport will continue to be subsidised, Mr Lee said, but commuters must also pay their share. He said it's about finding the right balance in cost-sharing between the government, the private sector and commuters.

Turning to population issues, Mr Lee said that while the debate on the Population White Paper was "vigorous and emotional", it helped people to better understand the issue, and for the Government to work out its plans.

It is significantly reducing the inflow of new arrivals, and will review population planning parameters closer to 2020. One area in which the Government is working out its population policy, is on how many foreign workers to allow.

He said the while the numbers of foreign workers are still growing, it is much slower than before - the inflow of foreign workers has almost halved since 2011, and this slowdown has been painful for small and medium enterprises.

"When we had the debate, the opposition proposed that we go for zero per cent growth of foreign workers and maintained this was a good thing and popular. It's a good thing that we did not do that, because if we had done that, many more SMEs would have been hurt, and many more Singaporeans would have lost their jobs."

Mr Lee said many SMEs have had to shift their operations out of Singapore, and others have pointed out there is business, but not enough workers. The Government would help all companies, especially SMEs, adapt to an environment of fewer foreign workers. But it cannot ease up on foreign worker limits.

Mr Lee said one group of foreign workers the government would focus on is foreign Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs). He said the issue is of the quality of foreign workers and fair treatment for local PMEs. The government has been managing their numbers and profiles, and tightened up the Employment Passes and S-Passes requirements.

Construction worker numbers and their social impact is also another area for close monitoring. Mr Lee said the government has tightened quotas of construction workers and raised levies, as well as productivity.

Government projects in the pipeline are also being reviewed. Urgent projects such as the building of HDB flats and train networks will continue, but the Government will defer more than S$2billion worth of projects to spread out the demand for construction workers.

This would include deferring new ministry and statutory board offices, the new Science Centre, as well as extensions to the Gardens by the Bay. Mr Lee said these trade-offs are necessary, and he hopes Singaporeans would understand this.