Debate on President’s Address: MPs raise infrastructure, housing-related issues

Debate on President’s Address: MPs raise infrastructure, housing-related issues

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An old man walks on an overhead bridge. (File photo: Francine Lim)

SINGAPORE: Housing and infrastructure related issues were raised by MPs in Parliament on Thursday (May 17) - the fourth day of debates on the President’s Address. There were calls to ramp up infrastructure for the elderly and to help retired individuals who live in private homes.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, the Member of Parliament for the Bukit Panjang constituency, said the Government needs to expedite the transformation of Singapore's built environment to be more elderly friendly.

“Although various developments are in place to support ageing, there is an urgent need to make every home to be elder safe, every community to be elder safe, and make Singapore to be an elder safe country for both Singaporeans and tourists," he said. 

He suggested that the Ministry of National Development (MND) provide standard elderly-friendly solutions such as ramps, grab bars, anti-slip flooring, alert systems and lightings to encourage more families to make their homes elder safe.

He also recommended that Singapore’s built environment be 100 per cent seamless and barrier free.

“At present, many buildings and places do not have barrier-free access. Our public transport system is also not fully integrated to provide seamless travel for all seniors and wheelchair-bound commuters," he said. 

MP for the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam said that the Government should consider installing home monitoring systems, as well as lower wash areas and kitchen tops for elderly.

HOUSING TYPES NOT A GOOD MEASURE OF WHO GETS BENEFITS

MP for Mountbatten Lim Biow Chuan asked if the Government would consider reviewing the policy of tagging budget benefits to household types. He added that there are Singaporeans who live in private homes or bigger HDB flats but many are retired with no income or struggle to find similar paying jobs due to their age.

“Their frustration is that they always get left behind whenever benefits are announced in the annual budget. It is a non-event for them because the SG Bonus, GST vouchers or S&CC or utilities rebates are usually not for them,” Mr Lim said.

Consequently, these Singaporeans feel that the Government has little appreciation for residents living in better homes despite their past years of contribution to nation building when they were working, Mr Lim added.

Mr Lim stressed that he is not suggesting “simply giving handouts” but to better appreciate those who had contributed to Singapore by paying income taxes and had served Singapore in different capacities.

“I urge the Government to adopt policies which signal to our citizens that they are appreciated for their contributions to nation building. This will give them a sense that they are Singaporeans too when the Budget is announced,” he said.

Mr Lim also asked if the Government will review the tagging of Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) benefits to the cardholder’s household income.

He gave the example of a resident who lost his CHAS medical benefits after getting a small pay raise of S$100, and ended up having to pay more for medical care because the resident is now overqualified.

“It does not make sense why the CHAS system penalises someone for working harder and earning more. A graduated system would be fairer to those who really need the CHAS benefits,” Mr Lim said.

ISSUE OF LEASE DECAY HAS RESURFACED 

Mr Yam also spoke about how the issue of 99-year leases for HDB flats has “resurfaced in recent months”. 

He highlighted that given the recent collective sale frenzy, lease decay has led to the unfortunate comparison of different types of housing.

“That a 20-year old private apartment or a 40-year old HUDC can undergo collective sale and thus monetise the asset seems unfair. Of course, there are major differences between both. But there can be no amount of rational explanation that can address the perceived unfairness completely,” Mr Yam said.  

He called for “more clarity” from MND on the issue and suggested that a modified Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) be expanded.

Workers’ Party’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera added that HDB flat lease decay is a “large and complex issue” that WP intends to study with a view of making constructive suggestions.

He highlighted that there was a possibility of HDB resale prices performing poorly in the future as more BTO flats are built. He added that there is a pressure on residents to monetise their HDB flats for future retirement income or even emergency or supplementary income.

REVIEW POLICIES ON RESERVES 

Separately, Mr Perera suggested that the Government tap more from its reserves to bolster its budget.

“Such changes would not reduce the absolute size of the reserves per se but would slow down the rate of reserve growth,” he said. “This question is not only a technical economic question but a deep, philosophical question about inter-generational equity."

Mr Perera added that there are reasonable views on both sides of the issue. On one hand, not tapping on the reserves would allow Singapore to gain additional security from a larger and larger emergency fund going forward. 

On the other hand, there are risks from allowing costs and economic pressures to rise in the future, he warned.

"Spending more on the current generations and reducing the cost burden may affect TFR (Total Fertility Rate)," he said.

"There is some evidence that anxiety about the cost of living and academic competition contributes to a low TFR, and indeed our TFR is one of the lowest in the world." 

Source: CNA/am

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