SINGAPORE: The second session of Singapore's 12th Parliament was opened in May 2014 after a mid-term break. In his speech, President Tony Tan Keng Yam pledged that the Government will work with Singaporeans to address their concerns and aspirations, including strengthening safety nets to help the vulnerable and elderly, as well as creating more opportunities for working adults.
Several key initiatives are set to benefit Singaporeans in 2016, one of them being the SkillsFuture Credit, first announced in the 2015 Budget. To encourage lifelong learning, Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive an initial credit of S$500, which can be used to pay for about 10,000 approved courses ranging from accountancy to even bread making. Singaporeans will receive their SkillsFuture Credit account activation letter from January.
"This idea of levelling up on their skills so that they can either prepare themselves for a career shift or entrench themselves in a career they already love is not something new," said Associate Professor Paulin Straughan of the National University of Singapore's Department of Sociology. "But having a formal scheme now empowers them to take their aspirations to the next level because this is a scheme that's endorsed by the Government, so certainly that will carry a lot more weight when they put in their application for leave when they go and level up on their skills."
Also set to kick in early this year is the Silver Support Scheme, to help low-income seniors aged 65 and above. The initiative was first announced at the National Day Rally in 2014. Assessed based on their lifetime wages, level of household support and housing type, those eligible will get cash payouts ranging from S$300 to S$750 every quarter, for life. The scheme is estimated to cost the Government about S$350 million in the first full year. About 150,000 seniors are expected to benefit.
Said Assoc Prof Paulin Straughan: "I think what is appreciated would be just disposable income that they could use to ensure that they will be able to age gracefully and not worry about bread-and-butter concerns.
"But I guess in all this, the devil is always in the details. You have older Singaporeans who are asset rich, but have very little cash. You have Singaporeans who may look good on paper in terms of the number of children they have who could possibly support them, but the children themselves are also strapped because they are sandwiched between eldercare needs and childcare needs. So how do you come up with a set of robust criteria to identify where the needs are and how much support they need?"
BOOSTS FOR GROWING HOUSEHOLDS, PUBLIC TRANSPORT
It is not just seniors who will get more help.To provide more support for families, parents with babies born on or after Jan 1, 2015 will get an additional Baby Bonus cash gift of S$2,000 dollars to be paid out from January 2016. This will be disbursed between the 12th and 18th months after the child’s birth. It will also be extended to the fifth child and beyond up from the first four children. The Medisave Grant for Newborns, which has been increased to S$4,000 dollars from S$3,000 dollars, will be paid out from March 2016.
On the infrastructure front, commuters will get to ride with new bus operators this year. It is part of a major restructuring of the public bus industry to provide better service to commuters. UK operator Tower Transit will run the new Bulim Bus Depot, as well as 26 bus services in the west, from the second quarter of this year. The company was awarded the first tender under the new government bus contracting model.
From the third quarter, UK's Go-Ahead Group will run the new Loyang bus depot and operate 25 bus services in the east and north-east, after it was awarded the second contract. However, while a slew of policies may be in the works, analysts have said that how they are implemented will be key.
Said Assoc Prof Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University's School of Law: "I think the Government has committed itself to these major policies and what we’ll see over the next four years will be the attempt, a very earnest attempt to make these policies work well.
"This is so that there won’t be a gap between what the Government had promised in terms of what these policies can do and how Singaporeans feel about whether these policies are indeed benefiting them, particularly one that affects significant segments, if not all Singaporeans."
A new Parliament is set to open on Jan 15, where the President will also deliver his opening address. Analysts expect the speech to take on a positive tone, riding on the high of 2015, which saw the Republic celebrating its 50th year of independence and a General Election which saw the ruling People's Action Party win with 70 per cent of valid votes. Assoc Prof Eugene Tan added that anything less may not strike as deep a chord with Singaporeans.
"I think there's every reason to expect the address to be positive and upbeat, but to also point to the dark clouds over the horizon, whether this relates to the state of the economy, as well as the global economy because that impacts upon Singapore, or about relations between Singaporeans in light of concerns over terrorism.
"And I think all this takes place again in that larger context of Singapore preparing for its leadership transition. We will see the President’s address putting some emphasis, I believe, on that leadership transition and of course we will be looking out to see how the fourth-generation leadership wins the confidence of the people, how they tackle the challenges of the day."
That includes managing the expectations of the electorate while addressing day-to-day issues and steering the country forward in the year ahead.