SINGAPORE: It is "misleading" to link the Merdeka Generation Package and Pioneer Generation Package to election cycles, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 26).
He was responding to Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh, who earlier said that the "ground feel" on the Merdeka Generation Package is that it helps senior citizens with their medical bills even though it is less generous than the Pioneer Generation Package.
"There are also quarters who conclude that it is 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," Mr Singh said in his speech during Parliament's debate on Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget 2019 statement.
Mr Chee urged the WP not to diminish the significance of the Merdeka Generation Package and Pioneer Generation Package, which were introduced to express appreciation for senior Singaporeans.
"Now I wonder why WP chose to use such an unpleasant description and to focus on politicising this tribute to our Merdeka Generation. The opposition calls for the Government to give more, and yet when the Government gives more to help Singaporeans, the WP criticises the move as an election tactic.
"We can't have it both ways. Please make up your mind and decide where you stand," Mr Chee said.
Mr Chee also addressed WP's call for a permanent, universal healthcare package for the elderly, where those aged 60 and above will be automatically enrolled into the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) which provides subsidies for primary care services.
Mr Singh argued that some seniors miss out on a few years of medical benefits because of the "cohort-based" packages which qualify beneficiaries based on the year they were born.
By having a universal and permanent senior citizen healthcare package that offers a "basic level of medical benefits", it can provide "peace of mind" to all Singaporeans throughout their lives, Mr Singh said.
READ: Government should introduce a permanent, universal healthcare package for seniors: Pritam Singh
Mr Singh added that there was "good reason" to believe that Singapore would be able to support such a healthcare package based on the healthy accumulated surpluses by the current term of Government thus far.
Mr Chee explained that surpluses used to fund packages like the Merdeka Generation Package are earned during the term of Government.
"You can't do this at the start of the term because you don't know, at that point, how much surpluses you're going to have and how much surpluses you can set aside to fund these packages," Mr Chee said.
"It is part of the design of our system for financial prudence and sustainability. To look after our current generation and future generations, we must plan for the long term. This is what a responsible Government needs to do, to ensure that our policies and programmes are financially sustainable for the current and future generations."
He added that support for elderly Singaporeans already exists through structural subsidies on top of cohort-based support. These include polyclinic subsidies which are universal, and senior citizens receive additional subsidies when they seek medical attention there.
The parliamentary session was adjourned after Mr Chee's response. The debate on the Budget 2019 statement resumes on Wednesday.