SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on the cost of living, housing and healthcare, as well as water and electricity prices at the National Day Rally on Sunday evening (Aug 19).
He devoted a significant part of his speech to housing issues, addressing 99-year leases and announcing new schemes to rejuvenate Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.
On healthcare, Mr Lee announced that medical subsidy programme CHAS will be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions, regardless of income.
There will also be a new healthcare subsidy package for the "Merdeka Generation" - Singaporeans born in the 1950s.
Here are the highlights from the National Day Rally, which took place at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio.
READ: NDR 2018 - ‘Ambitious’ housing, healthcare plans are ‘fundamental commitments’ to Singaporeans, says PM Lee
9.29pm: Singapore can achieve more together
Concluding, Mr Lee said 100 years from now, Singapore should stand out for being a nation of boundless opportunities.
It should be “a society where every skill and talent is recognised, developed and celebrated”, he added.
“And those who have done well contribute back to society, and help others do better.”
9.22pm: Not just material needs, human spirit must flourish, says PM Lee
Singaporeans are encouraged to follow their passions, break new ground and do the country proud, said Mr Lee, sharing the stories of several people who have done so.
Mark Ong: Artist who loved drawing as a child. He designs customised sneakers for celebrities and shoe companies after winning an online competition in 2003.
Darius Cheung and Roshni Mahtani: Husband and wife who founded property platform 99.co and theAsianparent.com, respectively.
Wong Kah Chun: At 32 years old, he is the chief conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany. Next year he will be a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the Chinese New Year concert.
He also co-founded an initiative to bring music to less privileged and special needs children in Singapore.
9.21pm: Schemes will stretch over 50 years and more
Mr Lee said the plans to improve healthcare and housing are “fundamental commitments by my Government to you”.
9.13pm: JUST IN – New scheme called VERS (Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme) to be introduced in 20 years
This is primarily for older estates like Marine Parade, Ang Mo Kio and Bedok.
The Government will compensate residents whose flats are taken back early and help them get another flat to live in.
The scheme is voluntary and residents will have to vote “yes” for it to proceed.
The idea behind VERS is to avoid a situation where 99-year leases in older estates all expire at around the same time, leaving authorities with a situation where homes will have to be found for a lot of people at once.
9.09pm: SERS is one option but it is “a very limited scheme”
Touching on the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), Mr Lee said HDB estimates that only 5 per cent of flats are suitable.
The scheme is meant for selected HDB blocks which have high development value which can be unlocked, he explained.
9.06pm: JUST IN – HIP II to be introduced (Second round of upgrading)
HDB flats get HIP about 30 years after they were built.
HIP II will be the second round of upgrading for these flats when they are about 60 to 70 years old.
“In short, every HDB flat can expect to be upgraded twice during their lease,” said Mr Lee.
This will cost the Government “probably even more” than S$4 billion, which is what will be spent in the first HIP which was launched 10 years ago.
9.05pm: JUST IN – Home Improvement Programme (HIP) to be expanded
HIP will be expanded to include HDB blocks built up to 1997. The programme currently covers flats built up to 1986.
With the expansion, another 230,000 flats will benefit – in estates such as Pasir Ris, Tampines and Jurong.
8.59pm: Why are HDB leases 99 years?
This is the only way to ensure that all our descendants can buy new BTO flats of their own, said Mr Lee.
Homeowners may pass their flats down to future generations, but those not lucky enough to inherit a property will get nothing, he explained.
“Our society would split into property owners and those who cannot afford a property. That would be most unequal and socially divisive.”
8.57pm: Will I outlive my flat’s 99-year lease?
Very few of today’s HDB owners will outlive their leases, said Mr Lee.
It will happen to less than 2 per cent of households, including those who bought resale flats, he added.
But it could happen to homeowners’ children if they decide to pass the flat down to them. “But this should not be a problem if your children buy their own BTO flat, with its own 99-year lease, as many do,” said Mr Lee.
8.56pm: 99-year leases – MND working on expanding lease buyback scheme
Mr Lee said the lease buyback scheme may be expanded to help HDB homeowners monetise older flats.
The scheme allows elderly homeowners to sell the tail end of the flat’s lease back to HDB in exchange for a cash bonus.
The National Development Ministry is also working on improving the liquidity of the resale market, said Mr Lee.
8.47pm: JUST IN – Government will work out a Merdeka Generation Package
Remember the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) launched four years ago? That was for Singaporeans born in 1949 and earlier.
Those born in the 1950s - who just missed out on the PGP benefits – have not been forgotten, said Mr Lee.
The Merdeka Generation Package will help those born in the 1950s to meet their medical expenses.
READ: NDR 2018 - PM Lee announces ‘Merdeka Generation’ healthcare package for Singaporeans born in ‘50s
8.43pm: The Merdeka Generation
Mr Lee spoke of what he termed the "Merdeka Generation", those born in the 1950s who experienced the changes as Singapore merged with Malaysia, separated, then gain unexpected independence.
8.38pm: CareShield Life – financial support for long-term care
Confused about what CareShield Life is all about? You’re not alone. It is the most difficult of the healthcare schemes to explain to the public, according to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Mr Lee said CareShield Life is important because as many as one in two Singaporeans will at some point no longer be able to perform three Activities of Daily Living.
8.35pm: More polyclinics to be built
There will be polyclinics in Sembawang, Eunos, Kallang and Bukit Panjang by 2020; and in Nee Soon Central and Tampines North by 2023.
8.30pm: JUST IN – CHAS will be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions, regardless of income
The benefits will continue to be tiered according to income, Mr Lee announced.
CHAS, or Community Health Assist Scheme, previously covered middle to lower-income Singaporeans by giving them subsidies at participating clinics.
READ: NDR 2018 - CHAS to be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions, regardless of income
8.30pm: Attention to housing, education and healthcare
“We will spare no effort to ensure you can afford them,” said Mr Lee.
8.27pm: KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail project
Both the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail and Rapid Transit System have legally binding bilateral agreements, Mr Lee reiterated.
“Both sides have to carry out what has been agreed to, unless we mutually agree to vary the terms,” he added.
On the water issue, Mr Lee said: “The Water Agreement is sacrosanct. We must proceed strictly in accordance with the terms.”
READ: NDR 2018 - Fundamentals of Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia have not changed, says PM Lee
8.25pm: Bilateral ties with Malaysia
When Mr Lee visited Putrajaya shortly after the watershed election, he told Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad that he wanted to work with him to take the bilateral relationship forward.
“He agreed that we should, because we are each other’s closest neighbours,” said Mr Lee.
8.20pm: US-China trade war
Continuing on the theme of external developments, Mr Lee reiterated that tit-for-tat trade wars affect business confidence and threaten global prosperity.
“There are no winners in a trade war,” he said. “Small and open economies are especially vulnerable. Singapore will suffer collateral damage.”
8.17pm: Trump-Kim summit
Mr Lee began his English speech by talking about the Trump-Kim summit which Singapore hosted.
“It was a daunting task, but we rose to the challenge,” he said, thanking the officers who worked hard to organise and secure the event.
Mr Lee said an officer from the Gurkha Contingent told him that during the event, a woman had leaned over a crowd barrier to say: “Thank you for keeping Singapore safe!”
7.30pm: Hawker culture as part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage?
Possibly! Singapore will nominate hawker culture to be inscribed in UNESCO’s list.
This will help to safeguard and promote the “unique culture” for future generations, said Mr Lee.
“It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and unique multicultural heritage.”
7.25pm: More hawker centres being built
Seven hawker centres have been built in the last few years and there are 13 more to come, with stalls required to provide affordable food options.
This is to help Singaporeans manage the cost of eating out, said Mr Lee.
He revealed that dishes from nine hawker stalls will be catered at this year's rally reception.
7.20pm: Ways to bring down the bills
Avoid using 4G to watch movies when you are out of the house, and tap on Wireless@SG where it is available, Mr Lee suggested, using mobile phone bills as an example of how to manage costs.
Another example is the cost of infant formula. Mr Lee said there are now more reasonably priced infant milk formula to choose from so parents can make choices based on their needs and budget.
7.16pm: Why can’t the Government fix the electricity tariff?
Because Singapore imports almost all its energy, the Government cannot control electricity tariffs, said Mr Lee.
And if the Government introduces fixed tariffs, it would mean costly subsidies which are not sustainable, he added. Also, that would mean people who use more electricity would receive more subsidies.
READ: NDR 2018 - Government will do its part to alleviate concerns about cost of living, says PM Lee
7.10pm: Quiz – have current electricity prices gone up or down compared to 10 years ago?
Answer: Today’s tariff is lower – at 23.65 cents/kwh – compared to 25.07 cents/kwh in the third quarter of 2008. (Although the tariff has gone up and down over the years)
The Government has tried to keep inflation low but cannot completely prevent prices of items such as water and electricity from going up, said Mr Lee.
7.06pm: Four reasons why Singaporeans feel cost of living pressures
- First, young couples grapple with the cost of buying their first home and starting a family;
- The “sandwiched generation” worry about looking after both their parents and children;
- Quality of life has improved and people aspire to have more
7.02pm: Singapore had “a good year overall”
Mr Lee started his Mandarin speech with a positive picture of the economy, which he said is growing steadily.
7pm: The 3Ms – MUIS, Mendaki and MESRA
Mr Lee highlighted the importance of these three institutions in strengthening the Malay-Muslim community.
Going forward, they will pool their resources and work more closely together to tackle challenges such as getting more children to attend pre-school, mentoring youth and dealing with social problems.
“Singapore must remain a country where all Malays can achieve their aspirations,” said Mr Lee.
READ: Geylang Serai to be made ‘culturally distinctive’, with enhanced night lights, more activity spaces
6.32pm: Geylang Serai to be turned into a culturally distinct precinct
Speaking in Malay, Mr Lee said more can be done to make Geylang Serai a culturally distinct precinct.
Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman has been appointed to lead this project, and will work with local businesses, government agencies and MESRA to make the area more vibrant and special.
He highlighted Wisma Geylang Serai as an icon in the precinct.
The social and cultural heritage space - housing a community club and other facilities - was recently completed.
6.46pm: Good luck to Team Singapore athletes
Mr Lee kicked off his speech by wishing Singapore athletes taking part in the Asian Games in Indonesia all the best.
"We are cheering for them. Go for gold!"
6.40pm: Key issues in last year's National Day Rally
In his 2017 speech, Mr Lee spoke about upgrading pre-schools, fighting diabetes and building a Smart Nation.
6.24pm: Mr Lee's team posts a photo of him arriving ahead of the National Day Rally
6.15pm: National Day Rally 2018 to begin at 6.45pm
PM Lee will begin his address to the nation at 6.45pm, speaking first in Malay and then in Mandarin.
He will deliver his English speech at 8.15pm, at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio.