Opposition in Parliament ‘had no bearing’ on PAP policies

Published: 4:16 AM, August 15, 2015
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SINGAPORE — Whether or not the opposition had a strong presence in Parliament had no bearing on the many policies introduced or refined by the People’s Action Party (PAP) government since the last General Election in 2011, as the foundation for these plans had been laid even earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

Presenting the ruling party’s report card for the past four years on long-term efforts in the fields of healthcare, housing and retirement adequacy, Mr Teo pointed out that these areas are key planks the PAP has long been championing.

“These were things — positive things, which are useful (and) beneficial to Singaporeans — which we would have done anyway, which were in our programme, which we’ve been doing for many years,” said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister. “(They don’t) depend on how many Opposition members (are) in Parliament. So long as we’re elected, we’ll do that. Of course, if we’re not elected, we can’t.”

Providing for retirement has always been a key pillar of the PAP’s social policies, and earlier this year, a decision was made to introduce more flexibility into the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system, he noted.

Similarly, the PAP has always been a champion of “good, quality and affordable healthcare”. So it introduced the Pioneer Generation Package last year and will roll out MediShield Life this year to further this goal, said Mr Teo.

Home ownership, which featured heavily in the PAP’s manifesto for GE 2011, has also been a key objective since the early days, he added.

Nevertheless, Mr Teo acknowledged that there were several tricky issues that would take “a little bit longer” to resolve, including transport and population challenges.

In recent years, train breakdowns and overcrowded roads have been major bugbears among Singaporeans. But Mr Teo said plans have been put in place to resolve these problems. For instance, the Land Transport Authority aims to double the rail network to about 360km by 2030, he noted.

“Steadily, progressively, we’ll have a much better public transport network than we have today. The lines that you see being opened today were not started yesterday or two or three years ago. We are only just seeing the fruits of this,” he said.

While admitting that population woes were “very difficult” to tackle, Mr Teo said recent indicators show more marriages, more babies and a slower inflow of foreigners, signalling that the PAP’s population policies are on the right track.

The next big project for the PAP is in ensuring fair employment practices and retraining workers — areas that Mr Teo described as a “work in progress”.

While it wants to give Singaporeans a fair deal, it needs to strike a balance between welcoming foreign talent and protecting locals, he noted.

“We do know that Singapore companies need foreign workers. If we squeeze hard, the companies will fold and Singaporeans will lose their jobs, and foreign companies who come here will get frightened and go somewhere else,” said Mr Teo. “So there’s a fine balance. We want fair employment for Singaporeans, but at the same time, we have to do it in a fair and calibrated way.”

The Government is also “redoubling efforts” in training and retraining locals with the introduction of the SkillsFuture initiative in this year’s Budget.

Mr Teo said: “Ultimately, for Singaporeans to remain employable, (they) have to be competitive globally. SkillsFuture is a very important component of this programme to help Singaporeans level up and have good jobs and good wages in the future.” VALERIE KOH

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