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TODAY20: What have we done for our Merdeka Generation? (Aug 10, 2009)

Over the past two decades, TODAY has played an active role in public discourse in Singapore. To mark our 20th anniversary this month, we are re-publishing 20 of our most impactful news articles over the years.

TODAY20: What have we done for our Merdeka Generation? (Aug 10, 2009)

In 2009, TODAY published a commentary urging the Government to take steps to ease healthcare costs for the generation of Singaporeans in their golden years who had helped to build up the nation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Over the past two decades, TODAY has played an active role in public discourse in Singapore. To mark our 20th anniversary this month, we are re-publishing 20 of our most impactful news articles over the years.

WHAT HAPPENED

  • In 2009, TODAY published a commentary urging the Government to take steps to ease healthcare costs for the generation of Singaporeans in their golden years who had helped to build up the nation in the 1950s and 1960s

WHAT NEXT

  • A Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) was launched in 2014 to help foot the medical bill of older Singaporeans under MediShield Life

  • In his National Day Rally speech in 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the move would ensure that this group of Singaporeans, described then as being in their late 60s and above and who have worked hard to build a modern Singapore, would never have to worry about healthcare in their old age

  • The initiative was seen as part of a strategic shift in the approach to nation-building — from the “tough love” approach of low and targeted state welfare to one where the community and Government do more to support individuals

  • At the National Day Rally in 2018, PM Lee announced a Merdeka Generation Package — similar to the PGP but with less generous benefits — for those born between 1950 and 1959

 

I belong to the Lucky Generation. Born soon after World War II into a tumultuous world, by a twist of good faith and fortune, we became the early beneficiaries of Singapore’s economic success.

Three moves catapulted people of my generation out of a Singapore in the backwaters to a Singapore in the ocean of prosperity: The Central Provident Fund (CPF), high salaries and housing.

A young Singaporean recently gasped in awe as I told her that there was a point in our lives when we were forced to save 50 per cent of our monthly salaries, 25 per cent paid by ourselves and the other 25 per cent by our employers. At age 55, for many of us, there was more than a cool million dollars waiting to be collected.

It was about the same time that Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team decided that Singapore should up the economic game and move into producing high-end goods. That was done by forcing companies to pay their workers higher wages or move their operations out of Singapore.

The result: Those lucky enough not to work in the Singapore sweatshops saw their salaries rise by S$1,000 a month. Can you imagine what this kind of extra income, and that, too, in the early 1980s, could have done to your bottom line and your spirits?

And, finally, housing. Thirty-three years ago, I bought my first home (not house, as today’s Singaporeans like to say) for S$97,500. Home, sweet home, it provided more than a roof over our heads, appreciating in value many times over. Many profited by buying and selling and then re-buying and re-selling as the country turbocharged its way into an economic never-never land.

Believe it or not, a friend of mine paid a deposit for a town house in Faber Garden (a condominium near Sin Ming estate) and just weeks later, sold it for a profit of S$100,000 because the property agent had found a willing buyer. That was in 1990.

As my mind goes back to such stories of the Lucky Generation this National Day, I can’t help but think of the generation before us, the Merdeka Generation.

The group that gave the People’s Action Party (PAP) its biggest break by voting the then opposition party into power in the 1959 elections with a 43-51 majority in Parliament.

Would we have the Singapore that we see today if not for that momentous day on May 30, 1959? Highly unlikely.

That generation is now in their 70s, 80s and some even in their 90s. There are an estimated 191,000 of them, some in good health and happily retired, some bedridden, some breaking their backs cleaning up after us in food outlets and even some being pushed in wheelchairs by the maids at some of our parks.

At 8.22pm yesterday, many of us stopped for a moment to take the Singapore pledge.

It is time to start thinking of another pledge, this time for our Merdeka Generation: We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge to look after our Merdeka Generation by taking care of their needs and wants in a way that they can live their golden years in happiness and look back at the nation they helped to create with joy and pride.

The Government can go one step further by easing one of their biggest fears: Healthcare. Put aside a bare minimum sum to take care of their health needs.

Is that too much to ask of a nation that might not even be a dot if not for these people?

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TODAYonline healthcare Pioneer Generation Package government

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