The Business Times

Halimah: Ensure govt policies reach intended beneficiaries

Parliament wraps up 9-day Budget and Committee of Supply debate

Published Thu, Mar 13, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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[SINGAPORE] Lawmakers in Singapore must ensure that the various policies mapped out in Parliament actually reach the people they are meant to benefit, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob yesterday.

Wrapping up the marathon nine-day Budget debate, she recalled how, during her recent block visits in her Bukit Batok East ward in Jurong, she had encountered many residents who were still unaware of the government's Pioneer Generation Package.

Many of them were not even aware that Parliament was in session and that "important debates" were taking place that would have an impact on their lives and their future, said Madam Halimah, who was presiding over her second Budget and Committee of Supply (COS) debate since becoming Speaker in January 2013.

The Pioneer Generation Package was the centrepiece of this year's Budget, with $8 billion set aside to help pay for the healthcare costs of some 450,000 elderly Singaporeans for the rest of their lives.

Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen, in his brief remarks at the end of the debate, noted how the Pioneer Generation Package had won "universal support" from all members in the House as well as the general public.

"Many have also noted that what was extraordinary was not only the package, but that it could be funded entirely," said Dr Ng, who is also the Defence Minister.

"By doing so, this government has set a virtuous precedent of not making grand promises for subsequent governments to bear the cost. This is something that few, if any, governments around the world have done or can do," he added.

Madam Halimah said that it has been a "significant Budget and a good debate" overall. "What I like about this Budget is that it places people at the centre of development, which is as it should be as economic growth cannot be an end in itself but is a means to provide a better life for our people."

There were a total of 452 speeches over the seven days of the COS debate, 6 per cent fewer than last year.

The health ministry attracted the most attention from MPs with 54 speeches, followed by the transport and manpower ministries. These three ministries, out of a total of 16, collectively took up nearly a third of the entire debate.

Dr Ng described the timing of this year's Budget and COS debate as the halfway-mark in the government's current five-year electoral term.

The current Parliament, the country's 12th, is expected to be prorogued soon, almost three years after it was sworn in back in May 2011.

The more "crucial" period will be when Parliament re-opens after it has taken stock of how it has performed so far and assessed what else is needed to be done for the people, said Dr Ng.

"We still have much to do. This House urges all of us together - government, MPs and our people - to commit ourselves to the task of improving the lives of all Singaporeans in the remainder of the term," he said.

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