Singapore 2025

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Archive for March 2013

Parliament: SAF Volunteer Corps

Parliament: Committee of Supply 11 March 2013 (MINDEF) – Strengthening the Singaporean Core

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Chairperson, NS has remained the bedrock of nation-building since 1967. With the Government opening the door to large numbers of foreigners in a short space of time over the last decade, foreigners and new citizens have, to varying degrees, been accused of enjoying a security umbrella without the need to do NS. In addition, Government data released through parliamentary questioning reveal that about 25% of all who give up their citizenship each year from 2007 to 2011 were naturalised citizens. These perceptions and realities should prompt us to looking at ways to increase the prospects of integration, at least between Singaporeans and new citizens for nation-building purposes.

The unique role of National Service as a social adhesive boasts a generational track record. So far, the Government’s efforts have been tailored towards putting the contribution of NSmen into distinct relief by sharpening the difference between Singaporeans and foreigners through a monetary approach.

In 2010, the Government announced details of the NS Recognition Award which saw every Singaporean NSman getting up to either $9,000 or $10,500 deposited into their Post-Secondary Education and CPF accounts over 10 years. Even then, the limits of monetary incentives and monetary solutions were aptly put by a Straits Times reporter who addressed the issue succinctly, “money cannot be the only language Singaporeans speak. People want to feel proud of being Singaporean.”

Earlier in 2010, in response to proposals that new citizens should be made to serve some form of National Service, the Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen came out to say that NS was meant to serve a critical national need, not fulfil social goals. Three years later, with a perceptibly strong and negative undercurrent to the Government’s population policies today, a reassessment of NS’ utility as a tool of integration is necessary.

At its heart is the question of public buy-in towards the Government’s immigration policies – buy-in which has so far remained very fitful. As MINDEF takes up the largest chuck of the country’s Budget, it would be worthwhile looking at the role NS can play in the integration of new citizens, especially since it can equally be argued that integration is not just a social objective, but that it serves – especially with the passing of the Population White Paper – a critical national purpose too.

The pace of integration between citizens and new citizens is slow. Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with this, since integration should not be hurried. It is also quite difficult to have an absolute fix on the depth and quality of integration so far, except the visceral outbursts against foreigners that many in this House have come to know of. But integration can be enhanced and deepened by common experiences and shared values – and in this regard, National Service presents itself as a ready platform.

Today, Singaporean males have accepted that they can be called up for NS for up to 40 days a year for 10 years, and that is after they have completed their two-year full-time National Service stint. The point about NS is that Singaporean males do not just serve two years of NS, they serve a 10-year NS training cycle when they enter the workforce as well.

While it may be operationally and bureaucratically inefficient to get new citizens to serve full-time NS for two years, it is not in the realm of imagination to conceive of new citizens up to the age of 30, serving a 10-year NS cycle till they are 40 years old, which is the current statutory age limit of service for many Singaporean NSmen.

Recently, the SAF has raised some battalions specifically for the purposes of protection of key installation duties, with a specific vocation raised for this – the security trooper. These soldiers, amongst other duties, help patrol key installations. Without undermining the importance of such responsibilities, one can conceive the development of a training programme implemented to train new citizens for NS duties over a 10-year National Service training cycle with the first three years set aside to train new citizen soldiers on the rules of engagement, and specific vocational training relevant to the protection of key installations. When deployed, these new citizens can be envisaged to patrol jointly with Singaporean NSmen vocationally trained as security troopers who have completed their two-year cycle, so no distinction is made between new or old citizens as they perform their duties as Singaporeans.

Mdm Chairperson, this is just one example of how the 10-year NS training cycle can be employed to serve both national and social needs. In the event there is concern by some that this requirement would deter foreigners from taking up Singapore citizenship, then an adverse inference should necessarily be drawn against the applicant.

The experience of some European countries with immigration already portends the prospects of a nasty reaction to it. Before Singapore reaches this point, the Government should look towards strategies that can substantively deepen the quality of integration between new citizens and Singaporeans. In my view, NS is the national institution that is uniquely suited to play to this role.

Ng Eng Hen (Defence Minister): Some of you have suggested that we should make (National Service) part of the integration journey for PRs and new citizens, albeit at a reduced level. Mr Pritam Singh mentioned that. Mr Hri Kumar has thought hard on this issue and asked how we can better address those who renounce their PRs such as through higher penalties or taxes. Whether you agree with specific proposals by various MPs or not, it may not be as important as what we can all agree on – that NS is very much a duty and honour for all those who make Singapore our home. That is the starting point…..MPs here have raised many issues. Some of these issues have been raised by public members as well. To respond to this feedback, I have decided to convene a committee to strengthen National Service. It will be called the “Committee to Strengthen National Service”. I will chair the Committee.

Parliament: Committee of Supply 5 March 2014 (MINDEF) – Committee to Strengthen National Service

Mr Pritam Singh: I signed up last year to attend one session of the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) in the second half of the year. The session I attended as an NSman was facilitated by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Mr Masagos. Like many of the NSmen in my group, I found the feedback process open and helpful in terms of soliciting feedback from NSmen on how to strengthen National Service.

In fact, one of the more commendable things the Committee did after the feedback session was to publicise the summary of the consultation on the CSNS website. It may not have been possible to accommodate everyone’s inputs as I heard them but the process itself I understand was appreciated, with many of the exchanges quite robust, frank and open. My own interactions with a handful of NSmen found that in spite of the occasional disruptions associated with NS duties with their civilian jobs, for many of them, there was a general appreciation for the institution of National Service and its importance.

I would like to ask the Minister if the Committee to Strengthen the National Service could look into supporting NSmen beyond financial measures such as the civilian utility of skills picked up in the military domain. For example, easier and more facilitative conversion standards from military to civilian licences and equipment with direct civilian applications.

Separately, last year I raised the prospect of new citizens performing some form of National Service. Can the Minister update the House on the plans for the SAF volunteer corps announced last year?

Ng Eng Hen (Defence Minister): The Committee also noted that many Singaporeans supported the idea of more women, first-generation PRs and new citizens volunteering for roles in national defence. The idea of a SAF Volunteer Corps for women, PRs and new citizens has gained wide acceptability. Mr Pritam Singh talked about his own session that he was involved in, and we think that this is a very good idea that we will adopt. Second Minister Chan Chun Sing will speak more on this idea. Minister of State Maliki will also share ideas from the CSNS how we can enhance recognition and benefits for our NSmen.

Written by singapore 2025

31/03/2013 at 6:41 am

Posted in Parliament

Parliament: Budget 2013 (Pritam Singh) – 6 March 2013

Mdm Speaker, my speech today is divided into two parts – the first assesses the Budget’s attempts to create a more inclusive Singapore with the second, focus on changes to our car ownership policy as a result of Budget announcement on the same.

Mdm Speaker, a simple “control F” of the Budget speech, and a search for the words “do more” reveal seven matches. According to the Budget, the Government will do more for retirees, Singaporeans who need help with their medical expenses, seniors so that they have a sense of economic security and fulfilment in their retirement years, and also for children in the pre-school and primary school levels.

The Government also wants to do more against rising inequality to tilt the balance in favour of the lower and middle income, and for older Singaporeans with enhancements in Workfare and CPF. The timing of these changes are significant, too – three years before the next General Elections with enough lead time for the proposals to take effect.

Be that as it may, the Government’s efforts to improve social mobility and reduce inequality are necessary steps, especially in view of how the global economy and, more importantly, forces beyond this Government’s control, are shaping up. Chiefly among which are inequality and economic insecurity.

For the longest time, the State discourse in Singapore has eschewed any reference to welfare. Similarly, the State has tended to place meritocracy on a pedestal. In fact, the political leadership has tended to frame both issues in the extreme with welfare representing the bad and meritocracy representing the good.

However, this Budget was noteworthy because meritocracy came with a caveat. The Deputy Prime Minister’s Budget Speech noted that that meritocracy alone will not assure Singaporeans of social mobility and that Government policies seek to level up children that come from poorer and less stable families. This is a significant statement as it appears to premonition a shift in the State discourse.

Equally noteworthy, the Budget Speech established that while overall healthcare expenditure will go up, Government policies envisage a reduction in Singaporeans’ out-of-pocket share of medical costs with the Government taking on a larger share. Whatever the reasons for these shifts to the left, they are in line with the long-held belief of the Workers’ Party and many Singaporeans that for a country with a per capita income of about US$45,000, the Government can do much more on the social front for Singaporeans.

Mdm Speaker, one subject covered in the Budget that affects many middle-class Singaporeans are changes to the Government’s policy on car ownership. The significance of the Budget and associated changes to the Government’s car ownership policy led the executive director of a leading car dealership to say, “In my 28 years in this trade, this is the most serious development I have seen.” An accounting partner of a Big Four firm was quoted as saying, “The Minister is riding through Singapore’s Sherwood Forest to tax the rich who own high-end properties and drive luxury cars.”

While I would not take it as far as the accounting partner did — as there is much more room for greater progressivity in our tax system — I am in favour of higher taxes paid by those who drive luxury vehicles. It was telling that as the Minister spoke about the tiered ARF for his Budget Speech, an MAS circular about a cap on loan-to-valuation (LTV) ratios also started making its rounds.

The circular established that the new loan quantum for a car with an OMV of less than $20,000 would be 60% of the car price, and 50% if the OMV was higher. Significantly, the maximum loan repayment is now only five years, from the 10 years previously.

On one level, the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech on tiered Additional Registration Fees (ARF) appeared to continue with the theme of progressive taxation, but the possible effects of the Budget announcement and the MAS circular taken together leads me to conclude the opposite: That the rich will benefit from the latest changes to our car ownership policy as the changes do not address the high disposal income of the rich.

In the context of the Budget Statement, it would have been helpful if the Minister had addressed the changes to the ARF with the policy intent of the MAS circular especially since the two are so inextricably linked. If these changes were implemented to force Singaporeans to use public transport, the system, as it stands, leaves much to be desired especially during peak hours. I am not sure what the effects of these latest changes to our car ownership policy will be, as there are differing views on the impact of the latest policy changes on COE prices and as a result the price of cars. But the effect of the new LTV ratios is likely to be most acutely felt by families with two or more children. Those with elderly family members or the disabled who need the mobility provided by a car but are unable to cough up the downpayments since the larger household size necessarily entails a lower disposal income set aside for the higher down payment required now.

There is also the tangential concern about the inability of larger families to purchase a vehicle which from a policy perspective may well indirectly stymie efforts to promote our TFR, since the lack of mobility for family, leisure, travel and support will well factor into a person’s decision to have fewer children and prejudice those who already have large families. It would be imperative for the Government to look at possible tweaks to the system if indeed larger families and families that include disabled Singaporeans or elderly parents are genuinely affected, as the effects of the new policy kicks in over the next few months.

One specific way could be to raise the LTV ratio for cars back to 70% as it was previously but only for families with two or more children so as to buttress and incentivise the Government’s efforts to raise TFR.

Mdm Speaker, it would be a tragedy if younger Singaporeans included the inability to purchase a car as a reason for wanting to look abroad for greener pastures, in addition to the visceral insecurity of a more crowded Singapore in the future. It may be helpful for the Government to solicit feedback from Singaporeans about our car ownership policy, going forward, particularly on the aspirations of owning a car even if the stated objective of this policy is to discourage Singaporeans from over leveraging.

This may entail a deeper look into the COE system or even larger national considerations such as the future population size of Singapore so that the policy fear of a more crowded Singapore does not operate to scuttle the aspirations of Singaporeans to own the car of their dreams, unless of course the Government’s intention – be it directly or directly – is to remove the dream of car ownership for middle-class Singaporeans.

On the flip side, I am encouraged by tweaks to the COE policy that give greater business flexibility to SMEs. In January 2013, I asked the Minister for Transport in a Parliamentary Question whether the Ministry will consider reviewing the COE bidding system for goods vehicles and buses to alleviate the costs of doing business for SMEs. While the Minister replied that there were no plans to review the COE system for the said category, he did say that as part of Budget 2013, his Ministry would carefully consider if more help was needed. To this extend, I welcome the flexibility granted to commercial vehicle owners whose vehicles have reached the end of their 10-year COE, as they can now choose to renew their COEs for five years in the first instance and a further five years later.

Likewise the granting of a one-year 30% road tax rebate for goods vehicle, buses and taxis is also welcomed. It would be helpful if the Government could make the extension of such road tax grants permanent, especially for the “mom-and-pop” SMEs with a headcount of five or less when COE prices reach astronomically high levels as they have been in the recent past for Category C COEs. In addition, as some SME owners, particularly hawkers and sundry store owners, work with narrow margins, it may be helpful to look into allowing Cat C COE holders to extend their COEs every 30 months or two and a half years, rather than every five years, as the Budget has announced. Such a move would allow for even greater flexibility for SME owners and nudge them to consider pulling an older vehicle off the road since the decision-making cycle of renewing of COE would be shorter.

Mdm Speaker, post Budget, the Finance Minister acknowledged that the country continues to be in an unhappy part of the property cycle, following up from the Budget Speech that reiterates that the Government will spend more effort resolving the present challenges facing housing and transport. While I look forward to the resolution of these problems, it would be equally important for the Government to explain the reasons behind significant policy shifts instead of leaving Singaporeans to second guess the Government’s real purpose as has been the feedback for MAS’ changes to the car ownership policy. Such engagement will help reduce unpredictability and encourage a more participatory democracy and allow Singaporeans to plan for their future with more certainty.

Written by singapore 2025

06/03/2013 at 9:07 am

Posted in Parliament

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