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National Day Rally 2015: Baby Bonuses, HDB Flats & What Makes S'pore Special

This article originally appeared on Vulcan Post.

Last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made his speech at the National Day Rally at ITE HQ & College Central. It was preceded by a moving tribute by local singer Kit Chan to our late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, where she sang everyone’s favourite National Day song, Home.

In light of this being Singapore’s 50th anniversary, PM Lee’s speech started off with a look at how Singapore has advanced since our early days, before launching into a number of announcements regarding housing and education, amongst others. Here’s a recap of the main points of PM Lee’s speech.

What makes Singapore special…

…are three factors: multi-racialism, a culture of self-reliance and mutual support, and the trust we have between the Government and citizens.

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

“How did we get here? I’ll put it down to three factors. Firstly, we’re determined to be a multi-racial society. Secondly, we created a culture — a culture of self-reliance and also mutual support. And thirdly, we kept faith between the Government and the people.”

PM Lee also cited various policies Singapore has in place that exemplifies each of these three factors, such as GRCs (which serve to represent minority communities), HDB flats (where people of different races live together), adventure learning in schools (which cultivates a “rugged society”), and land acquisition (which the government decided to do for the greater good of the society, and which citizens cooperated with).

Ministers in attendance at the National Day Rally. (Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office)
Ministers in attendance at the National Day Rally. (Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office)

He stressed the importance of continuous racial and religious harmony, and pointed out that such issues had only gotten more complex and difficult to maintain in today’s global climate.

He brought up the incident of the Tanjong Katong Primary School expedition tragedy, and explained why this would not — and could not — be the reason to end such school trips in the future, as it is through these trips that youths grow and develop.

Diplomatic relations

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

While we progress as a country, PM Lee also said that it is important that we keep our ties with other countries strong. In particular, he raised the issue of our friendship with the major powers: the US, China, and Japan.

So far, he explained, we’ve been able to maintain such good relations due to a mixture of joint diplomacy and good luck. But should relations between the powers sour, he warned, Singapore would be driven to take sides — and this will be something we will have to face.

PM Lee gave the example of how “good ministers can advance our interests abroad,” citing Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Mr Lim Swee Say, as well as the work they’ve done for Singapore internationally.

Education

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

One of the announcements made by PM Lee was a new centralised campus for the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which will be built in Punggol. There will also be a creative cluster industry around the new campus, which will facilitate students’ search for workplace experience.

He gave the example of how the SIT has helped poly students further develop their skills and experience, and how it’s crucial for students and Singaporeans to “stay ahead of globalisation and technology.”

Housing

“[There are] no ghettoes or slums anywhere in Singapore.”

Singapore is a unique city, said PM Lee, because there are no “rough areas” in the country — and “this must always be a reality for all Singaporeans.” And to further improve the housing situation in the country, he announced some new initiatives:

Raising the income ceiling for HDB flats and Executive Condominiums (ECs)

The income ceiling for buying HDBs and ECs will be raised as below:

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

Make HDB flats more affordable for low-income earners

The Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG) will be extended to include two-thirds of home-owners, by raising the income ceiling and by doubling the grant:

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

Help those in rental flats own homes

Tenants will be able to buy 2-room flats even if they earn below S$1,000, as long as they have a stable income. PM Lee also expressed his concern for tenants who face problems other than home-ownership. These include relationship and job-related problems, which could likely become a vicious cycle for generations to come.

To help this group of people, he announced the Fresh Start Housing Scheme. This would help 2nd timer rental households own 2-room flats, albeit ones that come with shorter leases and stricter resale conditions. This, he said, would encourage them to hold on to their homes rather than sell them a second time.

Population Issues

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

Raise re-employment age from 65 to 67

PM Lee started out by thanking our pioneer generation, and went on to talk about the concerns that older Singaporeans (who don’t fall into the Pioneer Generation) have.

To help older Singaporeans who want to continue working do so, the re-employment age will be raised by 2017, “in other words, after the coming election,” he joked.

Proximity Housing Grant

This will be for all Singaporean households — whether first-timers or not — when they buy resale flat with/near their parents, or with/near their married children.

Enhanced Baby Bonus

Image Credit: The Prime Minister's Office
Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office

The amount of bonus will be increased, and will be given to every child (instead of only the first four).

Medisave 

Medisave Grant for Newborns will be increased, which can be spent on Medisave premiums and other healthcare expenses for children up to the age of 21.

Paternity Leave

An extra week of paternity leave will be offered to fathers, and paid for by the government.

The baby bonus, Medisave, and paternity leave have already been put in place from the 1st of January this year – a hongbao, said PM Lee, for all of this year’s SG50 babies.

Watch the full speech here.

 

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