Parliament: Providing a dignified twilight a task for all

Parliament: Providing a dignified twilight a task for all

It is a rare speech that moves the House but Ms Chia Yong Yong's on the Pioneer Generation Fund did.

It was clear, honest and heartfelt, and had even members of the front bench thumping their arm rests in approval. As a Nominated MP, she dared to venture where few elected members have gone.

A lawyer by profession and the president of SPD, a voluntary welfare organisation that caters to people with disabilities, she was one of three MPs to join the debate on new legislation on the $9 billion package of health-care subsidies for Singapore's pioneers.

She not only critiqued the way one part of the Bill was drafted, but she also tabled an amendment that she felt was necessary to pre-empt future, unhelpful debate over means-testing.

The House did not pass her amendment but Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo later said the Finance Ministry would look at how to make a change.

Ms Chia also suggested ways to improve access to the suite of help schemes for pioneers with disabilities, by rationalising the number of qualifying tests for aid.

She saved the best for last, ending her speech with a pointed challenge to all Singaporeans to do their part to ensure pioneers enjoy a "dignified twilight".

She said: "Honouring our pioneers does not lie in dispensing funds alone. It is as frightful to be aged and lonely as it is to be aged and poor. The role of the family is something which no government or voluntary welfare organisation can assume. Loneliness is not a condition that the Government or a VWO can relieve, love is not something that the Government or VWO can give.

"As we consider, debate upon and execute various government schemes for pioneers, I urge each Singaporean to examine our own roles in relation to the pioneers, seniors, people with different or special needs, and others within our families and community.

"We who have seniors within our families, are we willing to assume responsibility for them? We who have seniors in our neighbourhood, are we willing to be neighbours to them? We who are employers, are we willing to engage and employ our seniors on fair terms? Are we willing to redesign the work scope and work space to accommodate their needs whilst tapping on their experience? We see our seniors taking public transport, working in public places. Should we be kind and gracious to them? Do we even notice them? Or do we think someone else will?"

It has perhaps become the prerogative of non-elected members of the House to speak so forthrightly to Singaporeans about their responsibilities as citizens, and sons and daughters.

Mrs Teo, who wrapped up the debate on the Bill, said Ms Chia had in fact voiced what she herself had been feeling since becoming an MP in 2006 - that the loneliness of the elderly was a pain neither state nor VWO could relieve.

Peering over the top of her new, large-framed orange spectacles, she revealed that they were reading glasses and said she too was beginning to experience the challenges of seniority.

On a day when the House also discussed ways to guard against the spread of Ebola, support a coalition of nations battling the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and debated a landmark Bill against human trafficking, the exchange between Ms Chia and Mrs Teo highlighted a very real struggle that takes place daily within homes and neighbourhoods here.

It is a struggle that is set to intensify with the population's rapid ageing.

The Government's move to subsidise medical costs for the pioneer generation, who lacked opportunities to further their education and toiled to set up home and raise families on low wages, is both right and necessary.

But it would be a tragedy if younger Singaporeans saw such aid as permission to outsource to the state and charity groups an ever-growing share of the responsibility of caring for elderly parents and relatives.

That has happened in some countries with extensive welfare benefits for pensioners.

Taking the lead from Ms Chia, Mrs Teo said she joined the NMP in calling on all Singaporeans to "work together with the state to galvanise more efforts to provide the pioneers with a dignified twilight".

lydia@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 04, 2014.
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