Seizing back the political initiative

Seizing back the political initiative
The new Pioneer Generation Package will help people like Madam Mon Atan, 76, who does not have MediShield and Medisave. The retired cleaner, who has ischaemic heart disease and asthma, says getting more help with medical costs will give her peace of mind.

SINGAPORE - For the first time since the 2011 General Election, I got the sense on Sunday that the Government is seizing back the political initiative.

After two years of relentless hammering from citizens on its immigration policy/population policy/elitist system/inability to listen/ad infinitum, it changed several key policies, like slowing down the influx of foreigners and speeding up the building of train networks and public housing flats. But it also appeared uncharacteristically diffident.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister delivered a remarkable speech that might be viewed by some as a new government agenda, a mid- term election pledge, or a lover's ardent promise of a fresh start.

It was Mr Lee Hsien Loong's 10th National Day Rally speech since he became Prime Minister in 2004 and his most assured. The venue was the Institute of Technical Education headquarters and College Central in Ang Mo Kio, a technical training institute for less academic students.

It was a good place to flesh out the new governing philosophy which can be summed up in a phrase: the shift is from a tight fist to a hand up - extending a helping hand to people in need.

For a long time, when anyone needed help, the welfare-allergic PAP has preached individual self- reliance; family support; the community's many helping hands. Only when all avenues have been exhausted, should people turn to the State.

This "tough love" approach - some might say tough luck would sum it up better - meant a person could go bankrupt or an entire family lose their home when a breadwinner is out of work, falls very ill or goes to prison.

But the Government recognises that given the changes taking place in societies here and abroad, arising from technological change and globalisation, it can no longer be the helping hand of last resort, but must be proactive in offering citizens a hand up.

It is doing so by trying to level up the chances of poor children, via generous childcare subsidies so they can get ready to compete in school. More places in top schools will be kept for students who may not have top grades but excel in other areas, and students without connections to these schools.

The biggest proof of this new philosophy: MediShield will be revamped to cover everybody, including those with prior illnesses, and for life. Extending coverage to the most vulnerable - who have the biggest medical bills - means big jumps in premiums.

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