'We have made significant progress': PM Lee

'We have made significant progress': PM Lee

In the first part of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's televised chat called 'Ask The Prime Minister', he talks about the changing face of governance.

The government has announced several strategic policy shifts. What went wrong? Why are you making such changes now?

What went wrong? The world changed. Singapore changed. And our policies have to change with them. It did not happen yesterday, it’s been gradually happening over the last decade and more. And our policies in fact have gradually been adjusting. We introduced workfare, we introduced more subsidies for housing, we introduced opportunity funds for our schools so that our children could have chances to enjoy enrichment programs. And every time we had a Budget Hong Bao, we gave a bit more to the old folks, for Medisave, for MediShield, for healthcare.

But these were individual items, and as the world changed further and as our needs grew, I discussed it with our colleagues and we decided we needed a clear signal that we’re headed in a different direction, this is a change of course, and that’s why this year in the Rally, I made ‘Change’ the theme, and highlighted how we are going down a different fork in the road, and heading in a new direction. So I think the world changed. I think we were right when we were there, where we were before, and we are right where we are now.

Who’s going to pay for these changes?

Well, ultimately, the government doesn’t have money which is from heaven or from our own sources. Government’s money is people’s money, and eventually all the money has to come from taxes or some other revenues from COEs or maid levies or whatever. So that is one of the reasons why we have to think very carefully before we decide to move to start new social programmes to spend on.

But as we, we have made the calculations, I think what we’ve announced to do we can afford to do. It can’t be all from government coffers, from the Finance Minister writing a cheque.I think individuals still have a responsibility and they ought to pay some part of it, and the community also ought to take some responsibility for making helping to make things happen, and helping to support the projects.

It’s a very difficult problem to solve. You take MediShield Life for example. We’ve made it universal. Who’s going to pay? Well, premiums have to go up, so individuals have to pay; the Government will subsidise, for the low income groups, particularly for the older ones, who were in the pioneer generation, we are going to have a special package for them, so the Government will put some of it up.

But the individual also has to do its part, and I’m sure the VWOs will have their own programs.

Now, what happens when somebody doesn’t pay? In the old days, up to now, if you don’t pay your MediShield premiums, well, you drop out of MediShield, you lose your benefits, and you are not covered. But now, we're making MediShield Life universal. Everybody is covered. You cannot drop out. So if you don't pay, then your benefits will effectively have to be funded by all the rest of us who have not defaulted. And I don't think that is fair. So not paying becomes a serious matter and then we will have to find ways to encourage people very hard to pay their premiums.

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