Budget 2014: 'Still more to do in transport, health care'

Budget 2014: 'Still more to do in transport, health care'
Speaker Halimah Yaacob

ROUND-UP BY LEADER OF THE HOUSE AND SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT

LEADER of the House Ng Eng Hen used his closing speech for the Budget and Committee of Supply debates to deliver a progress report on the Government's work at the electoral cycle's midpoint, pointing to improvements, but also identifying sectors which are a work in progress.

There has been headway in fixing housing issues and taking care of the elderly, but more remains to be done in transport, manpower and health care, he said yesterday.

He recalled how in 2011 and the past two Budget debates, MPs had echoed residents' unhappiness with housing, transport and health-care affordability.

They also discussed Singapore's over-reliance on foreign labour, and whether more could be done for the poor, lower-skilled workers, seniors and the disabled.

But since then, there have been significant improvements in some areas, he said, such as the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, which won support from all MPs.

Shorter waiting times for more affordable flats also show that the housing problem has been tackled decisively, said Dr Ng, who is also Defence Minister.

But the transport, manpower and health ministries were in the hot seats this year, as the time taken to pass their budgets took up nearly a third of the nine-day debate.

The Health Ministry's 54 "cuts" - a call for a $100 reduction in a ministry's budget which gives MPs a chance to query its budget and comment on its policies - were the highest among the 16 ministries.

The Government needs to improve in areas such as train rides, help for small and medium-sized businesses, and an economy that provides better jobs and higher wages - especially for low-wage and older workers.

Dr Ng said: "If we have completed the first half of the match, the more crucial second half begins when Parliament re-opens after prorogation (in May). We still have much to do.

"This House therefore urges all of us together - Government, MPs and our people - to commit ourselves to the task of improving the lives of all Singaporeans in the remainder of the term."

Speaker Halimah Yaacob echoed his call, reminding MPs they need to ensure that policies reach the people they are meant to help. Many residents she met during house visits in the past fortnight were unaware of the policies being debated in Parliament, she said.

But given that MPs had raised both broad policy issues and concerns affecting their residents, Madam Halimah felt "there is no danger of this House being out of touch with the ground".

She added, however, that this point, raised by Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) during the debate, remained "a useful reminder for all of us".

charyong@sph.com.sg


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