Eng Hen: Govt must be prudent going forward

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said a committee he heads "will seriously consider the suggestions to allow volunteers to play a bigger role in our defence".

SINGAPORE - The Government must exercise prudence even as it pledges to take better care of Singaporeans in terms of providing housing, education and health care, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

This will help Singapore avoid ending up like some countries in Europe, which now "have huge debts and problems", he said.

Dr Ng was reassuring those who have questioned how the country is going to foot the bills for policy changes announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech last month.

"I believe that the way to go is to make sure that the economy is doing well and there are jobs," said Dr Ng, who was speaking at the Toa Payoh Central Mid-Autumn Festival at Toa Payoh Town Park on Saturday night.

As long as people have jobs, they would be able to use their Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to pay for their homes, education and health care, and the Government can balance its budget, he added.

Dr Ng, who is also MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, also emphasised the need for Singapore to continue growing its economy.

"It may not grow as fast as before, 8 per cent, 6 per cent, but we cannot slow down so much that we chase businesses away," he said.

"If we do that, jobs will be lost and there will be higher unemployment rate and it will be a problem."

In PM Lee's rally speech, which envisions a "new way forward", he announced strategic shifts in social policy.

Low- and middle-income households, for instance, will qualify for grants for Housing Board flats.

All Singaporeans will also be covered under the new MediShield Life national insurance scheme, with no age limit or exclusions. The Government is also intending to build more pre-schools and hire more teachers.

While ensuring sound finances, however, graciousness is also key to a better Singapore, said Dr Ng.

He praised community initiatives such as Toa Payoh Central's inaugural Vertical Challenge, a vertical marathon held in February this year, which raised $154,000 for the Youth Enrichment Fund.

The funds will benefit children from lower- and middle-income families attending enrichment courses provided by Toa Payoh Central Community Club.

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