MPs to debate criteria for public assistance

Plight of the needy, SingTel fire on agenda for Parliament today

SOCIAL assistance eligibility and the plight of the needy will be among the major topics raised by MPs when Parliament sits today.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong have all tabled questions on the issue, while Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) has filed an adjournment motion on social assistance and affordability for Singaporeans.

This lets her speak for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

Mr Yee will ask what the Government is doing to mitigate the issue of those being excluded from public assistance, whose incomes fall outside the ComCare scheme's eligibility limits.

This is the so-called "cliff effect".

Only those with a household income of $1,700 and below, or per capita income of $550 and below, qualify.

Mr Yee's question comes after he asked in last month's sitting if Singapore would consider having an official poverty line.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, in his written response, warned of the "cliff effect"- that by using a single poverty line, genuinely needy citizens outside it could be excluded from public assistance.

Separately, Ms Foo wants to know how the Government decides eligibility criteria for public assistance and housing, education and health-care subsidies.

Three MPs are also asking about the affordability of public transport, particularly for the lower rungs of society.

Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) wants to know if more can be done to help lower income families, while Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) will ask if disabled Singaporeans can also get more help.

In his replies, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew is expected to announce if he accepts the Fare Review Mechanism Committee report's recommendations which were announced last Tuesday.

The wish list includes subsidies for lower income workers and the disabled.

MPs have also filed questions on last month's SingTel fire, to seek more clarity on the progress of investigations and ascertain if Singapore's networks can withstand disasters.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said the issue had important implications for Singapore, which is heavily reliant on info-communications.

He said of the fire at SingTel's Bukit Panjang Exchange, which crippled essential services islandwide: "It caught a lot of people by surprise.

"We always thought we were very resilient, but it took a lot longer to recover.

"The main concern is the resiliency of our network and how it's designed, and whether there is sufficient independence and redundancy.

"We have three telcos providing broadband services, but when there was a fire at one, all were down."

yuenc@sph.com.sg

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