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Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Singapore

Parliament to kick off second half on May 16

The Straits Times | Tham Yuen-C | Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Parliament will reopen next month, after taking a mid-term break, to discuss new strategies for creating a brighter future and a better Singapore for all.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this yesterday as the House was prorogued, or closed midway through the Government's term, for members to take stock of their work.

The new session will start on May 16, with President Tony Tan Keng Yam setting out the Government's key priorities for its second session until the general election, which must be held by January 2017.

A debate on the President's address traditionally follows in a week or so.

Since Independence, Parliament has been prorogued 10 times. The recess is a time for the Government to map out the agenda and policies for the remaining years of its five-year term.

Mr Lee yesterday gave a hint of things to come in a Facebook post, saying Parliament had been busy in the past two and a half years debating the White Papers on ministerial salaries and population, and also passing Budgets that had included "major economic and social policies".

The first session had, in fact, been marked by significant shifts in these areas as the Government moved to address issues of stratification in society.

Mr Lee had flagged it as a priority in 2011 when, after the general election, he opened the 12th Parliament with a promise to help low-income and disadvantaged families "take the next step".

Key policies of the past three years have reflected this focus.

The GST Vouchers scheme, Workfare enhancements and the Pioneer Generation Package are examples of its effort to level the playing field via subsidies.

MPs interviewed cited them, saying the measures show how the Government had put in stronger social safety nets.

They illustrated the "determined effort to ensure social mobility will be there", said MP Liang Eng Hwa of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. These effortsare likely to continue, he added.

Greater affordability of HDB flats is another key achievement, said MPs such as Mr Gan Thiam Poh of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

He said he no longer hears complaints from first-time home buyers about costly flats, after the prices of Build-To-Order flats were delinked from the resale market.

Yet another key achievement was slowing down immigration.

Unhappiness over the influx of foreigners had culminated in intense debate when the Population White Paper was released last year. The Government later said the 6.9 million population figure for 2030 was meant for planning purposes, and was not a target.

In the next session, the MPs expect health care and transport issues to come into sharper focus.

Many pointed to the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, saying it would address the health- care concerns of 450,000 seniors.

The importance of the second term was noted as well by Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen, at the end of the debate on ministries' budgets last month.

Using a sports analogy, he said: "If we have completed the first half of the match, the more crucial second half begins when Parliament reopens after prorogation. 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."

yuenc@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.

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