National Day Rally – positive, but the best is yet to be

National Day Rally – positive, but the best is yet to be

By Ghui

This year’s National Day address attempted to give a more “human” aspect to the PAP. Ever since, our landmark 2011 General Elections, our political landscape has been nothing short of eventful (well, by Singapore standards that is) and a common source of discontent has been caused by our leaders becoming seemingly “out of touch”.

To combat accusations of elitism, PM Lee chose the headquarters of the ITE at College Green as the venue from which to deliver his speech. This is a significant departure from the usual University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore. While many may view this gesture with scepticism and dismiss it as “wayang”, we must not forget that in the world of politics, symbolism is a very crucial tool in setting the tone of the government’s agenda.

We can therefore take it from this break from tradition that the government means to convey its commitment to the betterment of “all Singaporeans” whether they be tertiary students or vocational ones.


The PAP has long been criticised for being ensconced in ivory towers, unable and/or unwilling to see the problems faced by the common man. The PM’s reiteration that it is the government’s goal to invest in the potential of all Singaporeans is therefore a powerful signal from top down that the modus operandi is set for some upheaval in the coming years. What I found especially heartening was his seeming enthusiasm for reviewing the PSLE system such that it would work more from a “grade banding system” as opposed to a “points system”.

He correctly pointed out that at age 12, it was too soon to tell who could contribute more based on “one point” and admitted that the point chasing was needlessly stressful.

What I did find a little disingenuous was his implication that it was the parents who were to blame for this stress inducing scramble for places in “good schools”. I am not suggesting that kiasu parents do not have a role to play in the pressure cooker environment but I do not think it is accurate to absolve the government from responsibility.

It is after all, the PAP’s past elitist rhetoric that has provided the fuel behind the fire of the “kiasu parent syndrome”. Does anyone remember the Graduate Mother’s Scheme?

While the PM may have emphasised that in the Ministry of Education’s opinion, all schools were good and that all schools were provided with adequate resources and qualified teachers, this sounds hollow if he does not admit and own up to the fact that the government’s past policies may have contributed to the current “kiasu” mindset! Self awareness is the first step to genuine change! So while I applaud the PM’s choice of venue and his recognition of the fallacy of the “PSLE points system”, I was frustrated that the government refused to take its share of the blame in the perpetuation of the “kiasu game”.


Throughout his address, the PM made repeated references to opinions gleaned from “Our Singapore Conversation”. Given that the PAP has a reputation of controlling the media and suppressing dissenting voices, it is refreshing to hear the PM publicly acknowledge the importance of the views of its citizens.

Personally, I think that the “Our Singapore Conversation” exercise is a laudable one. Coordinating the views of 50,000 people from different age groups and demographics is no mean feat and I congratulate the government for its efforts. However, the PM’s professed enthusiasm for the voice of the people does not seem to sit well with the recent raft of reforms to internet content. If the opinions of Singaporeans are as valued as the PM claims, why is internet content being scrutinised and controlled? Surely all comments should be given equal air time? Not just government sanctioned dialogue?

This dichotomy was glaringly obvious to me and I could not help but think that the government is still missing a trick here – they want our opinion but only on their own terms. In a functioning democracy, this is artificial at best. How can you truly govern by consensus if you refuse to listen to a portion of views on the basis that they are not packaged in a way that you want?

I waited to see if the PM would make any reference to the new internet laws. To my disappointment, he was noticeably silent on that point.


In land scarce Singapore, affordable housing is of course a paramount concern. This is especially so in the age of population growth, rising prices, competition and stagnating jobs. PM Lee duly noted the challenging times and reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring that all Singaporeans could own flats of their own.

Referring to himself as a HDB “real estate agent”, PM Lee gave a detailed cost breakdown for hypothetical families buying three and four-room flats at Fernvale Riverwalk. He also walked Singaporeans through the new extra subsidies, including the Step Up Housing Grant of up to $20,000 which was initially given only to low-income households but will now be extended to middle income families. But what about a group of Singaporeans that has been in the news of late through the hard work put in by charity groups and certain MPs – single mothers. Do they not fall under the bracket of “all Singaporeans” too?

While PM Lee reaffirmed his commitment to “all Singaporeans”, encouraging them to get married as they will get their flats, he seems to have forgotten that the term “all”, means everyone – not just the happily married stereotype of one male and one female.

If the PM is serious about bringing affordable housing to all, then affordable housing must also be brought to single mothers who to this day and age, despite being tax paying contributors to the Singapore economy are not entitled to an HDB flat.


Where education and housing were concerned, Mr Lee was more general, citing big picture ongoing commitments. However the healthcare segment was where the PM seemed to have unveiled the most concrete changes.

The most groundbreaking was when he announced that the Medishield scheme would now be renamed Medishield Life and would cover a citizen for the duration of his life and not just till 90 years of age.  He also introduced a new “Pioneer Generation Package” to aid the elderly with medical bills and Medishield Life premiums. Finally, something constructive to tackle the problem of an aging population that is not immigration related!

He also touched on a need for premiums to be increased with those who could afford contributing more, although he conceded that more consultation would need to be conducted on that front.

I, for one am for those who can afford to do so, to pay more. This progressive premium system to alleviate the burden on the elderly is the most equitable way of striking a balance between caring for the vulnerable in our society and ensuring that we do not fall into a situation of over dependence on welfare. While I do not think that Singapore is in any way, shape or form close to that doomsday scenario, I do take the PM’s point that an over dependence on welfare is not solving the problem but merely delaying the effects of disaster for future generations.

I would however suggest that the subsidies in premiums be extended not just to the elderly but the infirm, handicapped and other low income groups as well.


Mr Lee highlighted the future plans his government had for Singapore. He gave an impressive overview of his plans for the airport and the port which certainly portrayed the government as forward thinking – Secure and with a plan. In presenting his remarkable blue prints for the future, I wonder why there was no mention of the White Paper and the massive fallout that followed the projected population of 6 million Singaporeans. To me, that is the giant elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.

Secondly, PM Lee also failed to mention the massive transportation failures that have plagued Singapore recently. Perhaps, he felt that it had been dealt with enough and that there was no point in flogging a dead horse but if he wants to showcase his government as one that has a proven track record of foresight, it is contrived to ignore the colossal lack of foresight when it came to transportation and population growth.


Although there was certainly room for improvement, PM Lee’s speech did deliver some very positive points. He reaffirmed his commitment to meritocracy and correctly recognised that meritocracy can only work if the playing field is levelled out through education. He was astute in identifying the problem of “closed” institutions caused by certain desirable schools having no places left for students with no connections to the school and mandated that every school have at least 40 places designated for students with no connections to the school.

Education is the best way to ensure social mobility and I was proud to hear the PM publicly advocate that. While the Singapore education system has its faults, having been criticised as overly grades oriented, I do believe that it is a system that is committed to meritocracy and PM Lee’s continued assurance of this is one worthy of praise. No system will ever be a hundred percent fair given that some students will invariably come from more stable homes but as much as can be done to level that playing field, it should be done.

Despite the PM acknowledging the more challenging times now facing us brought on my competition, changing technology, inflation and the global economy, the overall tone of the message was a positive one. The PM took great pains to single out successful real life examples of success stories in our midst which cannot help but move even a sceptic like me.

I am not suggesting that there is nothing wrong with Singapore – far from it. Nor am I saying that a positive speech is good enough to demonstrate the PAP as the best government for Singapore forevermore. But I do believe it is our new vigour for public debate and commentary that has made the government more cognisant of our needs and wants. While there were points that were clearly misaddressed or ignored, there was a greater attempt than previous years to engage our concerns directly. I await with bated breadth for the next chapter in Singaporean democracy – the best is yet to be.

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