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Sunday Times, 14 Sept '14

New office to explain PGP – is it necessary?

Sunday Times, 14 Sept '14
Sunday Times, 14 Sept '14

More than a year after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced that the government would be introducing the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP), a new Pioneer Generation Office (PGO) will be set up to help explain the scheme to those whom it hopes to benefit.

This also comes some 5 months after the news reported in April that the government “is undertaking the biggest public communications blitz in recent memory” to explain the PGP.

The PGO will include volunteers, described as “PG ambassadors”, who “will specialise in explaining details of the scheme”, reports the Sunday Times on 14 September.

In July the Ministry of Finance advertised for applications for a “Programme manager” for the “Pioneer Generation Ambassador Programme”. The successful applicants, it said, “will be responsible for implementing the outreach strategy and plans for the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP).”

The PGP, which will cost some S$8 billion over the next few years, provides medical subsidies for out-patient care and help pay MediShield Life premiums for Singaporeans 65 or older this year and who were citizens before 1987.

The scheme is reported to benefit some 450,000 senior citizens.

The PGO unit, which will be funded by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and will be under the aegis of the People’s Association, is the latest effort by the government to reach out to senior citizens who may find the PGP scheme confusing and hard to understand.

The PGO volunteers will be trained and coordinated by civil servants in the PGO, according to news reports.

The fact that a dedicated office is being set up to explain the PGP confirms what some have felt – that the PGP is confusing and many do not understand what it entails or how they would benefit from it.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Grace Fu, said earlier that the grassroots organisations and MPs “have their work cut out” in trying to explain the details of the PGP and the ML to the public, in particular to the senior folks.

Law Minister K Shanmugam had also said that “few know exactly how” the PGP benefits them.

The Straits Times said the minister “estimated that about 70 per cent of those who qualify do not know what the package is about.”

He thus felt that communications of the PGP need to be improved.

“I think we have to go back and think about how we are going to bring the message to everyone,” Mr Shanmugam said.

In April, the PA announced that “500 women grassroots leaders will fan out across the heartland from May to reach out to residents who may not know about government help schemes” such as the PGP.

It was also revealed that “nearly 1,000 frontline workers at public healthcare institutions and polyclinics will be equipped to handle questions and concerns” about the PGP.

The government also said that “messages will be kept simple and be repeated in different ways such as at getai performances which are popular with senior citizens”, so that senior citizens will understand the PGP better.

Nonetheless, a government survey of 1,500 citizens conducted in April found that “seven in 10 Singaporeans have heard of the pioneer generation package.”

However, said Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, "awareness does not necessarily translate into greater assurance that healthcare costs will be more affordable.”

Members of Parliament interviewed in April also felt that it would take some effort to explain the PGP to seniors.

"It may take 18 months for us to fully reach out to all the people involved. We cannot expect this communication process to be short-term," said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad.

Irene Ng
Irene Ng

But is all this explanation necessary? Is there a better, simpler message which could be transmitted to our seniors?

Perhaps what would truly help them is what MP for Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said.

"The difficulty lies in explaining it to the seniors,” she said. “I always tell them, 'Don't worry if you can't remember all these details. Just remember this: You don't have to worry about medical costs. Have that peace of mind. Come and see me if you have problems with medical bills'."

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Post-script:

In his NDR speech, Lee Hsien Loong asked how many in the audience knew about certain aspects of the CPF Minimum Sum scheme. He asked for a show of hands and said:

"Let me have a show of hands, how many of you knew all this before I explained this to you? Wow, more and more hands, but I think honestly, not all of us know and I would say even not all the MPs are completely familiar."

So really, the government should also make sure that the MPs themselves know the PGP well enough first. Otherwise, even if they go out and explain it to the elder folks, they may instead confuse the elder folks further!

Read also: “Still trying to communicate better”.