In the Parliament session on Tuesday (26 February), Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh felt that although the Merdeka Generation Package’s “ground feel” is to help senior citizens with their medical bills, but it seems less generous than the Pioneer Generation Package.
“There are also quarters who conclude that it is pungently timed with the election cycle, giving off the odour of an unfair advantage aimed at the electoral prospects of the People’s Action Party,” said Mr Singh in his speech during Parliament’s debate on Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s Budget 2019 statement.
In an attempt to retaliate Mr Singh’s view, the Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat said that it is “misleading” to link the Merdeka Generation Package and Pioneer Generation Package to election cycles.
Mr Chee further reminded WP not to belittle the significance of the Merdeka Generation Package and Pioneer Generation Package, which were introduced to express appreciation for senior Singaporeans.
“Now I wonder why WP chose to use such an unpleasant description and to focus on politicising this tribute to our Merdeka Generation. The opposition calls for the Government to give more, and yet when the Government gives more to help Singaporeans, the WP criticises the move as an election tactic. We can’t have it both ways. Please make up your mind and decide where you stand,” Mr Chee said.
Mr Singh also argued that some group of seniors miss out on a few years of medical benefits due to the “cohort-based” packages which qualify beneficiaries based on the year they were born.
With the presence of a universal and permanent senior citizen healthcare package that offers a “basic level of medical benefits”, it will be able to provide “peace of mind” to all Singaporeans throughout their lives, Mr Singh elaborated.
In response to this, Mr Chee said that those aged 60 and above will be automatically signed into the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) which provides subsidies for primary care services.
Mr Singh also noted that there was “good reason” to believe that Singapore would be able to support such a healthcare package based on the healthy accumulated surpluses by the current term of Government so far.
As a reply, Mr Chee said that the surpluses used to fund these packages are earned during the term of the Government.
“You can’t do this at the start of the term because you don’t know, at that point, how much surpluses you’re going to have and how much surpluses you can set aside to fund these packages,” Mr Chee expressed.
He added, “It is part of the design of our system for financial prudence and sustainability. To look after our current generation and future generations, we must plan for the long term. This is what a responsible Government needs to do, to ensure that our policies and programmes are financially sustainable for the current and future generations.”
Although it seems that Mr Chee wasn’t too pleased when Mr Singh said that the Merdeka Generation Package was “pungently timed with the election cycle”, but netizens felt that it was not wrong for the leader of WP to ask that. Close to 200 comments were received regarding this topic on Channel NewsAsia’s Facebook page.
In fact, many online users feel that the package was indeed introduced as election is just around the corner.