Presents from PM Lee

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced four popular — possibly vote-getting measures — in his National Day Rally speech last night. The first was to enable owners of four-room flats to enjoy the lease buy-back scheme, extending beyond current availability only to three-room flats. This will enable half the public flats in Singapore to find additional source of income each month from the HDB until their residents die.  Owners of larger flats had been asking their MPs for this for quite a while.

He also agreed to let retirees, upon reaching the age of 65, to take out up to 20 per cent of their CPF savings if they meet certain minimum sum requirements. He went to some length to explain the amount set ($155,000, to be raised to $161,000 next year). After his clear explanation, his comment that not many MPs were probably familiar with the maths involved drew some embarrassed twitter from the audience.

The third measure was the “silver support scheme” for the lower income retiree generation — the amount of which will be announced at the next Budget (In February 2015).

It is the fourth measure — the setting up of the Municipal Services Office to coordinate the various government agencies dealing with the public, including the police, the Land Authority, the Housing Board, National Parks, Animals and Veterinary Authority, Public Utilities — that will have the most immediate improvement to the quality of life for the average Singaporean. As soon as it is set up, under the Ministry of National Development, any member of the public with a complaint about public service need only call the MSO, instead of being given the usual runaround (cited by Lee himself, to much laughter from the audience).

Lee also cited many examples of young men and women who, despite not having degrees, were able to reach positions of management at Keppel Shipyard. The underlying message to young people and parents was clear: even without a degree, you can go much further if you work hard and seek training. Although the advice was obvious, it was clear from some of the MPs at the reception later that it was a hard message to get across.

The rest of his speech was peppered with personal accounts of pioneer generation folk, including Singapore’s first President, a Malay, Yusof Ishak, who would be honoured with a mosque, an institute and a social science chair after his name.

The major real estate development that follows every NDR speech will be the one at Jurong Lake over the next few years, including expanding the new Science Centre.