Yesterday, I was at Hougang celebrating the election victory with residents. It was a joyous occasion. All the 6 elected MPs and 2 NCMPs and most of the candidates were there. The residents had thrown a buffet dinner to celebrate the momentous occasion.
In the midst of all the handshaking and congratulations, a middle-aged lady came forward and congratulated me. Without releasing my hand, she continued to say I must bring up her situation in parliament. Her mother is very sick. Just two of her medicines cost $400 every month, after subsidy. She has diabetes too and needs dialysis. It was noisy and crowd. She persisted in getting her message across. I am sure I was not the only one she had pressed her case to. I could tell she was getting desperate. Hence, every MP and even NCMP she can go to, she would.
GE2011 is over. A new and radical cabinet has just been announced. There were many issues raised during GE2011. The people have spoken and they wanted change. Not a drastic change, as the ruling party still received 60% of the popular votes and 81 out of 87 seats in parliament, but there are many pressing issues. Having walked the ground for 6 weeks, I could tell there was much unhappiness.
Healthcare is just one of them, but a serious one when you have a sick member in your family not covered by insurance. Even in middle upper class Joo Chiat, the elderly are unhappy. They live in landed houses because they bought it decades ago. They have worked hard and contributed to Singapore’s progress. They have stopped worked for decades and now face high healthcare costs with little subsidy. I met a couple who were bitter because they had to sell their house to stay in a HDB because they have run out of savings and did not qualify for healthcare subsidies in a private house. They have all sorts of health issues now. Home is a very personal thing. They have lived in their house for a long time and loved the environment. They could now no longer live where they wanted to because of Singapore’s healthcare policies.
Then there are transport grouses of crowded buses and MRTs, crowded roads, as well as poor connectivity of public transport to certain parts of the community. The young feel they cannot afford to get their HDB flats. People have lost their jobs or are stuck with low paying jobs because of ‘foreign talents’. Not foreign talents at the high end but foreign talents allowed in to supress wages. Small and medium enterprises will continue to face challenging operating environment of high costs and stiff competition.
The new cabinet has been formed. It is the most drastic cabinet reshuffle I can recall. While many have commented that most ministers are just moved from one ministry to another, I think it does signal that they have to go into a new area and look at the issues from fresh perspectives. It is hard for a minister to stay in his old ministry and do something totally different from what he had been doing all along. New ministers with the permission to effect change needs to be put into ‘hot issues’ ministries. With the latest cabinet, it seemed to be so. I hope it will be the start of something positive and not just more of the same done with a different person in charge.
The challenges facing Singapore are real. Many lives are affected. The way policies are shaped cannot just be driven by more of the same from the past. The changes to the cabinet have been radical and I hope the solutions the ministers can come up with will be so as well. The real work has just begun.