PARLIAMENT on Friday [6 Feb] debated the budgets of three ministries – Foreign Affairs, National Development, and Information, Communications and the Arts.
Ministry of National Development
Mr Low Thia Khiang (WP-Hougang) queried the Minister for National Development about the recent demolition of flats on Hougang Avenue 7. He lamented that the demolition took place just seven years after Hougang Town Council used its own funds to upgrade the lifts in those flats. (Hougang, being an opposition ward, is at end of the queue for the Lift Upgrading Programme [LUP]. The LUP expenses for PAP wards are typically borne by HDB with small co-payments by the local town council and residents.)
Mr Low remarked that much of the money was wasted because of the early demolition. He said that in future, HDB should inform the Town Council earlier of its redevelopment plans, lest such waste took place again.
In her initial response, Senior Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu, skimmed over the issue. Mr Low later pressed Ms Fu for an answer, adding that HDB ought to reimburse Hougang Town Council for the money that went to waste.
Ms Fu reiterated the Government’s earlier commitment to complete the LUP by 2014. Given the time needed to complete the works, HDB would have to make their selections and announcements of contractors by 2011.
Regarding the flat demolitions, the Senior Minister of State explained that HDB regularly reviews its land use, and that her Ministry “can’t tell seven years in advance” of redevelopment plans – “not even seven months”.Mr Masagos Zulkifli (PAP-Tampines) and Mdm Ho Geok Choo (PAP-West Coast) asked the Minister about the shortage of subsidised HDB rental flats for needy residents.
Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan revealed that there were currently 4,550 applicants in the queue for subsidised rental flats. He said that “two-thirds of them have reasons not to be in the queue”. He cited examples of retirees who had no income but significant savings from the sale of their flats, yet qualified for rental flats. His ministry’s solution to this housing crunch would be to further tighten the eligibility criteria for rental flats.
Mdm Cynthia Phua (PAP-Aljunied) expressed dismay at this proposal, emphasising that in times of economic downturn, the Government “should have more love” instead of tightening the rental housing criteria for old folks. Mr Mah responded, saying that the purchase of a $90,000 two-room flat is “easily affordable” to someone earning $1,200.
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts
Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang revealed that to continue to raise the skills of the local IT workforce, IDA funding for IT courses under the Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme (CITREP) will be increased to 80%, with up to $50 in absentee payroll. He also announced that the PC Plus Programme, which provides low-cost computers and broadband access for low-income families, has been successful and will be expanded.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (PAP-Hong Kah) asked about the Government e-engagement efforts, specifically regarding Senior Minister of State (MICA) Lui Tuck Yew’s remarks that the online community had failed to self-regulate unkind remarks made about Mr Seng Han Thong, who was burned by a resident.
Mr Zaqy observed that generally Singaporeans do not speak up to right wrongdoings in public. He asked why then we should expect any more from the online community. He expressed hope that MICA would not wait until the online community self-regulates before embarking on its e-engagement efforts outside of its own portals.
Responding, Mr Lui said that the Government was not closed to the idea of engaging Singaporeans on “objective” websites. He also clarified that by saying “self-regulation”, he was not advocating greater government regulation of the Internet.
In response to comments by Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman (PAP-Sembawang) about the situation in Gaza, Foreign Minister George Yeo had this to say:
“I shared Mr Maliki’s abhorrence at the unending cycle of violence in Palestine, in particular recently in Gaza. When Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan stormed out from the panel in Davos last week, he expressed the anger which many people feel about the lives lost in Gaza when the Israeli Army moved in to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israeli towns and villages.
Singapore has good relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. While we understand the legitimate right of Israel to self-defence and understand the fear they face when rockets could suddenly explode in their midst in the middle of the night, we were however dismayed by the disproportionate response. We hope the present ceasefire will hold. We support a two-state solution with the Palestinians having their own sovereign state on the West Bank and in Gaza.
This can only happen if Hamas is prepared to work with Fatah and accepts the PLO’s (Palestine Liberation Organisation’s) commitment to renounce violence and recognise Israel. And Singapore has stated this position repeatedly at the UN and in various media releases.”
Parliament is adjourned until Monday, when the budget for the Ministry of Trade and Industry will be debated.