In his annual National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sketched out numerous plans for Singapore’s future, including hot-button issues like cost-of-living, healthcare, and housing.
On healthcare, Lee announced the new Merdeka package, aimed at covering the healthcare costs of baby boomer Singaporeans born in the 1950s. Recognising (rather dramatically) their sacrifices in building up the nation, the package will cover areas including outpatient care, Medisave top-ups, and MediShield Life premiums and payouts for these Singaporeans.
On housing, Lee addressed the longstanding concern over the value of older HDB reaching the end of their 99-year lease periods. While he rebuffed calls to extend the leases of these older flats, other measures were introduced. This includes the Home Improvement Program II (HIP II) and the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS), which entitle residents to vote to opt-in to flat upgrading and redevelopment by the government. Lastly, the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS), which lets residents sell part of their leases back to the government in exchange for money, will be expanded.
Why all these big plans now?
With such plans announced, the NDR of 2018 shows much a greater scope, and a stronger ambition in tackling issues like inequality and ageing, than the more low-key affair of 2017. While some have raised the question over the cost of these programs, this announcement of large-spending programs after years of prudence fits in with a cycle that suggests that a General Election might just be around the corner.