Delivered in Parliament on 7 April 2020
The efforts to expand and extend assistance to the different segments of society in ensuring that every Singaporean will not be left behind, and that everyone feels a sense of unity and solidarity is very much welcomed. On a global scale we have seen extraordinary measures and steps taken by governments and citizens in managing and tackling this extraordinary calamity.
In my speech, I would like to make some proposals for the government’s consideration so that the effort of strengthening our nation’s unity and resilience can be more encompassing and more inclusive.
I am heartened by the steps taken by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in exercising flexibility in rendering ComCare assistance. As understood, the ComCare assistance can only be rendered to one per household. However, there are many households that have more than one immediate family staying together under one roof. For example, a couple with young children could be staying with their elderly parents, along with another unmarried sibling. Hence, the possibility of two main breadwinners or family heads within the same household being affected by COVID-19. By not limiting assistance to just one per household will surely benefit and lighten the burden of such deserving cases.
As many in this chamber are aware the application & approval processes for ComCare assistance normally takes an average of about one to one and a half months. The duration will be longer in a situation whereby an applicant, for some reason, is unable to furnish a complete list of relevant documents.
I would like to urge the Social Service Office (SSO) to exercise some flexibility in the necessary norms cutting short the red tape that could cause a delay in rendering the much needed assistance to deserving applicants.
Next, I would like to urge the government to consider extending the existing financial assistance schemes to Singaporean students whose family incomes are affected by COVID-19.
Currently, the KIFAS or Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme is only available to students from low-income families who are schooling in PCF kindergartens as well as kindergartens administered by the MOE’s Anchor Operators.
In the past, I have made calls in this chamber for KiFas to be extended to all needy students who attend pre-school education centres run by Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs) and faith-based entities such as churches and mosques. I would like to repeat this call during these unprecedented times to extend KiFas to all students from families whose breadwinner incomes have been adversely affected by the COVID-19.
Similarly, I would also like to suggest the same exceptions for MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS). This scheme should also be made available to student who are attending non-public schools, or education institutions which are not stipulated under MOE’s list of qualified schools. I would also like both MOE and MSF to consider extending their financial assistance schemes to another group of students who are Singapore Permanent Residents with either one parent being a Singaporean and even more so for single parent families.
Still on the issue of support & assistance for students. On this note, I wouldlike to suggest the same exception that I have mentioned earlier to cover the NEU PC Plus Programme administered by the InfoCommMedia Development Authority (IMDA).
The PC Plus Programme offers low-income households with a student or a person with disabilities the opportunity to own a brand new computer as well as have internet connection at an affordable price. As announced by MOE, all schools will start Home Based Learning (HBL) from 8 April 2020 to 4 May 2020.
Sir, there are Singaporean students from affected families who are studying in non-public schools, and who could benefit from this scheme during HBL. I believe, we would not want to have a situation of Singaporean students who are unable to continue their school lessons because their homes do not have a computer or internet connection.
Sir, I am glad to see the following statement on the IMDA website ‘Together with industry and community partners, IMDA has adjusted the NEU PC Plus programme to accelerate the provisioning of the PC-Bundle to eligible beneficiaries, which will allow them to go online to carry out activities such as e-learning, amid the COVID-19 situation’.
IMDA acknowledges the current pressing needs and has made the necessary adjustments to ensure continuity and non-disruption of lessons to students. I applaud IMDA for such commended actions. Nonetheless, I would like IMDA to consider furthering their commendable efforts by allowing more than one PC to per household, which is the current practice.
Sir, there are many Singaporean households which have more than one school-going children. Imagine a low income family with more than 2 school-going children but only one PC at home. It will be challenging for these students to do their online lessons as prescribed by their schools. Having said this, I do note and acknowledged the of recent laudable steps taken by MOE loaning about 3000 sets of laptops to our students
Next, I would like to convey a feedback, from an individual, who is a Private Hire Car (PHC) driver. He shared that there are discussions, among Private Hire Car drivers on various social media platforms to request both the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) to allow extension of the grace period from 10 minutes to maybe half an hour for gantry parking across Singapore.
Reason cited was lesser Point to Point bookings will result in longer waiting times. Hence, PHC drivers can have some savings whilst parking at designated parking areas rather than illegally on roadsides or restricted areas that in turn could pose a risk to other road users. I hope the Ministry of National Development can look into this particular request.
My final point, is on exercising leniency and flexibility in the payments of fines. I would like to call upon the various government agencies to consider allowing deferment of such payments or alternatively to allow installment payments. Nonetheless, appellants need to provide proof that they are financially affected by COVID-19. This will indeed lessen the difficulties faced by individuals, businesses, or any other entities, who have been issued with fines while trying to cope with their financial struggles.
To conclude, as I have mentioned in the opening part of my speech, extraordinary efforts are being made worldwide to ensure that this pandemic will not result in extraordinary damage to human lives. The calls that I have made in this speech are not extraordinary calls. However, they are necessa