Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang has fired what could be the first salvo in the lead-up to the General Election 2016, as he made several pointed remarks in parliament directed at Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Wednesday.
It appears Low may have found the Government's new weak spot.
In this year's Budget debate, almost half of Low's eight speeches -- also known as "cuts" -- was focused on healthcare.
Judging from the Budget debates, healthcare -- not housing -- is likely to be the key concern of an ageing electorate in Singapore in the next few years.
The debate over the Health Ministry's budget lasted for more than five hours. It was the longest of the 15 ministries’ budgets that members of parliament went through, with 54 speeches made by parliamentarians.
In the lead-up to GE2011
Remember the housing concerns and woes in 2011?
During that last budget before GE2011, then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan received a total of 55 cuts for his ministry -– the highest among ministries during the 2011 Budget debates.
In other words, the stage was set to pinpoint blame on the National Development Minister.
Hence, it puzzles me when MP Lam Pin Min concluded the debate by congratulating Minister Gan "for topping the COS chart, with the most time allocated, with the most number of cuts, with the most number of speakers in the debate".
That's the equivalent of thanking someone for taking a beating. Topping the Committee of Supply (COS) chart is not an accolade that a Minister should be proud of, especially after becoming a prime target.
Anyway, Low's WP colleagues followed suit and posed 16 cuts to the Health Minister -- nearly 30% of all the cuts were received by MOH.
None, though, was as hard-hitting as Low's.
Below are the highlights of Low's speeches:
"This hospital bed crunch, together with the public transport “crush” and the riot in Little India, is a stark example of third world problems in first world Singapore. One certainly hopes that Singapore does not make history by going from third world to first and back to third within one generation."
"A WP member told me that her 97 year-old grandmother waited for 23 hours for a bed. A former NMP also witnessed the bed crunch when her husband had to wait over eight hours before being given a hospital bed. She observed that “when it happens so frequently, then it’s no longer a glitch, it’s the new norm."
Queuing for Bed Crunch as active ageing activity
"What can Singaporeans expect in healthcare 2020, with respect to hospital availability? Will queuing for a bed in hospital become an activity of active ageing for the seniors?"
"Recent and repeated pay increases, such as the S$1.9 billion infusion in 2008 by MOH, have succeeded in driving up healthcare cost but have failed to stem the flow of doctors from government to private hospitals."
"There is a general perception that specialists in private practice enjoy sky-high earnings compared to those in the government hospitals. I am not sure how true is this but I think greater transparency in doctors’ charges is needed."
Bed Crunch - 1st World to 3rd (Part 2)
"I would also like to know from the Minister what he thinks is a reasonable waiting time for a patient to wait for a bed in the hospital or whether he could assure us what would be the waiting time that the patient can expect when he needs a hospital bed for admission? We have feedback that a patient waited for eight hours and some as long as 23 hours. I think that's too long. It's not what we would expect in a First World country, right?"