Former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say is not the only Member of Parliament (MP) to praise Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during the Budget debate.
On Feb. 27, MP Lee Bee Wah commended Heng for being able to tackle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) on multiple fronts, while simultaneously rolling out packages for the elderly and families.
In rounding up her praise of Heng, she took to quoting the anthem of Liverpool Football Club, You'll Never Walk Alone.
"Perhaps my thoughts will be best expressed by quoting the lyrics from the Liverpool FC song about when you’re walking through a storm.
Hold your head up high. Don't be afraid of the dark because at the end of the storm, there's a golden sky."
Speaker Tan Chuan-jin, a supporter of the club himself, added a "Hear hear" of support.
What was her speech about?
Lee touched on a number of issues during her speech, including:
- The discrimination of local contractors,
- Reducing the rent for office or commercial properties,
- Reducing the rent for taxis, and
- The importance of having a roof over one's head versus having money for retirement.
Foreign contractors being awarded over locals?
Lee stated:"Many local contractors also told me that they feel discriminated in recent few contract awards."
Here, Lee brought up the example of the Jurong Regional line projects by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), in which four out of seven contracts had been awarded to foreign contractors.
She also added that the N112 tender -- that is, the tender for the design and construction of North-South Corridor (Viaduct) between Sungei Seletar and Yishun Avenue 5 -- had been awarded by LTA to a foreign contractor, despite a local contractor submitting the lowest tender.
As such, while she was aware of Price Quality Method (PQM) scoring, this raised the following question: "Why pay S$6 million more to a foreign contractor?"
Lee suggested to consistently apply the policy of "Buy Singapore First." She said that if there was a gap in the capabilities of local contractors, then they should be handheld and nurtured.
Added Lee: "If you don't even support our own contractors, who will support them?"
Reducing rent for offices
Speaking in Mandarin, Lee said that while it was commendable for the government to provide rebates for hawker centres, more could be done with either JTC or HDB taking the lead to reduce the rent for office or commercial properties.
Here, she posed the following questions,"And how many SMEs can the S$4 billion help? How can we make sure that the landlords will share the savings with their SMEs?"
Lee elaborated that apart from tourism-related sectors, other industries such as manufacturing, maritime and construction had also been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Reducing rent for taxis
Switching to Malay, Lee also called for taxi companies to reduce the rental rates for taxis by 50 per cent until the DORSCON level returned to green.
On this matter, she said that many taxi drivers had shared with her that their income had dropped by 50 per cent.
What's more, drivers from Grab and Gojek have also shared with her that they are not eligible for the support package that has been rolled out for full-time drivers, as they do not meet the minimum number of trips that must be made as a result of reduced demand.
In calling for more help for the drivers, Lee said, "Will the Minister be able to take a look at this group of people?"
Why having a roof over one's head is more important than providing for retirement
Turning to the slew of measures provided for boosting the retirement income and employability of older workers, Lee said that while these were a step in the right direction, there is still a need to understand residents better "and get the priority right."
Lee said she has seen cases where residents have money in their retirement accounts, but not enough money to service their mortgage loans.
She then added that for residents, having a roof over one's head "is a more immediate and more important need" than providing for retirement.
Moreover, financial incentives alone might not be enough to encourage businesses to hire and retain older workers.
Lee added: "This requires more in-depth study."
Heng Swee Keat never walks alone
Despite her points raised, Lee praised Heng for his "thoughtfulness and incisiveness" in dealing with the challenges.
In one of the debate's more light-hearted moments, Lee then added that it was not her intention to sing the song as she "did not want to empty the house", so she recited the lines instead:
"But I have this to say to DPM -- walk on walk on with hope in your heart, and you will never walk alone. You will never walk alone. Mr Speaker, sir, I support the budget."
Top image screenshot from CNA