Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap (Aljunied): Sir, there are two parts to my speech. First, I will cover the topic of a caring and inclusive society, which I will deliver in English. For the second part, I will speak on a couple of issues related to the Malay/Muslim community in Malay.
Sir, the constant feature of almost every Budget tabled in this Chamber has been efforts to build a caring and inclusive society. This year was no different. With this in mind, I would like to use my speech to invite the Government and every Member of this House to reflect on the issues that are faced by certain segments of our fellow Singaporeans who may still feel marginalised.
For those who belong to these segments, the phrase “caring and inclusive society” may provoke anger and disappointment rather than any joy or pride.
Sir, let us start by identifying who these people are and what the reasons are for their discontent. They are the ones who face challenges in their respective lives due to certain existing Government policies.
I want to highlight the difficulties they face and make some suggestions that could alleviate the hardship these citizens face.
The issues I am about to cover are not new. Rather, they have been discussed before and been raised repeatedly by many Members from both sides of this House, including myself.
Sir, the first marginalised group I wish to highlight are our fellow countrymen who are low-income earners and are low-income motorcyclists who depend on motorcycles to support themselves and their families.
In November 2021, I put forth an Adjournment Motion on the ever-increasing issues of motorcycle COEs. I proposed some suggestions which I felt could reduce the burden on motorcyclists and motorcycle owners. In responding to the Motion, MOT agreed on how the high COE prices burden motorcycle owners, especially those belonging to the low-income segments. The Ministry said it would monitor the situation and will assess what were the best measures that could be taken to address the matter.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask MOT whether it has any updates to share with the House relating to this matter, about four months after the Adjournment Motion.
Sir, the COE prices for motorcycles had already crossed the $10,000 mark. I would like to know whether the Government considers this situation to be an appropriate one and what are the steps that have been or are being considered so that those who depend on the use of motorcycles to make a living do not face even deeper troubles as a result of this situation.
The second group of citizens are those whose spouse is not a Singaporean Citizen.
The difficulty they face is in obtaining a Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) or Singaporean permanent residence or Singapore Permanent Resident status. I believe I do not need to elaborate at length as this matter has been raised repeatedly in this Chamber. However, I want to emphasise the negative implications stemming from the situation whereby applications for the Long-Term Visit Pass and permanent residence are rejected many times. I personally know some of my residents who face such situations, the implication of which is separation.
This is very sad, because it is far from demonstrating our caring and inclusive society that every Budget claims to want to achieve.
On this issue, the Workers’ Party has specifically called for foreign spouses to be given priority for citizenship naturalisation if they apply after five years on their LTVP+, on the condition that they have been married to their current Singaporean spouse for three years or more and they have at least one child together.
Another stressful situation faced by individuals married to foreign spouses is the cost of schooling for the children of their spouses. That is, their stepchildren. They have to pay high school fees because their stepchildren are student pass holders.
For low-income earners, this is a very heavy burden. Many such individuals are destitute and find themselves out of options and solutions for their financial problems arising from the high school fees. Many of these individuals have already sought to obtain Permanent Resident status in the hope that their children would not be subject to high fees. However, many of those who have applied have been unsuccessful.
As a concern for Singaporeans experiencing such a situation, I would like to ask the Government to re-evaluate our immigration policy in order to provide relief in this situation. Alternatively, I recommend that MOE considers establishing a subsidy scheme for such students, especially for those from low-income families and where their stepfathers have legal guardianship status over them.
The next group who feels marginalised are divorcees: single mothers or fathers and also unwed single parents.
Many still suffer from failing to find a place to live. Although there are reform measures taken by the Government such as allowing single parents to buy subsidised flats without having to go through a development period and also allowing unwed single parents to purchase up to a 3-room flat in a non-mature estate from HDB or a resale flat, but I think more flexibility can be exercised to reduce the difficulties of this group.
This is worrying as there are still many restrictions in our public housing policies for unwed single parents as they and their children do not meet the criteria of a family nucleus under the existing rules. I and many other Members of Parliament have expressed our concerns on the matter and have been calling to abolish this unfavourable ruling and at the same time, to extend public housing benefits to all single parents regardless of their marital status.
I hope this issue can be given due attention and will result in more positive changes to HDB’s existing housing policies.
There are two other concerns I have voiced in recent years, which I feel can have a positive impact in our effort in continuing to reinforce caring and inclusive values if they are addressed.
One is with respect to the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme, KiFAS.
I have asked on several occasions in this Chamber to have this scheme extended to students from low-income families who attend kindergartens run by non-profit organisations such as charities, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and religious entities such as mosques and churches. This is because parents who wish to send their children to a kindergarten of their choice for certain reasons should not be sidelined or deprived of the opportunity to obtain financial assistance schemes. I do not think this is in line with inclusive values.
Full-time madrasah students may also feel excluded from society in some ways. While the move to provide all full-time students at madrasah with Edusave accounts is a welcome one, I note that the Edusave awards, which are presented to students who have performed well or shown good improvement in a mainstream school, remains unavailable to madrasah students.
Sir, at this point, I would like to declare that my daughter is a student at one of the full-time madrasah.
I would like to once again request MOE take additional inclusive measures by extending the Edusave award to full-time madrasah students.
Sir, the recognition of MOE through the Edusave award should not be limited to school students under the administration of the Ministry. Such awards should be extended to every Singaporean student to further strengthen efforts to inculcate inclusive values in our society, especially students.
Sir, the last category of individuals which I wish to highlight are those whose nationality is classified as unknown or stateless.
I have raised this matter in this House, previously citing two individuals who have sought my assistance on their dilemma of being stateless. Both of them were born and bred in Singapore and have never left this country as a result of their nationality status. One of them has to bear a heavier financial burden due to ineligibility for medical fee subsidies and the other is unable to access ComCare assistance. Having stayed in this country for the whole of their life and after giving their youth and energy to the building of this nation, they were repeatedly told of their unsuccessful applications and appeals for citizenship. Other Members of this House have also separately filed questions relating to the plight of the stateless.
According to the Minister for Home Affairs, as of end November 2020, there were 1,109 stateless individuals in Singapore, of which 76% have obtained Permanent Residence status. That still leaves another 266 individuals. I also note that the Minister for Manpower had said in January 2021 that there were no regulations preventing the employment of stateless persons. However, I note that there are several steps that prospective employers of stateless persons need to take before employing them.
Sir, I understand that the immigration authorities take this issue seriously and have to assess each application for Permanent Residency and Citizenship in detail before issuing their decision on whether to approve an application. I hope that the authorities will consider formulating streamlined policies to resolve the status of the stateless in Singapore. Sir, in Malay.
(In Malay): I would like to bring up a number of issues relating to the Malay-Muslim community, during this Budget debate as well as the Committee of Supply debate.
In today’s debate, I would like to touch on two matters, that should be given due emphasis and attention to ensure the well-being of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore. First, on home ownership and second, on education.
After almost 57 years of independence, Singapore has attained many commendable achievements. The excellence that we achieved is the result of having awareness, hard work accompanied by sweat and tears, in addition to the spirit, perseverance, commitment, determination and solidarity of our people with a touch of vision and aspiration. As the people of a multi-racial Singapore, we are cognizant that united we stand, divide we fall. As a result, we can see now that on the world stage, Singapore is increasingly known as an exceptional and reputable brand name.
We are a nation that is far ahead in many areas like economic growth, public administration, quality education, health services, anti-corruption and so on.
Sir, as Members are aware, Singapore’s excellent achievements today have made our citizens more educated, skilled and capable.
However, there are still many who are unable to say that they are self-sufficient. This is because we are facing critical challenges and problems, brought about by the wave of progress in the name of development, success and prosperity
In short, we all face the pressure of a very high cost of living. Just look at last January’s core inflation which has gone up by 2.4% on a year-on-year basis, reaching the highest level in nine years, driven by higher inflation in food, electricity and gas, as well as a smaller decline in the cost of retail and other goods. This was declared by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in a joint statement on 23 February.
In this august Chamber, I would like to say clearly and plainly that the increase in prices of goods has adversely affected our people’s cost of living.
In this challenging and increasingly stressful situation, the Malay community is the most affected. The Population Census showed that the number of Malay households living in 1-room and 2-room rental flats has more than doubled in 10 years, from around 9,100 in 2010 to 18,600 in 2020.
This, Mr Speaker, this is not progress but regression. If every rental flat is occupied by a family of four, it means 74,400 Malays are now living in a cramped, stressful and hampered manner. This comprises almost 15% of the entire Malay community in Singapore.
So, I would like to ask the Government; first, what is being done by the Government to improve the ability of Malays to purchase flats and therefore leave the rental flats? Second, how many Malays are living in HDB rental flats in 2021? Third, what are the Government’s short term and medium term plans to reduce the number of Malays living in 1-room and 2-room rental flats? Four, what is the Government’s target to reduce the number of Malays living in rental flats by 2030?
Sir, moving on, I would like to know clearly the Government’s plans on the education of Malay children, especially with regard to the Malay language. I am very concerned, looking at the growing number of our children who are more comfortable speaking in English. This will cause their command of the Malay language as their Mother Tongue to be eroded. In future, perhaps within another decade, Singaporean Malays will generally feel awkward speaking in their own language.
According to statistics from the 2020 Population Census, there were 38,668 Malay boys and girls aged 0 to 4 years old. Children at this age are at a critical stage in their growth development. With married couples focused on supporting families, most of these children are placed in childcare centres before being sent to kindergarten.
The upbringing and teaching of Malay Language, whether at home or at childcare centres, are equally important. However, I discovered from a reply by the Minister for Social and Family Development in April 2021 that 350 childcare centres provided Malay Language lessons beginning this year, despite having more than 1,800 preschools here. This means that only 19% of preschools here teach Malay Language. This is far from sufficient.
I acknowledge that it is important for our people to have a good command of English, and the bilingual policy adopted by the Government should ensure a balance for all mother tongues, including the Malay Language, and on this point, my concern is that if there is no concerted effort, the majority of our 38,668 Malay children will have difficulty mastering the Malay Language, much less being fluent in their Mother Tongue.
Moreover, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results showed a very clear indication that the percentage of Malay children who scored grade A* to C for the Malay Language had declined. The lowest percentage was 97.5% in 2020 and this downward trend began since the beginning of the new millennium in 2001. The Malay community cannot allow this decline to continue on. This is an early indication that a critical step must be taken to prevent this problem from worsening. Some may think that this decline is very small or negligible.
Therefore, on this issue, I would like to pose some questions to the Government on the education of Malay children. This will allow the community to know more clearly the Government’s position and stand in ensuring that Malay children are not hindered from the opportunity to learn Malay Language from a young age. As the saying goes, bend the bamboo while it is still a bamboo shoot.
Sir, I have these questions for the Government.
First, what will the Government do to address the shortage of preschools offering the teaching of Mother Tongue? Will the Government provide a bigger allocation to attract more professionals to join the preschool teaching sector to teach the Malay language?
Second, what are the Government’s plans to increase the number of preschools that can offer the teaching of Malay Language to meet the needs of the majority of the 38,668 children aged 0 to 4 years old, where currently only 350 preschools out of around 1,800 preschools that are doing so.
Third, what are the immediate steps that will be taken by the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs as well as the Mendaki Foundation to improve Malay language proficiency among primary school students who will sit for the PSLE. Generally we know that Mendaki Tuition Classes do not offer tuition in the Malay language.
Four, what is the near-term objective of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to address the lack of Malay Language teaching in preschools by 2030?
Sir, what I presented are part of several key issues that the Government needs to address with detailed answers. The Malay community is always told about our achievement and progress, and when we look that the available statistics, we can see a significant weakness over the last 10 years.
The issues highlighted must be addressed decisively and judiciously.
At the same time, we also seek the Government’s understanding to look into the living situation of Malays, with many increasingly living in rental flats. This has to be addressed quickly to extract them of the cycle and grip of poverty, and all the social problems that come with it.
1 March 2022