Parliament: Replies that never answer the question?

I refer to the report “Cleaning fees raised at nine hawker centres” (Channel NewsAsia, Nov 14).

Cleaners pay increased? Don’t know?

It states that “On how the fees hikes will impact cleaners’ salaries, Ms Fu said she is not able to provide details on the extent to which the increases in fees would benefit the cleaners since it would depend on the operations of each cleaning service provider”.

So much has been said recently about the issue of very low pay cleaners that almost everybody including Parliamentarians have been asking how much has the pay of cleaners increased, after all the initiatives, schemes, etc.

And the answer now in Parliament is essentially we are not able to tell you.

KPI achieved? Don’t know?

Imagine you are in the private sector or for that matter in the public sector, and your Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is pay, and when asked as to how you have performed – the answer is I am unable to tell you”

What would be the reaction of the shareholders, board of directors, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), etc?

Don’t know? Why don’t just ask?

Can’t we simply ask the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ask the cleaning companies it awarded contracts as to how much more they are paying their cleaners?

Can’t we just send a few people to ask the cleaners at these nine food centres as to how much their pay has gone up?

“First world” Parliament?

Such is the standard of our Parliament in a so called “first world” country!

PAP town councils know, but we don’t know?

By the way, if the PAP town councils were able to announce triumphantly not so long ago that they were able to increase the pay of town council cleaners to $1,000, why is it that the Minister can’t?


As to “However, the tender stipulated the contract would only be awarded to cleaning companies awarded the Clean Mark Accreditation which requires cleaners to be provided basic statutory benefits stated under the Employment Act including CPF contributions and paid public holidays”, are we saying that some cleaning companies were breaking the law by not paying basic statutory benefits like CPF and paid public holidays?

How many cleaning companies have been prosecuted for breach of the employment act?

What kind of accreditation are we talking about, when it requires mere compliance with the legislation?

More cleaners per food centre?

With regard to “”The most sustainable solution to the moderation of cleaning charges for the hawkers is for all of us – the patrons, the stallholders – to help keep our hawker centres clean. It is not possible for us to infinitely increase the numbers of cleaners at our centres to clean up after our mess,” she said”, are we implying that the number of cleaners has gone up per hawker centre?

Is there any data to support this?

Productivity up? Don’t know?

Is it not in a way, self-contradictory, when we keep saying that pay can only go up with productivity, and yet there is no mention as to whether the productivity of cleaners has gone up or not?

In this connection, “Ms Fu said that even with efforts to improve working conditions and career prospects of the cleaning industry, the longer term solution would be to mitigate manpower shortage with increased productivity as the industry remains unattractive”.

So, the reply does not answer the fundamental questions as to whether pay or for that matter productivity has gone up!


Next, let me move on to the reply in Parliament about MediShield, as reported in “Health Ministry urges uninsured Singaporeans to apply for Medishield coverage” (Channel NewsAsia, Nov 14).

It states that “The Ministry of Health is encouraging eligible, uninsured Singaporeans to apply for Medishield coverage. 

35% elderly don’t have MediShield

It said 35 per cent of elderly Singaporeans aged 76 to 85 are currently not insured under the scheme, compared to only 8 per cent for the general population. 

Reach out, more awareness?

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said his ministry is reaching out through events like public talks run by the Central Provident Fund Board. 

The ministry is also encouraging children to apply for Medishield coverage on behalf of their elderly parents”.

Over the years, we have been getting almost the same reply along the lines that more will be done to reach out and have more awareness to encourage Singaporeans to apply for MediShield.

We have failed our senior citizens?

Any country that has a so called national health insurance scheme, whereby 35 per cent of the very old – age  76 to 85, do not even have the most basic cover of MediShield, is a failure by any measure. We have failed our country and more importantly we have failed our senior citizens, when they need healthcare most.

Why can’t the reply tell us the percentage of those age 76 to 85 who may have nothing or so little in their Medisave that they may not be able to afford the MediShield premiums?

How can awareness be repeatly replied as the main cause of so many uninsured elderly?

Has the percentage of uninsured elderly been increasing over the years?

What are we doing to solve this problem, and how are we going to help them?

80% subsidy – so affordable?

As to “”Beyond MediShield, the elderly can also receive help for their health care costs. All elderly Singaporeans will continue to enjoy government subsidies of up to 80 per cent for subsidised health care treatment at our public health care institutions, regardless of their insured status”, the fact as reported in Parliament last month, that more than 90 people had annual MediShield claims exceeding $50,000 (after the deductibles and co-insurance) in both 2009 and 2010, shows how expensive healthcare is in Singapore, even in the two lowest class wards of Class C and B2 despite continuing “to enjoy government subsidies of up to 80 per cent”.

How many elderly patients who could not pay, were able to get help under Medifund to fully cover their bills, and how many were rejected?

Medifund top-ups help you?

As to “Under the GST Voucher scheme, the government will also provide annual Medisave top-ups for the majority of elderly Singaporeans to help with medical expenses,” he said”, how many elderly had their Medisave top-ups consumed by increasing healthcare costs within say a year of receiving their top-ups?

If your top-ups are consumed by medical costs, how do you pay for your MediShield premiums even if you are aware of the scheme?

Just insure the uninsured?

Since we know who are the citizens aged 76 to 85 who don’t have MediShield, why don’t we just use the Medisave top-ups to directly pay for their MediShield premiums and insure them?

Perhaps what we sorely need in Parliament are answers to questions and not just quite meaningless replies!

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.