Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's English Speech at the Pioneer Generation Tribute on 9 Feb 2014

9 February 2014

Colleagues and friends, a very happy Chinese New Year to all of you!

Next year we celebrate 50 years of Independence. It is a significant milestone, and it is a time to celebrate but also a time to reflect and to rededicate ourselves to building a better Singapore. Therefore the SG50 campaign is to engage all Singaporeans in this endeavour. And today’s Party, for the Pioneer Generation, is fittingly, the first SG50 event.

Singapore has come a long way. We have been on a remarkable journey, a journey which no one believed, or could even have imagined in 1965. It is the work of more than one generation – each standing on the shoulders of the one before.

But the Pioneer Generation who started us out on this journey is special. Many had migrated to Singapore from other lands, to start a new life here. You took part in the excitement and drama of the anti-colonial struggle, in the battle against the Communists, and in the fight against the communalists which led to separation from Malaysia and Independence for Singapore. Despite difficult times and the real danger of failure, you persevered, put Singapore first, and worked together to build our nation. You started Singapore on a path of development, which has transformed the lives of a whole population and you raised new generations of Singaporeans, your children and your grandchildren, and for some of you, great grandchildren too. And you taught us the values and spirit that enabled us to succeed.

Therefore as we approach Singapore’s 50th birthday, it is fitting that we honour you, the Pioneer Generation. On behalf of all Singaporeans, I thank you and your generation for all that you have done. This Tribute Party is a modest gesture. There are several hundred thousand members of the Pioneer Generation alive, it is not possible for us to invite all to be here today, but those who are here today are representative of the many, many more and you have contributed in many ways, big and small – as mothers and housewives, bringing up new generations of Singaporeans, as farmers and Samsui women, traders and factory workers, putting food on the table for your families and keeping Singapore going. As members of the Volunteer Corps protecting Singapore during Konfrontasi, or of the Vigilante Corps; keeping our streets safe from the saboteurs. As our earliest regulars and national servicemen, building up our SAF and the Home Team. As doctors, treating and caring for our sick, and as nurses, working alongside them, going to villages to teach people about nutrition, hygiene and health, and to schools to screen and immunise our children. As teachers, setting up new schools and nurturing our young. And as young officers in Public Works Department (PWD), Housing Development Board (HDB) and Public Utilities Board (PUB), building our public infrastructure. As grassroots volunteers, unionists and political leaders, rallying Singaporeans around our common cause.

Thank you all, and through you, thank you to all in our Pioneer Generation. Over the next year, we will hold other events to honour different groups belonging to this special Generation. Unfortunately over the last half century, some of the Pioneer Generation have left us. We cannot thank them in person but we take heart that they have seen Singapore transform into a better home for their children and we will never forget their contributions to Singapore.

At the National Day Rally (NDR) last year, I said we would put together a package of benefits for every member of the Pioneer Generation still living. We thought carefully and consulted widely about what would be meaningful and helpful to you and I know that healthcare is at the top of the minds of older Singaporeans. And therefore the Pioneer Generation Package will focus on healthcare benefits.

We have comprehensive schemes to take care of every Singaporean’s healthcare needs. We have Government subsidies, we have 3Ms, we have the voluntary sector and we have many helping hands. We are reviewing and improving these schemes, for example, upgrading MediShield to become MediShield-Life, to give all citizens more protection and greater peace of mind on this important issue. But we will do still more for the Pioneer Generation, to honour you, and to make medical care always affordable for you.

Our Package will give extra financial support to you in three important areas: First, MediShield-Life. There is a MediShield-Life Review Committee. It is still working out the premiums and the benefits. We have not worked out the sums completely yet, but we will make the premiums affordable to all. But on top of that, for the Pioneer Generation, we will provide extra support from the government so that you will always enjoy the enhanced benefits of MediShield-Life but pay less premiums than the MediShield which you are enjoying today. That is the first major piece.

The second piece is outpatient treatment. I know that many old people have chronic conditions – high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, high blood sugar. And they see the doctors regularly and they have to take pills all the time and the outpatient bills can add up. So besides hospital care, we will help you with your hospital bills, with your outpatient bills. We already subsidise polyclinics and the Specialist Outpatient Centres(SOCs) significantly but we will provide extra subsidies at polyclinics, the SOCs and General Practitioners(GP) clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) scheme for the Pioneer Generation, on top of the all the other subsidies which all citizens are eligible for. That is the second piece.

The third piece is Medisave. It is a key part of the way we make sure that people have saved enough money for their medical expenses. But many in the Pioneer Generation do not have much Medisave in their accounts.

Because when you were working, when you were young, either Medisave had not been introduced or because at that time your wages were lower, or the Medisave contributions rates had not been built up yet. So now when you are old and you need it, you may not have enough there. So we will provide top ups annually into your Medisave accounts, to help you with your medical needs, and to help your families as well. And these top-ups can also help you to pay for your share of the MediShield-Life premiums.

So, three areas of support – MediShield-Life, Outpatient Treatment and Medisave. I hope these will give you assurance in your golden years. We will provide these benefits to you for life and everyone in the Pioneer Generation will benefit from this package, with more for those who are older. It will not only reduce your medical expenses but also enable you to save a bit more for your other needs and reduce the burden on your children and grandchildren too. I do not bring the details with me today, but DPM Tharman will be announcing the Package during the Budget two weeks from now.

This is a special package for a special generation. But no matter how we design the package, it can never fully reflect the contributions that our pioneers have made to our nation. Nevertheless, I hope you will accept it as a sincere expression of our gratitude, and I hope that it will be of help to you and to your families.

Now there is one question which you might be asking yourself and that is: How do we define the Pioneer Generation and who benefits from the Package? Our target group is the first generation of Singaporeans, who are living and working in Singapore after we became independent and who are either citizens when we became independent, or became citizens in the early years of our republic. So the first generation of Singaporeans, living and working in Singapore when we became independent, either they were citizens on the 9th of August 1965, or became citizens in the early years after that. But you need a specific definition – what age?

So the answer is this: those who will be 65 years or older by the end of this year. That means you were about 16 years old at Independence will qualify – hands up. Oh I see many hands! Why have we chosen this? Because in 1965 many people left school, started work early, often in their teens. It is not like today when you finish school, you finish National Service (NS), and then you start work, already twenty or twenty plus. And also when you start this way, it will include our first batch of National Servicemen, who were called up in 1967. And I think we have a few first batch National Servicemen here today. Thank you for serving us! We should also include those who became citizens in the early years after 1965. For practical reasons, we will include all who became citizens before 1987. If you ask why 1987, it is because before that we were not fully with computers, we were on manual records and we cannot be absolutely sure we have all the manual records still there. So we have been a little bit generous, before 1987 we consider you Pioneer Generation. And in that generation, there were many who came back and forth between Singapore and Malaysia and who came to Singapore finally in the early years. Late 60s, early 70s and their contribution deserves to be recognised too. On this definition, we estimate that there are 450,000 people in the Pioneer Generation today.

There are other older Singaporeans who do not meet the criteria for the Pioneer Generation. We will continue to take care of you in many other ways, and enable you to look after yourself and your families, as we do all other Singaporeans. So I encourage all Singaporeans to honour our seniors, each in our own fashion.

But the biggest tribute we can pay to the Pioneer Generation is to build on your legacy. You have been tested by crises and proven your resolve. Now, it is our generation’s task to carry on and take further what you began: to stay true to your pioneering spirit – to be self-reliant, never to say die and to be united in purpose and to rededicate ourselves to building our nation and take Singapore to greater heights. Then, if we do that, together we can celebrate another 50 years of progress, and enjoy our 100th birthday with joy and pride.

So thank you for being here today, and thank you again for your great contributions to Singapore. Thank you.