Written by Ng E-Jay
27 Aug 2008
Dr Lily Neo, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, is well known for her strong personality and the close attention she pays to the plight of the poor in Singapore.
On Monday in Parliament, her fiesty demeanour showed through during question time when she squared off with Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, on the issue of aid for the poorest households.
Dr Lily Neo had asked the Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, whether his ministry is monitoring how lower-income households are affected by inflation and stagnant wages, whether the available assistance is lessening their difficulties, and whether there will be other measures to ensure no one falls through the cracks.
In my opinion, these all very valid and pertinent questions — questions that had also been taken up by Opposition MPs in the past.
In her reply on behalf of Dr Balakrishnan, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon listed the different assistance schemes available and cited examples of families who had benefitted from those schemes.
But Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon’s reply was hardly sufficient for Dr Lily Neo, who stopped the Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi from proceeding to the next question tabled by Dr Lam Pin Min by waving her papers frantically .
Dr Lily Neo reiterated that more had to be done for the poor. On the list of help schemes for the poorest 20 per cent of Singaporeans, Dr Lily Neo also strongly objected to being asked a question by Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon: “How far you want to cover? You want to cover up to 30 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent (of the population)?”
Dr Lily Neo said, “I’d like to object to the fact that I was asked what I wanted the assistance for; wasn’t 20 per cent enough, 30 per cent enough? … … I definitely never asked for 30 per cent or 40 per cent of assistance to Singaporeans, and I object to being asked that kind of question.”
Mrs Yu-Foo then clarified that her question was not directed at Dr Neo in particular, but at Singaporeans in general. “I didn’t say Dr Lily Neo asks for 30 per cent … My question was generally to Singaporeans, whether we want to cover beyond 20 per cent,” she said.
Later after Parliament, Dr Lily Neo explained to the New Paper that she was trying to speak up on behalf of low-income families who are not eligible for public assistance because one or both parents are working. She said that these are needy ones who had fallen through the cracks.
Dr Lily Neo voiced out her concern that existing assistance schemes are all temporary and ad-hoc. She said, “We need something permanent for these people that can lift them out of the poverty cycle, like getting the kids to pre-school or getting their parents better jobs.”
I fully agree with her. I would also like to add that a lot of the monetary assistance dispensed out through schemes like WorkFare go into the CPF account and are thus not available for day-to-day usage. My question is: How is this going to help the needy who have immediate needs in everyday life?
It is my opinion that one time Budget handouts are insufficient at helping the lower-income families cope with inflation and stagnant wages due to the large import of low-skilled foreigners who compete with them for jobs on virtually equal terms. A far more comprehensive method of helping the poor and needy must be employed, including helping them secure better jobs, and instituting a minimum wage to protect their right to a decent standard of living.
It is sad that amongst all the voices in Parliament, Dr Lily Neo’s is only one of the very few who speak out vociferously on behalf of the poor and lower-income families who have been marginalized by the “growth at all costs” policies of the PAP Government.
Some MP’s later asked Dr Lily Neo why she resorted to waving her papers frantically to catch the Speaker of Parliament’s attention. She replied, “I just felt I needed to shout for these people. I think I did, and I wanted to.”
Dr Lily Neo certainly combines both beauty and brains, as well as a passion to help the poor.
According to my archives, Dr Lily Neo has previously asked questions in Parliament earlier this year relating to economic hardship and inflation, and has called upon the government to improve the delivery of needed help to the poor even if the government has to employ more manpower for the task. She has also spoken out quite vociferously on the issue of school bullies.