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    Feb 10, 2014

    A package for pioneers, with thanks

    NEARLY half a century after their hard work laid the foundation for modern Singapore, the nation is giving something back to its pioneers.

    It is a "special package for a special generation" and it will benefit some 450,000 people.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday gave a glimpse into the much-discussed Pioneer Generation Package at a tribute party at the Istana attended by 1,000 seniors, including opposition veteran Chiam See Tong.

    Besides reducing the medical expenses for these pioneers, the health care-focused package will also lessen the burden on their children, Mr Lee said.

    The package targets the first generation of Singaporeans as it is this generation whose hard work had set the foundation for the country's development, said Mr Lee.

    Hence, only those who are 65 years or older this year, and who received their citizenship before 1987, qualify for the package. They would have been aged 16 or older at independence. "In 1965, many people left school, (and) started work early, often in their teens," Mr Lee said.

    "It will include our first batch of national servicemen, who were called up in 1967," he added.

    The package will provide more support to pay for MediShield Life premiums, extra subsidies for outpatient treatment, and annual Medisave top-ups. More details will be revealed during the Budget next Friday.

    The benefits will be for life, with more help given to those who are older.

    PM Lee said many in the pioneer generation would not have much in their Medisave accounts, because the scheme had not been introduced when they were working. Wages were lower when it was introduced in 1984, and Medisave contribution rates had not been built up yet.

    He paid tribute to members of the pioneer generation, from mothers and housewives who brought up new generations of Singaporeans, to those who defended the country, such as members of the Volunteer Corps who were active during Konfrontasi.

    Mr Lee also pointed out that for the Malay community, Singapore's split with Malaysia in 1965 meant they were faced with a choice - join Malaysia as part of the majority, or remain in Singapore as a minority.

    In Malay, Mr Lee said their choice to stay enabled Singapore to grow into a multiracial and multi-religious society.

    Mr Lee assured older Singaporeans who may not qualify for the package that the Government would take care of them.

    On the sidelines of a separate community event, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo said: "Even if you're not part of the (pioneer) group by definition, you'll know someone in your family - an uncle, dad, mum, an aunt - who is part of the pioneer generation."

    Mr Chiam, the 78-year-old longtime chief of the Singapore People's Party, approved of the fact that the benefits are recurrent and not one-off. "It's a very big thing for pioneers who are not so well off," he said.