Comments by DPM Wong Kan Seng on the qualifying date for the Marriage & Parenthood Package 2008
Some people have asked why the qualifying date for this year’s Marriage & Parenthood Package (MPP) is 17 Aug 2008 and not 1 Aug 2008 as was the case for the 2004 MPP. Let me explain.
THE 2004 PACKAGE
Before the 2004 MPP was announced by PM in August 2004, Minister Lim Hng Kiang, who chaired the marriage and parenthood committee at that time publicly encouraged Singaporeans to start planning for children in his comments in December 2003. He sent a clear signal to Singaporeans that changes to the 2001 MPP were afoot and they should start planning for babies.
In February 2004 during the Budget Speech, the then Finance Minister, DPM Lee Hsien Loong announced the government’s plan to revise the marriage and parenthood policies. He made clear that the package would be completed before National Day that year.
At the August 2004 National Day Rally, PM Lee announced the new MPP. The effective date was set on 1 Aug 2004 because all administrative measures and adjustments to the systems were already made between February and August 2004. Hence, the Government was able to effect the date of the 2004 Package earlier.
Even then, legislation for the additional four weeks of maternity leave was only completed two months later, on 1 Oct 2004, after the law was amended.
Employers were encouraged to provide the enhanced leave provision between 1 Aug and 1 Oct 2004, with the Government paying for the additional month of leave.
THE 2008 PACKAGE
The first indication to review the MPP was given by me in Parliament on 21 Jul 2008.
The details were released on 19 Aug 2008 after PM’s National Day Rally.
The original implementation date of the revised Package as announced was 1 Jan 2009, in order for the various legislative and administrative changes to be effected.
Unlike in 2004, we could not set up the systems earlier as the measures were still being finalised up until the end of July 2008.
Instead of holding back the announcement of the new Package, we decided to share the good news with Singaporeans earlier, after PM’s National Day Rally.
This was because some of the measures could be implemented earlier, such as the enhanced Parenthood Tax Rebate and the co-funding for assisted reproduction technology (ART) treatment. Parents could also claim the enhanced tax reliefs on income earned this year.
But because of the strong appeal from expectant parents whose babies were due before 1 Jan 2009, the Government decided to bring forward the qualifying date for the enhanced MPP to 17 Aug 2008, the date of the announcement by PM.
So, unlike in 2004 when many couples had planned to have their babies in anticipation of the announcement of the Package in August that year, there was no such expectation this year until PM’s National Day Rally.inste
Nevertheless, the Government has tried to be as inclusive as possible and brought forward the qualifying date for the enhanced Package to 17 Aug 2008. This is a reasonable cut-off date.
The public needs to appreciate that specific start dates are needed for any policy or measure and the Government cannot backdate the enhanced Package indefinitely.
The public should look at the Package in totality. Couples should not simply focus on what they cannot qualify for, but also consider what they will be receiving.
For parents whose babies were born before 17 Aug 2008, they would still be eligible for the enhancements to the tax reliefs, childcare and infant care subsidies, and childcare and infant care leave.
What they will miss out is an additional $1,000 of baby bonus for the first two children, a co-payment of $6,000 for the first child, and an additional four weeks of maternity leave.
All things considered, parents will still receive significant support under the revised package.
NEED FOR BALANCED VIEW
The Government understands that couples would wish to receive as much support as they can get. But no package or plan is perfect.
A qualifying date has to be set. Whichever date is chosen, there will be those who will miss out in one way or another. I can understand their disappointment. But it is not possible for the Government to meet the expectations of every group. .
Singaporeans should look forward to the future. I hope they will appreciate what the Government has done to facilitate marriage and procreation.
But let me also add that the set of financial incentives is not the magic bullet to solve our low TFR problem. The outcome of a higher TFR does not depend on Government financial support alone. It depends on employers doing their part to promote a pro-family work environment, and on Singaporeans to do their part to marry and have babies.
23 Aug 2008