By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2012
HOUSING matters were a hot topic at a grassroots national conversation session yesterday, as residents took the opportunity to air their concerns in front of National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
Speaking to Sembawang GRC residents participating in the session while wrapping up proceedings, Mr Khaw reiterated the Government's commitment to providing affordable housing as he sought to address fears that future generations may struggle to afford their own flats.
"Even if Singaporeans increase their birth rate - which is a good thing, not a bad thing - we'll make sure there's enough housing," he said.
He said that the state had built about 25,000 new flats each year for the last two years even though there had only been about 15,000 marriages involving at least one Singaporean yearly.
"Pricing is also within my control," he added, before promising that the Government will "always make sure it is affordable".
The session, an offshoot of the broader Our Singapore Conversation, was organised by Sembawang GRC grassroots organisations.
The 225 participants were broken up into groups of about 12 and asked about what they wanted to see in Singapore in 2030.
About a quarter of attendees were new citizens and permanent residents, and as such, many groups reflected upon issues affecting the immigrants.
The impact of tighter foreign labour rules on immigrant families was one issue, as a new citizen pointed out that many new citizens' families have to stay in their home country as they struggle to find work here.
Others expressed a desire for stronger integration efforts.
"We shouldn't be talking in terms of old and new citizens - just Singaporeans," a permanent resident from India was overheard saying.
With Mr Khaw and fellow Sembawang GRC MPs Ellen Lee, Hawazi Daipi and Ong Teng Koon circling the room during the two-hour-long session, many also took the chance to raise municipal issues and express concerns over the cost of living.
And, as in several previous sessions, values was a theme that loomed large in the discussion, as typically Singaporean attributes were dissected by the participants.
Retiree A.C. Lee, 64, was overheard telling her group members in Mandarin: "Kiasu-ism is good. It makes people strive and work hard. As long as you're not selfish and hurt others in the process."
Overall, Mr Li Xiaodong, 29, who became a Singaporean this August, said it was a good way to understand other Singaporeans.
"I exchanged views on topics like values with neighbours from different cultures, so its very valuable," said the former Chinese national.