Me: My main purpose of writing this blog is because I want to bridge differences. Singaporeans and the government cannot go on like that. However, I do think PM Lee and his government has decided to take a more aggressive tone over the past few days. They want to make a stand. But that stand is not something that sufficiently aligns with the people’s needs.You cannot allow people to climb over you, but neither can you choose to hear beyond their voices and choose not to understand the subtleties of what they are saying.
Jude: You feel that the government is trying to make little of her people that they are serving?
Me: No, I dont. If you have read my articles, you will see that I constantly explain to readers that the government has its reasons and we need to learn to understand them. I appreciate the government. But I just read a snippet of PM Lee’s interview with The Australian, where he had surmised that, “Singapore needs to adjust accordingly “without going overboard””. What he had said will make Singaporeans very angry. By what he he said, it sounds like he is taking very lightly of what they are saying. See, I want people to understand the government because I understand on a broad strategic level, what they are trying to do. But I also appeal to the government to do the right thing. I appeal to the government to be sincere and to trust the people. The government doesn’t trust the people. Without the government trusting the people, the people will never trust the government. And the government is in a better position to set things right, than the people. So I am very worried that they have chosen to start taking an aggressive tone. I dont know who their PR company is, but I dont know if it is advisable to take an aggressive tone.
Jude: That I agree
Me: I am at a loss as to what I should believe in – again. Everytime I find a reason to understand the government, they do something which makes me reconsider. They simply CANNOT take an aggressive tone. A government cannot do that because it necessarily shows how you disrespect the people. And you CANNOT tell people that they should to not go “overboard”. They can think that but they cannot say that. It’s basic PR and I think the PR company has been making all the wrong moves over the past few months. It is causing more anger among the people.
Jude: So u think the government try to placate the people?
Me: No I dont think the government should do that. If you understand my line of reasoning, you would know I don’t think that. Any government who tries to simply placate the people will cause the downfall of the country. But the government should do the right thing. And the right thing is informed by statistics, available resources to provide for the people’s well-being and an understanding of what the people need to achieve a standard of living that maintains that well-being. This is what a government should do. The people obviously feels it is not adequate and the statistics clearly show the government can provide more. The government has to do the right thing. The government should not placate. But the government cannot be aggressive. The government should do the right thing. It’s simple as that. Before we go on, what are your views?
Jude: I believe that we can’t go toward being a welfare state. And I know people are not aggressively asking for that. What I do know is that people do expect the government to offer help, and if possible, render cash handouts. I believe everyone of us come with a certain form of assumptions and I agree that the government is in the best position to offer any form of assistance given the access to the statistics. In some way or other, I agree that the government needs to trust the people, as much as the people to trust the government. Then again, my own limited interaction with Singaporeans are that, not many people want to take responsibility for their own lives. They prefer the government to help, someone to care, someone to do it.
Jude (contd): The not-in-my-backyard syndrome is pretty serious. I take NS for example, everyone will agree to a point that it is important, but given a chance to turn it into a voluntary service, not many people take it up. Singaporeans complained that the FTs are not doing NS, but our own people are not very keen to contribute in the first place. We continue to think we live in peace, but are totally oblivious and apathetic to the situations happening in our region. If we think Singapore is going downhill, we should take a vacation in Malaysia or Indonesia. Start a living there and see if it’s all smooth. But I do believe that the government will help but in a more sustainable manner.
Me: Agreed. I agree with many of your points. I agree that the government cannot make Singapore a welfare state. It’s not sustainable. But what this means is – as a society, we need to define what are the more pertinent needs that society should have. Some people have commented that it’s healthcare, some, education. The government has to reevaluate its financial situation – and as much as it can, be honest to the people about its funds and spending. Can we afford to provide more for people’s education and healthcare needs? Can people pay a lesser proportion of healthcare bills out of their pocket.
Necessarily, the government might feel that in doing so, we are moving towards a welfare state. Which is why we need to understand this – what are the most pertinent needs that people have? Where are the areas where costs have risen to such an extent where the government might need to step in to recalibrate the costs? As we move forward in our development, in which areas have funding not kept up with inflation and rising problems, such as an increase in the prevalence of disease, and how can the government recalibrate the cost and funding structure to ensure that people’s most pertinent needs are still protected, and where they still feel they are able to have a secure living?
Primarily, people’s worries are these – cost of living and wages which might not have kept up with inflation and rising costs. Is this real, we might ask? If the people are talking about it, then to some extent, it has to be real. Then if that’s the case, the government has to evaluate the statistics and start looking at how they can recalibrate the cost and funding structure to account for that?
Jude: Yes, I agree with what you’ve said
Me: For example – I agree with the immigration policy to have a more open policy because we have jobs which are created which needs to be filled – but at the same time, when the government allowed for our borders to be more porous, they would necessarily know that in doing so, the people’s wages will naturally be depressed or rise slower, due to market forces. If they know that this would happen, how could they have calibrated people’s wages to ensure that in the rising number of foreigners and the depression or slower growth of wages, that the government can ensure that people’s wages are still compensated, as compared to a situation where people’s wages would have otherwise grown faster if foreigners had not entered? Whether or not foreigners were to enter, prices would rise. Yet, when foreigners entered, wages would be depressed or grow slower – so there is a mismatch here.
The government had expected this but had not done anything (not at least in my knowledge) to resolve this. Necessarily, people will feel the effects of this and they would know that they would have been, in some way, sacrificed or ‘cheated’ of their potentially higher income. And if the government knows this – this is an example of where they would need to do the right thing. Necessarily, it is because of the increase in migrant flow that the economy could continue to be sustained – so the government needs to ensure adequate financial compensation is provided to protect people’s interests as they continue to strive for economic growth for the government (and of course, for themselves).
Jude: And in your opinion, how would this calibration be applied?
Me: I do not have a full idea at this point – primarily because I do not have a full understanding of our financial situation, since the government has chosen not to reveal it. Obviously, it’s for national security reasons and I understand what is at stake. However, I would venture to say the following. The government has been apt to compare our taxes with other countries, and have considered it to be low. And the reasoning is that because of the low taxes, we do not have enough funds to increase funding or subsidies. However, first, the taxes do not include our CPF, which is 4 times the amount of the taxes collected. And it would be significantly more, after you account for their indirect investment in GIC and Temasek. Thus if the government is willing, we would definitely be able to increase our subsidies or funding for healthcare or education costs, for example, without having to raise taxes in the short term. However, the government has obviously made the decision that our CPF monies would be better used, invested in GIC and Temasek, and to increase our reserves.
Me (contd): Then the question is – why does the government think increasing our reserves is more important than increasing subsidies and funding for needs to increase our well-being. Of course, the government has explained that it’s for our long term needs, and we understand this as well. What the people don’t understand is this – how much money do you exactly think you need in your reserves? Why must we keep feeling compromised, because of a reserves you want to keep, which won’t benefit us in the immediate term, or even in the long term? Yet, at the same time, the people can see the incomes of their ministers rise exponentially, and they can see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Necessarily, they know that as much as the government wants to explain they cannot increase subsidies or funding for well-being needs, is this money actually going to the rich? Without a full understanding of singapore’s financial situation, and when the rich get richer and the rest of Singaporeans feel that their wages are not increasing in relative terms, they would necessarily draw this conclusion – that the government refuses to increases spending for our pertinent needs because are they channelling it to the rich?
So the government needs to do a few things – how far does it want to explain its financial situation to give singaporeans a clearer picture? It has to give us a better understanding of our reserves usage and the amount needed, and how this is justified. It needs to look into explaining fully how the taxes are used, in conjunction with the CPF, and how this would lead to us realising that the subsidies and funding can necessarily be increased, because we would have enough to do so. See, the people are convinced that there is enough. The government doesn’t think so. When the government doesn’t want to clearly explain it’s position – this is what people are going to think – the more you do not want to explain, the more you have to hide, the more you are lying to us.
Me (contd): Second, if we compare to other countries, they are spending proportionately more for healthcare and education. Yet, Singaporeans have to pay a higher amount out of their own pockets. If the government is richer than most governments – we have the highest per capita GDP, and if the government necessarily has the capacity, why is the government spending one of the least for the people? From a statistical perspective, very simply, the government isn’t treating the people fairly. These countries are countries like Taiwan and South Korea. And these countries are equally countries who do not believe in spending excessively and in sustainable spending. What makes them more willing, and what makes Singapore so much less willing?
Of course, there are explanations for this – Singapore has no natural resources, so we need all the money and people that we can save and get. We have to be a lot more cautious than these countries. Is this true? The people are not convinced. Why? again, this goes back to how we are uncertain as to how the financial situation in Singapore is. Also, we are unaware as to how the government has calculated for the amount that is required for the reserves. What is the formula? Without adequate information on these, and when the people at the top gets richer – our own question would be this – why is there a discrepancy?
Me (contd): I would also venture to suggest – one difference that Singapore has from Taiwan and South Korea, who are more willing to spend on their people is also this – these countries engage in more sincere and open dialogue and conversations with their people, so necessarily their people’s voices are heard. Their people’s voices and opinions are respected. We might ask – but do we want to degrade to a situation like in Taiwan, where politics has become theatrics and the government has to pander to its people? I don’t quite think this is the case. Taiwan is not stupid. So are the taiwanese. In fact, this trust the people have and the sincerity in engagement has resulted in a people (of Taiwan) who understand the broad issues that Taiwan faces, and have a direct commitment to country’s welfare and long term progress.
If you look at South Korea, they have a stable government as well who does not overly indulge their people. So they would obviously be a better comparison. Again, what do these two countries have in common – their willingness and sincerity to engage with and consult their people – their willingness to listen to what their people have to say. And because of that, the people are able to understand the issues that the government face from a broader perspective, they have a higher stake in the country’s growth and future, and they want to do their part to be responsible for the country.
Jude: I am all for transparency. OK, I got to know what you want to say better. Thanks for sharing man.
Me: If anything, the government can learn from them in this aspect – once the government sincerely engages the people and listens to them sincerely, the people will have a real stake in the country, the people will seek out to understand the government and the country, and the people will provide constructive solutions for the government.
Me (contd): Question is – how sincere is the government? And are they willing to let go of their fears? Otherwise, what the people can only see is this – my government is not sincere in consulting us and they want to continue in their dogmatic approach. And thus, when the government takes on the recent aggressive stance that they are taking, then in the people’s minds, the government has refused to listen to its people.
I understand why the government want to take on an aggressive stance – you want to be a strong government. There are still decisions to be made. You still need Singapore to be stable to attract investments. But if I were them, what I would do is this – actually start engaging the opposition and netizens on conversations (which many commentators have been asking for). They can better control these conversations if they organise them rather than allow it to run amok online. Then you would say – but there aren’t enough people to run these conversations. Then the question is very simply this – the government has to put money where its mouth is – it needs spend money to hire more people to engage people on a more intensive level.
In short, the government has to be willing. It cannot be scared. It has to acknowledge that its lack of consulting the people has actually made it less relevant to the people and less understanding of the people’s needs. The government might be operating on a modus operandi that had worked well for that in the past, but times have changed – the people’s principles and focus have changed, and the government has to move with them. The government cannot keep to a growth model without listening to what the people want. Necessarily, the government has to balance the needs of the people with Singapore’s long term growth. But there are some very basic questions that needs to be answered – what are the people’s needs which needs to be fulfilled in an economy where costs have risen further than wages, and how can the government do the right thing – to provide adequately for the people? The government has to do the right thing.