In this article, I hope to give an overview of the PAP’s government planning principles, what the alternatives are and what impediments we will face to try to achieve them.
In the charts below, you can see the overall framework of what this article hopes to cover. These are things that you would already know, and I’m framing them into perspective for discussion and clarity.
PAP’s Current Planning Principles and Model
The PAP’s government planning principles can be summed up as The Holy Trinty. In Chart 1, you can see what I mean.
Basically, PAP’s governing principles is as follows (look at the corresponding numbers in the white circles in the chart for the points):
To achieve economic growth, PAP focuses on three growth pillars: GDP growth, productivity growth and population growth. In the recent population white paper, after learning from its mistakes over the past decade of policy missteps, PAP has also included a sub-pillar of infrastructural growth, to appease the people so that they will accept PAP’s want to increase the growth of the foreigner population.
PAP believes that everything can be resolved with money. For this illustration, you can see that PAP’s plans to increase the total fertility rate (TFR) is by increasing the parenthood financing. There are of course some caveats. When it comes to protecting the low income earners, why does PAP not think that this can be resolved with money – by implementing a minimum wage law or by increasing worker salary?
This is where PAP’s third planning principle come in – profits is always topmost on their minds. I’m going to surmise that PAP doesn’t want to increase the wages of workers directly because doing so means first, instituting a permanent fixture into the worker salary which will eat into company profits permanently. Second, there are fewer babies that will need financial reimbursement but more workers who will need to be financially protected permanently, which again means permanent profit loss at a wider rate. In 2011, there were about 40,000 babies born but more than a million workers earning less than $1,000. Also, when you subsidise child rearing, this money comes out from government revenue, which needs to be spent anyway. But when you increase worker salaries, this eats directly into profits, which what could otherwise be earned and kept. But, before we can conclude on this, we would need to do the calculations for this. Thus the government would rather peg any discussion on wage increase to a variable that is seemingly out of their control, and would not have significant rises – productivity growth, so that any discussion on wage growth, or the difficulty of it, can be framed in terms of another measure that is difficult to improve.
As much as PAP believes that it is forward-planning, PAP actually plans with short term objectives. Why do I say this? PAP would rather bring in foreigners at a higher rate, rather than increase their focus more on efforts to increase the TFR, and this would of course mean a longer time to increase the population. As NSP has pointed out, countries which have high population densities have lower TFR, which means that at the rate the government chooses to bring in foreigners, our TFR will only drop further because of the corresponding increase in population density. This clearly shows that increasing the parenthood financing package is only a token measure. The government knows with their current plans, that the TFR won’t increase and the number of Singaporeans who need to be reimbursed will remain relatively low.
So, you can see that based on the government’s current planning principles, there are several policies that they’ve put in place which are doomed to fail.
First, as mentioned, the TFR is unlikely to increase in spite of how much money the government is willing to give because of their counterintuitive policy of increasing the number of foreigners, which will increase the population density, which has been correlated with low TFR.
The government had also mentioned that in order to increase the wages of Singaporeans, they intend to increase productivity so as to increase wages accordingly. However, this will never happen because as long as the population keeps increasing, productivity growth will always be kept low, which means productivity won’t increase and wages won’t increase.
Thus the following equations are what you can see in Singapore:
Proposed Government Planning Principles and Model
But what can we do? As mentioned, there are alternatives. Let’s look at what the alternatives are in Chart 2.
If the current measures of just throwing money at parents won’t be enough to increase the TFR, what can be done? I’ve previously written about how you can see a correlation between countries where countries with shorter working hours and better work-life balance has higher TFR. So, other than financial reimbursement, it’s also about creating an environment that is less stressful and where families have more free time to raise children. So what the government needs to do is to create a social, political and cultural environment which allows the child to grow and express freely, and fully as a being.
If the policy shouldn’t be to keep increasing the number of foreigners without restraint, we need to educate Singaporeans in new ways and train Singaporeans, so that Singaporeans will have the necessary and adequate skills to fill the jobs, especially since the current lament by the government is that Singaporeans do not have the necessary skills sets. This means that from young, the government needs to give our young a diverse education, which can prepare them with the critical thinking and innovation skills required to adapt to the ever-changing work environment and needs. This also means educating our workers with complex and diverse skill sets. When we are able to ground Singaporeans in a diverse educational background and train them with diverse skill sets, they are more likely to be able to have the flexibility to be employed more easily. This will also mean we can reduce our reliance on foreign workers, which will also mean a reduction in population growth and thus an increase in productivity.
The government cannot await the increase of wages, pending the increase in productivity growth. The government needs to proactively institute a minimum wage law and ensure that the rights and wages of the low wage workers at the lower rungs are protected.
Instead of looking at GDP as a gauge of economic growth, we need to be more creative in identifying relevant measures of company profitability and worker compensation. By now, Singaporeans would realise that the GDP is a useless gauge for them to access their livelihood. Also, as NSP has found, more than 50% of our GDP is corporate profit. So, we need to identify more direct and measurable economic indicators. For companies, can we look at overall revenue and profits? For workers, can we look at the growth of wages, median wages and work-life balance indexes? These economic indicators will be more useful and clear as a gauge of economic performance, rather than the vague representation of GDP.
If we look into the above recommendations, we can achieve the following equations:
So, essentially, what we are saying is that the government needs to relook their planning principles to adopt the following planning principles:
Instead of the holy trinity of GDP growth, productivity growth and population growth, how can we look at other components or indicators which are more direct measures of economic growth, and can allow us to have a more direct understanding of our economic well-being?
Instead of relying on financial and economic initiatives to resolve issues, can we look at enhancing social capital and improving the political and cultural environment?
Instead of the government having such a strong focus on accumulating profits, can the government also look at how some profits can be channelled back to the people to protect the people, for their social needs?
Instead of planning on a short term basis, can the government invest in the long term, by providing holistic incentives and conducive environments for families to want to have children, and to restructure our education to provide our children with more diverse education and critical thinking abilities?
PAP’s Obsession with Political Survival
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are some impediments that we need to overcome to these new principles that the government should adopt. And basically, it’s this – these principles, as much as they are sensible and as much as they’ve been what Singaporeans have been asking for, the government won’t adopt them because it goes against the very grain of their political will. Essentially, if they were to adopt these principles, they feel that their political survival and longevity is at stake.
Here’s why (refer to Chart 3):
If the government offers more diverse education which allows the population to have better critical thinking abilities, the government thinks that this will be a threat to the government’s control. Their current premise is that if the population is educated just sufficiently to perform for the economy, this population can be groomed to be a docile worker population who will learn to work like workers in the Singapore factory. If Singaporeans learn to think critically, they will start to critique the government and this will threaten the government’s longevity and power. If the government needs critical thinkers, they can simply import them from overseas. And that’s the government’s strategy.
If the government allows Singaporeans to have shorter work hours and more time for themselves, they will have more time to think. Right now, they have just enough time after work to become consumers to consume and spend for the economy. If they have more time on their hands, what activities will they take up? Will they start thinking and joining civil societies and challenging the government?
Finally, if the government implements a minimum wage law or give people higher salaries, it will eat into their profits permanently and reduce the stock pool of money to increase their wealth. There is simply no incentive for their capitalistic minds for them to what to do this.
Let PAP Take A Break. They Need to Rest.
So, you see, in this article you can see clearly where the government’s planning principles are. You can also see that Singaporeans know what the solutions are and how the government can modify their governing principles to achieve balance and equality for Singapore. Singaporeans know what needs to be done. Singaporeans can govern this country. Yet, it is clear that the government won’t want to change their ways and the reason is down to this – they do not want to do things that they think will threaten their political survival and longevity. In effect, the government is unwilling to do what is necessary for the people because they have allowed their political needs to overcome that of the country and the people. In their fear of losing their political power, they would rather compromise on the needs of Singaporeans, rather than do what is right and respectful for Singaporeans.
Singaporeans, when it comes down to it all, our government’s main motivation is still to themselves first and foremost, above Singaporeans. It is not for Singaporeans. You can see in this article what needs to be done, yet you can also see for yourself how they won’t do it because it is not in their political favour to do so.
In this is the case, no matter how much we argue over the Singapore Population White Paper, they won’t budge or change a thing. In fact, why do they so urgently want to push the white paper out? They want to scare companies into thinking that our GDP growth and productivity will both drop, and this will enrage companies to take action, and scare Singaporeans into submitting to the government, if they were to think that their wages would drop with lower economic growth. But neither companies nor Singaporeans are buying it. First, there are some bosses who know that Singapore’s productivity isn’t growing because the government is only paying lip service to it. Also, if there is a slower growth in population, productivity will in fact grow. Businesses know what the government is playing, they’ve travelled the world and see how GDP growth will not be an impediment to a company’s growth – case in point, the Nordic countries. As for Singaporeans, the government didn’t count on it that Singaporeans would be up in arms with the near-7 million predicted population figure, and right after they’ve trounced the PAP government at the by-election no less! PAP, are you not listening? And Singaporeans are having none of it this time round.
Now, if the problem of the PAP government and the reason why what Singaporeans want would never be fulfilled is precisely because of PAP, what would you do? The very simple answer is to replace them. How other way can we go about it? There are no two ways to this except to replace PAP. It’s high time we stop scaring ourselves and think that if PAP is replaced that we will all be doomed.
If you look at Obama, he was a one-term senator before he decided to run for President and won. Clearly, he wouldn’t be someone you would call as politically experienced yet he took up the mantle and he ran for it. Why? It’s about responsibility. Obama wanted to do what is right and what he could for his country and he decided to go for it. When you are the leader of the country, you don’t run the country by yourself. No one can. The people don’t expect you to do so. In fact, the people expect you to govern on behalf of them. The people would expect you to listen to them. When you are a leader, you get a group of abled people together and you run the country as a team. This is what a government in Singapore should do. Now, remember, there are more than 100,000 people who are employed in the civil service. If there’s a change of 80 or 90 people in government, there are still more than 100,000 people in the civil service who run the day-to-day operations and unless the people in the civil service are doing such a terrible job, a change of hands will be smooth and things will continue to function. Now some of you work in the civil service and if you are worried about a change in government, then that means you are not doing your job. That means you are the one who needs to buck up. When there’s a change of hands in government, Singaporeans expect you to still continue to run the show. Also, don’t forget, the PAP has employed their own people to run the top Singapore companies and pretty much all the essential services in Singapore – telecommunications, transport and power. So, if there’s a change of hands in government, our essential services will still run as per usual. Now, if the PAP government threatens to cut services off, then all the more you need to vote another government in, so that this government can act to prevent PAP from further entrenching themselves in the system, and further marginalise Singaporeans and potentially crippling Singapore.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point what we need to do. We can debate and argue with the PAP government until the cows come home and the cows will never come home. PAP is not interested to change their planning principles and they will not change how they think. They will not because they feel that it threatens their power. They are scared to lose. And they are willing to do all these when at the same time, they marginalise the rights of Singaporeans and prevent us from attaining our rights for ourselves.
Look, you need to help them. When after being in power for so long, they are so scared that they they are holding on to every strand of their power. Help them, help them exit as gracefully as they can. Give them a chance to lose so that they don’t spend their time day in, day out thinking about how to stay in power and how to fix the ‘opposition’ or prevent Singaporeans from attaining their rights. Help them, help them lose so that they have time to think about how they need to learn humility, contentment and respect. Give them time to rest for at least one election, and if we want to bring them back into power, we will always have the next election to do that. If you truly believe that PAP is the right government, let them sit out for a while, while they reflect on the past 50 years of being in governance, what they have done right and what they have not, and what they need to do to respond to Singaporeans better.
Look, there’s no other way to put it. We know what’s wrong. We know what needs to be done. If we keep waiting for something to be done, and something right to happen, it will never happen because PAP simply isn’t in the right frame of mind to set themselves right. They need a time-out and a breather to let them think about things more thoroughly and clearly and if you don’t give them that chance to, you are not being fair to them and you are not being fair to yourself. We know what needs to be done and we know that we are capable enough to do what needs to be done. I know because I’m amazed by the amount of quality things and deep thoughts that Singaporeans have profound over the last few months since the incident with the SMRT bus drivers, the Aim-AHTC episode, the by-election and now the Singapore Population White Paper, all of which which has shown a deeply engaged and thinking Singaporeans, whom when pushed and moulded, are very capable of providing solutions and in bringing new ideas and hopes into Singapore.
Now, if you know you have what it takes and you know what needs to be done to set things right in Singapore, you need to step up and you need to form the next government. You have to! It means letting your pride go and allowing yourself to become a useful servant to the people, to bring justice and equality back to Singapore once again. So that, once more, Singaporeans can live in happiness and fairness and learn to look at the person next to us, to smile at them, respect them and embrace them with warmth and a kind heart. We need to make Singapore the better place that we’ve been dreaming for some time now.