Key questions addressed in this article:
- PAP’s governing principles of wealth generation and political security
Truth is, the whole fracas about the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 isn’t about the population figure at all. Truth is, the current debate is about the type and of government and government leaders we want.
Frankly, do we really know what the impact of 7 million people in Singapore will bring? We know that Singapore will get more crowded, we know we will feel more stressful and squeezed. But have we done our maths? Do we know what the impact on businesses, on employment and our livelihood will be? Thing is, we don’t really know. And it doesn’t help that the white paper looks more like a brochure for a new condominium more than an executive paper with carefully analysed statistics, as some have pointed out. As Mr Tan Cheng Bock had also pointed out that, “”in 2007 , when Singapore’s population was 4.6 m….URA revised its planning parameters …………based on – to 6.5m , up from a 2001 projection of 5.5m” (yet) How then did our infrastructures of housing, transport ie road and rail, social and health amenities be so woefully short when 2001 forecast was already 5.5m?” Truth is, so what if the white paper has been released? There are another 20 years before we get to 2030. Many things can happen. Yes, by right, the white paper should be able to inform us of what to expect, and how we can be prepared but this white paper is woefully weak in its explanations, or lack thereof. Someone needs to let PAP know that PR speak on The Straits Times cannot just be transplanted onto a white paper and become scientific. I guess they would about know by now, anyway – hopefully!
Andrew, the Editor-in-Chief of publichouse.sg, sums it up nicely, when he had said that, “The main problem the PAP government will face – as it already is facing increasingly – is the erosion of trust and confidence in its ability to carry the country forward, to the benefit of Singaporeans. The way it has thus far communicated the message of the White Paper shows that the Government has much to do in instilling or inspiring trust and confidence in its people.” Truth is, it’s not about the population figure inside the white paper or the white paper at all. People are fed-up with PAP. Why? They are fed-up because they feel that they are not being heard and they know they are not being heard. This is why during the Punggol-East by election, Singaporeans trounced PAP and they gave PAP a hard-pounding. Let’s see how you would like that if others treat you like s***.
But no sooner than we could celebrate the achievement by Singaporeans at the by-election, the PAP announced the white paper. The question on everyone’s minds was this – why the f*** did they even announce the white paper when they Singaporeans had sent them such a clear message at the by-election? Was it because they were sore losers who didn’t like to see Singaporeans celebrating, and they wanted to clamp down on us even before it began? Since I cannot be happy, so can’t you. Was it because it was already in the plans and because they couldn’t be less rigid in their planning, PAP decided to announce the white paper anyway, and then had to salvage themselves by turning around and saying that the ‘6.7’ million’ figure is only a “worst-case scenario”. But most likely, PAP wanted to release the white paper because they had timed it for this session of parliament and they wanted to announce it in time for the sitting. Bad timing, bad planning – all rolled into one and PAP couldn’t have pulled off a worst self-inflicted disaster in their near history.
But no sooner had they turned around to pacify Singaporeans, they went on attack mode again. In the second day of parliament sitting, Dr Amy Khor shot back at the Worker’s Party (WP)’s opposition to the white paper by saying that, “Under this scenario (that WP had proposed for a lower population growth to 5.9 million), many companies are likely to fold or move out of Singapore whilst others will not be attracted to set up shop here resulting in fewer jobs for Singaporeans.” This was also timed together with an avalanche of news in the mainstream news today about how the “tightening rules on foreign manpower could negatively affect Singapore’s economy and reputation as an open economy.” Even “the American Chamber of Commerce, British Chamber of Commerce and EuroCham were amongst the nine national chambers of commerce in Singapore, which had issued the letter,” to threaten that, “There is an increasing number of companies from Europe that are looking for Singapore to establish their own operation, headquarters, or sales offices or head offices. (This) means we are looking to increase our workforce.” The “Singapore Business Federation (SBF) (had also chimed in and) said (that) slower workforce growth in Singapore will have “devastating consequences for many companies”, by saying that, “If businesses go under, jobs will be lost, Singaporeans will be affected. If businesses cannot raise productivity and sustain profits, they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans higher salaries.”
Singapore held ransom by the businesses! By corporate companies who feel that they should have a larger stake in Singapore than Singaporeans! Where are Singaporeans’ place then? Do we not have any stand or say by virtue of people born and lived in this country we call home? Should we pander ourselves to the desires of capitalistic corporations, here to make a living out of us? But this is not the question, my friends.
The question is – why is not government not appeasing these businesses? If the government is so full of certainty that they would be able to create a sustainable Singapore in 2030 with their white paper, why have they allowed the businesses to rampage over mainstream media, and create fear and apprehension among Singaporeans? The question to ask is – is our government responsible? Does our government care? You should know by now, that the government’s aim is to use the voices of the businesses and companies to scare Singaporeans back into our hole. Look, even with 7 million people, the businesses aren’t happy. So, Singaporeans, back off! If that’s the way the government thinks, then we have to be very, very concerned.
When discussing the Nordic population in 2030, the Nordic countries had said that, “The effects of the failure to reform the Nordic labour markets at the beginning of the twenty-first century will thus, by 2030, be extremely painful.” The Nordic countries understood what the problem is – they need to “reform” the labour market. And if you look at the link, the article takes pain to describe “several positive aspects while also highlighting some negative trends.” Now, what should a responsible government do? Back to my point at the start of this article – the furore surrounding the announcement of the white paper isn’t about the content of the white paper itself. It’s about how Singaporeans feel about how the government is (ill-)treating them. The Nordic countries were honest – we need to reform the labour market. The Singapore government says the labour market isn’t the main problem – the number of people is, and so we need to bring in more people. Old methods, old thinking, old power.
Is PAP unwilling to realise that there are other ways to boost the economy in Singapore? Does PAP not realise that if they maintain the population size of Singapore and increase the efficiency of people’s work, the efficiency of work itself, that by doing so, we will have a more productive economy, and possibly higher economic growth? Does PAP not understand the need to grow a committed workforce, where their work-life balance is valued and respected, such that they would be more committed to their work, which would make them more productive in their work? On top of that, several quarters, such as the National Solidarity Party (NSP), have also pointed out an increase in population and the consequent increase in population density has been shown to also reduce the fertility rate, ironically that which the government claims that it’s concerned about increasing. Well, clearly, the government isn’t concerned about increasing the Singaporean core. It’s actions and proposals are clearly contrary towards building a Singapore core.
So, I started thinking to myself – well, perhaps the government wants to maintain Singapore’s position as a financial hub and that is why the government continues to hold such a tight rein to Singapore, and on Singaporeans as well. But then, I looked at the top financial centres in the world – New York, London, Hong Kong and Seoul, ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th respectively. Singapore is ranked 4th. In all these top financial centres, you get freedom of speech and you are allowed to have peaceful demonstrations. There is minimum wage in most of these cities. Look, in these cities which are larger and the top financial centres of the world, you have rights, you are allowed to speak up and you are allowed to be free. And doing so does not at all upset these cities’ financial status. They continue to be financially strong. Which made me wonder, why then, why did our government continue to put restrictions on our rights to free speech and our rights to even have a referendum? Singapore’s last and only referendum was before even our independence in 1965.
Which made me realised that economic growth isn’t the reason why the government continues to not want to do what is needed to protect Singaporeans. In the white paper, the government doesn’t talk about reducing work hours or firm plans on enhancing our work-life balance. Why do people not want to have more babies? Because work hours are long, we feel that even as we have so much money, there is only so much we can do in our lives. What is the point of bringing a child into this world – a child who has to face the stresses, the inequalities of life and on top of that, be restricted in his or her freedom? Well, can the government do something about it so that our fertility rate can increase? They can, but they are not interested to. And as I’ve explained, it’s not because they want to restrict our rights because of economic growth. Even in Hong Kong which in many ways is like Singapore, there is the freedom to demonstrate and there is a minimum wage law. Why not Singapore? And then I realised what it is – it’s about power. Political power. Whatever PAP does or plans to do, it’s always about keeping themselves in power. If you throw out all logic that you use to analyse the white paper out and if you start understanding that PAP wants to keep itself in power, then you will understand why the white paper is the way it is.
And then, I thought to myself. But surely, PAP wants to keep itself in power because it believes that it’s the best government to provide for Singaporeans. Surely, this must be it! But then I remembered how since 2001, we have been withdrawing lesser and lesser from our CPF, even as we contribute more. The Singapore companies owned by the Temasek Holdings, which is owned by the government, continues to earn more and more profits from 2001. In the last few years, our real wages have dropped, even as housing prices and COE premium shot up. If our government believes that it’s doing what is right for Singaporeans, why is it taking away more and more of our money away, why is income inequality increasing in Singapore, and why does it continues to concern itself with GDP growth, even as NSP has pointed out that GDP growth is made up of more than 50% profit, and even as we are the richest country in the world, that Singaporeans aren’t feeling it at all?
And then it hits you. And then it really hits you. No matter how much you beg PAP to think for you, to care for you, to have your interests at heart, you are f***ed. They care only about keeping themselves in power. Your rights? Do you have $10 million? $20 million? Can you buy Sentosa Cove? Then curl up in a corner and keep quiet. Then go work as a cleaner at a food court until you can’t move a finger and make yourself useful, while you continue to grow our pot of gold.
Am I angry? Well, we all are. It’s not whether we are heard or not. We are not. It’s not even a question. It’s about why the government continues to not hear us – because they want to keep themselves in power and listening to you gives you too much credit. So, just shut up and sit down.
When the Economist explained why the Nordic countries have the best governments in the world, it said that, “Nordic governments are subject to rigorous scrutiny: for example, in Sweden everyone has access to all official records.” It also said that, “A Eurobarometer survey of broad social trust (as opposed to trust in immediate family) showed the Nordics in leading positions. Economists say that high levels of trust result in lower transaction costs—there is no need to resort to American-style lawsuits or Italian-style quid-pro-quo deals in order to get things done. But its virtues go beyond that. Trust means that high-quality people join the civil service. Citizens pay their taxes and play by the rules. Government decisions are widely accepted” i.e. no defamation lawsuits. Most importantly, “All the Nordic countries have small populations, which means that members of the ruling elites have to get on with each other,” which means the government works for the people, and not the other way round.
Back to my point earlier on – Singaporeans simply do not trust the government anymore. I read a status update somewhere on Facebook where this person spoke about how Singaporeans shouldn’t just lament about the white paper and look at the merits of the white paper. In a country where the people are respected, they would take the white paper apart, logically analyse it and choose parts to agree on and not, debate about it and propose solutions back to the government, so that the government can then act on the people’s logical understandings and come out with a more well-rounded proposal. But – this is only when the people feel respected. If you are having an argument with your partner, if you feel that your partner does not respect you or if you feel slighted, will what your partner says get into you, however well-intended what your partner says is? Well, no, you will block your partner off. This is what is happening in Singapore now. Does the white paper has its merits? Possibly, and possibly if they had also put in the calculations and analysis that they had done. But when a people are hurt and when a people feel cheated, deceived and bullied through and through, hell hath no fury like a citizens scorned. Of course, it does not help that even as the people propose solutions that the government will ignore anyway. The white paper is being discussed in parliament for just this one week. Will anything change inside the white paper? We all know this is a theatrical side show where the motion will be passed anyway by 80 to 7. Already, PAP has gone on the attack on just the second day of the debate.
Even our neighbours across the causeway know why Singaporeans are angry. When discussing the loss of PAP at the by-election, sakmongkol had said that, “With all the signs of wealth, progress and efficient government machinery, the Punggol Easters showed that other things matter. These include such intangibles like honour, dignity, the right to partake in the progress of the nation without surrendering the right to affirm and assert personal choice. We don’t go around demanding people to show gratitude by giving us unqualified support do we? The material and resources you build up this country do not belonged to you but us collectively, the people. It showed that a government that has lost touch with the basic aspirations of people, can lose elections. And a most crucial element in basic aspirations is the desire to affirm one’s personal freedom and a corresponding refusal to let others run their lives in a paternalistic manner. This is a bitter lesson for the PAP government. Achieving and accomplishing so many things have desensitized the PAP leadership. Success and so much of it, does not confer absolute license to do what it pleases without taking into account the basic and fundamental claim of the individual.”
No, the frustrations and unhappiness surrounding the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 is not about the white paper and it’s not about the 7 million population. Singaporeans are angry because they know that the government has not heard them. And right after the by-election, no less, which got them up in arms and the lid boiled over. All hell broke loose. And now the government is trying to put the lid back and trying to use their business backers to push the people back into their cage. But will the people do?
See, PAP has been in power for too long. They’ve been in power for so long that they are like rulers hanging on to the last strands of cloth. They sit on a shaky throne and even as it shakes, they continue to put stones and rocks under their throne to stablise it, even as bit by bit, the stones, like their power, erode under their weight. The PAP wants to do anything it can to keep itself in power, but its time is up. Like any leader who has too much power, the power has gone into their head and they now live deluded lives, dreaming up stories of how they continue to know the best for Singapore and Singaporeans and conjuring ideas of how Singaporeans can continue to be beckoned like sheep back into their chains.
I am tired. I am tired of having to fight for my rights which are mine. I am tired of having to convince PAP to think for us and to spare just even that little thought of us, when they brush us away as “noises”. I am tired. It feels like I am beating around the bush, as PAP, like the mulberry, sits atop the bush, and not feeling the sway of the leaves that we keep beating at.
Come General Election (GE) 2016, I will vote like I had done in the past two general elections and vote with the 54.52% of Singaporeans at the Punggol East By-Election 2013. I will do what is right for myself, for our nation, for Singapore and for Singaporeans. Come GE 2016, I will use my vote to wake PAP up.