Key questions addressed in this article:
- PAP’s governing principles
- Singapore’s fundamental economic problem of high rents
Hold on a minute. Has anyone wondered why the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 is titled the ‘population’ paper? In 1971, 1991 and 2001, the government had unveiled concept papers. Why did they unveil the ‘Population White Paper’ this year? Or why not the Economy Paper or the Productivity Paper? Other than on population, much of the discussion in the white paper is also centred around economic growth and productivity, so why not that?
And if you look at it, population is a easily tangible figure where if you want to increase it, all you need to do is to say, I want to let more people into Singapore. But when it comes to economic or productivity growth, it’s not just about saying, ok, I’m going to increase our economic output or productivity and wa la, we have higher productivity growth. So, if we want to increase our productivity growth, for example, we would need to go deeper into the discussion to talk about how we need to invest more in infrastructure, technology and training of workers. In fact, we have to also look at reducing work hours, creating a more diverse and flexible workforce through education which is more encompassing and diverse in nature. So, the government needs to talk about how much they want to set aside for investment and what programmes they have in mind to enhance productivity, and how the government intends to restructure our education system so as to provide an education that can create a workforce that’s more creative and innovative. But where are all these in the Population White Paper?
So, why did the government choose to frame the paper as a POPULATION paper instead of about the overall planning for the economy of Singapore, for example? Obviously, the government wants to focus the discussion on the population.
But why are we letting the government set the tone of the discussion? Obviously, many can see that the current debate surrounding the Population White Paper has thrown out so many other issues, other than population itself. Because you know what, the population isn’t the question. The question is why are wages stagnant, why is income inequality rising, why are there still a growing number of people of low wage workers, why do we have more and more elderly working as cleaners, why are we paying more for healthcare, housing and COE, among others. Now, the population paper might on the surface, be about the population. But it has undercovered many other issues, which are related but more key than the issue of population.
So, again, why are we allowing the government to set the tone of the conversation? The government wants to introduce this paper as a POPULATION paper to centre the discussion around the paper. Why? So that it will throw us off the scent of other issues, as those above? So that we are so focused on the 6.9 million figure that in all the rage, we forget about the other issues that really matter now, so that they don’t get as much focus in parliament? So that when parliament finally passes the motion (anyway) that perhaps, they would then lower the population estimate, perhaps they will discuss how to improve the infrastructure, but then they wouldn’t have needed to deal with the other issues that surround population.
Is this it? Is it to throw us off the scent? Is it their attempt to refocus the issue so that our attention is so focused on population, that it consumes us that we are steered away from the issues that really matter? You know what, I think it is.
And the above issues might not even be what they are mainly concerned about. The above issues concern Singaporeans. The government won’t deal with those issues, not in a big way anyway. And they know Singaporeans can do nothing to stop them or change that. What’s their bigger worry? Businesses.
You see, because the government has carefully steered the discussion on the white paper on population, even businesses are latching on it and debating about how even the 6.9 million people won’t be enough for their growth. Is this what the government had counted on to happen? If the businesses complain, then the government can pitch the businesses against the people. And who will win out? The businesses, of course, because the businesses will get to pressure and threaten the government (seemingly) and more importantly – Singaporeans, if you don’t allow us to have more people, your livelihood will be at stake! Was the government counting on this to happen?
Do you remember just a few years ago, when Singaporeans started being angry with the foreigners? Now, think carefully, are Singaporeans really angry with the foreigners? You are not. What you are angry about are bad policies that the government had instituted. Because of the bad policies, the government allowed foreign workers to be paid at a low wage, which caused the wages of Singaporeans to be depressed. So when the wages of Singaporeans got depressed, who did they get angry with? They got angry with what the most obvious competition of their wages seemingly was – foreigners. But if you think more broadly, you would know that the fault doesn’t lie with the foreigners but in the government, their bad planning and their policies. And all this time when the people were blaming the foreigners, the government allowed it to happen. Why? Well, it takes the attention away from them. You pitch Singaporeans against the foreigners and you let them fight it out. Meanwhile, the businesses continue to earn. Meanwhile, the government continues to earn.
So, you can understand that historically, the government has a history of allowing those on the ground to pitch themselves against each other. So, is it surprising that the government is now allowing businesses to be pitched against Singaporeans?
Now, this isn’t even the issue yet. Again, do you know why the government has chosen to frame the issue as one of population? As I’ve mentioned, it’s not just to frame the issue for Singaporeans so that we lose our focus, it’s also for the businesses.
In a research conducted by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS), “rental cost continues to be one of the top concerns related to business costs for Small and Medium Enterprises. 81 percent want measures to reduce or offset rental cost as their top wish list item for companies in the coming Budget 2013.” But who controls the rental and who control the wages? For a business, which is the easier battle to fight? Look, if you want to come into Singapore and set up a business in Singapore, as much as the rental might be exorbitant, you bite the bullet and you shoulder on. The government decides how much rent they collect. So, the simpler fight for a business is on wages – by giving lower wages. And whose wages? The population. And this is why the government has skewed the framing of the white paper on population, so that when even businesses are made to focus on that, they panic and they react, and if the government can count on them to do that, they will push against the people and the people will be pushed back into their corner. And so far, it might actually work.
The other factor is this – companies have become so complacent in Singapore. If they want more output, what is the easiest thing they can do? Increase the number of workers. And output will increase. So, is the company concerned about productivity? Of course not. So why is productivity is low? They have more workers, their economic output will still increase. Do you know why then there’s no focus on plans to increase productivity? There’s no need to! You pay lip service to it. But as long as you can increase the population, profits will still increase anyway, and economic growth and GDP will still increase. There, solved. As I’ve said, this is the lazy way out. The government has allowed our businesses to become lazy and our businesses are glad they are able to be unethical, with maximal protection to them by the government and minimal protection to the worker. And so, the government has counted on rightly that businesses will join them to to wage the war against Singaporeans to increase the population to 6.9 million, at least. What they didn’t count on, of course is that Singaporeans will actually make that much “noise”, and yet, the businesses that they are counting on aren’t coming on loud and fast enough, so much so that they even have to activate the commerce chambers of the other countries to support them. Foreign countries who do not have as much a stake as Singaporeans in our own country, speak up against us, because their businesses need to survive, at our expanse? Huh?
But we aren’t even at the real problem yet. As mentioned, topmost concern that plagues businesses is rental. You see, the government’s economic approach has always been to earn profits and how do they do that? Rental. Rental weighs heavily on the costs of businesses. And this is one reason why businesses refuse to pay workers fair wages. The pressure on rental is stronger and less controllable. Which that’s why the government is unwilling to institute a minimum wage law. Already, they are putting pressure on companies by way of rent, and if they put further pressure on the other side, by way of the wages, businesses will be up in arms and they will leave Singapore.
What is the real reason why businesses are threatening to leave Singapore? From what we hear, it sounds like it’s because there’s not enough workers and thus businesses will be force to leave. Is that the real reason? No, it’s not. The real reason is because rental is so high that they need to rely on cheap labour to ensure profitability. And cheap labour can only come if they have more workers, so that they can cope with the high rental.
So, is the problem whether the population should grow or not? It’s not. The problem is back to square one – government policy. The government wants to earn from the businesses. The government wants to earn from the people. All policy decisions are made so that the government can earn – so high rental from the businesses, and low wages for the workers, and therefore then, earning high profits from the businesses again.
Now, if you take a step back and imagine, if the government reduces rental, what will happen? It frees up money for businesses so that they have more incentive to pay the workers higher wages, they might continue to keep the same number of workers and at the same time, start exploring and investing in technology to enhance their productivity, so that they are then able to continue to have increased economic output and profits, but at the same time increased productivity and also higher wages for the workers. It all works out, doesn’t it?
So, what’s the real problem? The real problem that is plaguing Singapore now isn’t because we do have enough workers. It’s because the government is also earning off businesses through rental, so much so that it de-incentivises businesses from wanting to increase the wages of workers, and to invest in technology or programmes to boost productivity. So, when we say the government is just paying lip service, what are we saying? We are saying the government knows that at the rate it is making businesses pay high wages, businesses will not want to spend more to improve productivity. So, what is the solution because of these constrictions caused by the government? Cheap labour. And more workers.
But this isn’t yet the whole issue. Over the past two years, the government has twice tightened the flow of foreign labour into Singapore. Now, as we’ve just seen, the problem that the government has created can only be resolved through more and cheap workers. Yet, the government is curbing the numbers, essentially causing the problem not to be possible to resolved.
So, what did the government do? Effectively, they want to force the hands of businesses to force them to invest in technology and other programmes to better enhance their productivity, while businesses are made to rely on less labour. And what are the businesses telling the government now? But you can’t do that, if we have lesser workers, our profit margins will be, well, too marginal! And at this rate, we would rather move out of Singapore. Again, on the surface, it looks like population is the issue. But what is the real issue? The real issue for businesses is this – but wait a minute, you made rental so high and you know the only way out was cheap labour, so you gave us that, so that we will exploit that, while we continue to stay here and profit from as low the wages we can give. But if you stop that even, we don’t find it profitable to invest in technology to enhance productivity. We are just going to move.
Is the problem the population or high rental? Is the problem Singaporeans or the government? Well, look here, if Singapore is even 50% bigger, maybe we can accommodate more people and maybe we can drag this out for longer. Maybe we can drag it out until 2020 or 2025 before companies start being unhappy. But we simply don’t have enough land. And so, in the white paper, the government decided that ok, the reason why people were unhappy with the number of people coming in is because of the lack of infrastructure. So, maybe there’s not enough, let’s build more, and if there is enough infrastructural capacity, maybe the people will be pacified.
But you see, the government asked the wrong question. Instead of going to the root of the problem, the government created more and more problems which they have to keep finding ways to resolve, and so they created more and more layers on top of the existing problem, and confounded everything and everybody. See, what the government did was this – ok, we want more profits, so we need to make sure rents are high. Ok, so businesses are complaining, then ok, we bring in more people and we let them pay people low wages. Ok, so that’s fixed. But you know, we are bringing low quality workers in, we need more of them so that we can continue to get things done. But then, you know what, there might be too many people here, so we need to reduce that. Yes? But no, wait, let’s not think about that. Think out of the box. Ok, let’s assume we actually have enough space. But ah – what if the problem is that the people don’t feel the infrastructure is enough! Great. Let’s expand on the infrastructure. So, problems after problems patched are up with handiplast, but do the problems still exist? Of course, wages are still stagnant, there’s a growing pool of low wage workers, high income inequality and low productivity. You see how the chain of problems just keep coming and never ends? So now, you see where the problems that Singaporeans face actually come from?
But what is the real problem? The problem is because the government wants high rent. Why? Because the government wants to profit. The government wants to make money. And as I’ve explained before, not only does the government squeeze the businesses dry on this front, they’ve also squeezed the Singaporeans dry by making us withdraw lesser and lesser from CPF, by making us pay more and more for Medishield and Medisave, by reducing their proportionate expenditure for our healthcare bills, by increasing housing prices and COE premium and so on.
Woah! Wait a minute! What is the fundamental problem? Oei, PAP, you are the problem! The fundamental problem is a government which wants to keep making money and sucking the businesses and people dry on all fronts. And where does the money all go? Where does the money all go? Nobody knows! We do not know where our money is going. It’s not coming back as social welfare. It’s not coming back. Oei!
Now, if you can piece all this together, you can see that there is a glaring gap in this issue. Erm, so you want all this money, for? So, you want us to pay more and more, you give us lesser and lesser, you squeeze the businesses, and? Blank. We draw a blank because that’s as far as the statistics show. Wow. I know, wow right?
The fundamental problem isn’t population. The fundamental problem is high rent, and this problem arises because of the government, because the government wants to profit, but for who? Well, not Singaporeans. And not the businesses. Well, not the local businesses at least. This white paper shouldn’t even be called the Population White Paper. It should be called the ‘Fundamental Problem of The Singapore Government White Paper’. And we should be discussing about what the principles of governance are, how a government should govern, what the priorities of a government should be and what the priorities of the government to the people should be.
I’m appalled. All this time, they say they are unwilling to provide higher social welfare for the people. Why? Because we have low taxes. Well, of course we need to have low taxes! Otherwise, companies will be squeezed completely dry! And so, since we have low taxes, the government needs to diversify its funding sources from the people – through CPF, through housing prices, through COE premium, and what else? And why won’t the government increase the employer’s contribution to CPF back from 16% to 20%? Because the businesses will then ask, how much more do you want to squeeze us dry? The government knows that thankfully, it has, because of our past leaders, created a strong institutionalised system where the laws and policies allow for an efficient flow of business exchanges, which is why businesses are still interested to come into Singapore.
But our current crop of government leaders are like the offsprings of the rich father, where after the father has set up the business, grow it and make it one of the best in the world, they take over the business and squander the wealth away. Our current batch of leaders know only to take advantage of the institutions that our first batch of leaders have created and because of the comfort and perceived stability that it has offered thus far, continue to find as many ways as they can to earn off the people, and then the businesses, albeit perhaps not as much.
Whither Singapore? Well, at the rate our government is messing Singapore up, you bet.
Our government’s priorities are wrong. A government’s priorities first and foremost should be for the people. But for this government, their first priority is to themselves, then to businesses, and then to the people. A government’s priorities first and foremost should be to ensure that the people are protected and taken care of. But no, this government’s first priority is to take care of themselves first and their power, and then the businesses and then maybe, if they still have any spare cash left, then people.
This government’s priorities are all wrong. This government’s priorities are topsy turvy. What is on their mind, I cannot phantom. But an incessant want to stay in power and accumulate wealth, again, for who? The very institutions and laws that the first generation of our leaders have created have protected the current crop of leaders from wanton behaviour, so much so that they can do anything at their whims and fancies and Singaporeans can nary make a voice and allow the government to steamroll them over. And this government continues to think that they know what’s best because when the people’s voices are curbed and silenced, of course there’s not going to be any voices to speak up against them! And when there’s only 7 out of 80 opposition members, the steam rolling continues in parliament. This government is a government that has grown up in the luxuries and falsehoods of their own creation, for which they are so sheltered from the truth and reality of the people, that they allow the power to rummage through their heads and allow them to believe that wealth is their birthright, and that Singaporeans are the natural workers of that birthright. Wow. Wow, right? Even I am breathless at this point.
Whether or not the first generation of our leaders intended for this to happen, the way they had allowed all the estates of governance to be so intertwined that these estates lack independence from one another means that there’s no one else to check the government, so much so that the government believe that they are good enough to check themselves.
At this point, I don’t even know where to stop. You see, the problem is inherent. It’s not the population. It’s not productivity growth. Look, the problem is the government and terribly wrong priorities, and a sheltered world and reality which those politicians live in, which is much divorced from the rest of Singapore. At this point, they can continue to rest on their laurels because the institutions that hold them, and us, up continue to do so. But once even the businesses cannot take the stress underneath all that pressure, no matter how strong our institutions are, they will pack and go, and they will hollow our economy out. And the root of the of the problem isn’t because Singaporeans are unwilling to work, to make it work, or to work with the government. It’s because the government refuses to work with the people, and the government has allowed what their forefathers have built to languish in their hands, while their minds are filled with childish desires to further their power and wealth.
We need real democracy and real independence. We need a new government with renewed priorities. We need freedom. Otherwise, Singaporeans, we are f***ed if we continue to live in this country, because at the way the government is going and at the rate of delusion they are ruling our country, we are seriously f***ed.
Now, the question is what do you believe in? What will you do?