PM Lee and Lim Swee Say: Revealing the Truth With Real Statistics

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister without any portfolio Lim Swee Say made some bold claims on May Day this year. (The real reason for not having a named portfolio is because it would be ironic to have a Minister for Unions, wouldn’t it? The government shouldn’t be interfering in union affairs, rightfully!)

A look at the statistics will bulldoze their claims.

Mr Lim laid claim to his famous tagline of how workers should be ‘Cheaper, Better and Faster (CBF)‘. Imagine this coming from the person who is supposed to head the labour union – precisely the person who should be protecting us and helping us fight for higher wages. But no, he wants us to be cheaper. (Dear readers, please also see at the bottom of this article a clarification on Mr Lim’s definition of CBF.)

So, let’s take a look at the statistics to see if Mr Lim’s CBF is statistically sound.

Now, come with me as we go through the following charts. They are very easy to read. I’d written simple, direct statements describing the charts and have linked them up, so that they form a story. Focus on the red bars – these represent where Singapore stand.

Mr Lim says cheaper workers are better. Is that so? In Chart 1, you can see that Singapore workers are paid the lowest wages in the developed countries. Indeed, we are damn cheap.

Chart 1

(Source: UBS Prices and Earnings 2011 Report)

How do we measure, “better”? I looked at productivity. According to Mr Lim’s logic, we should be better – so, highly productive, right?

Chart 2 shows the labour productivity of the developed countries. You can see that Singapore has one of the lowest productivity rates in the world.


Chart 2

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS))

Cheaper and better? Not really. Mr Lim’s claims go up in smoke here.

How about “faster and better”? Maybe Mr Lim will get it right here. In Chart 3, you will see the average weekly work hours that workers put in in the developed countries. Do Singaporeans work faster?

Chart 3

(Source: OECD StatExtractsSingapore Yearbook of Manpower Statistics, 2012)

In Chart 3, you can see that Singaporeans are made to work the longest hours in developed world. Hardly the fastest that Mr Lim claims. Chart 2 shows that Singapore workers are also one of the most unproductive.

Faster and better? Again, Mr Lim makes a very bold claim, which cannot substantiated by the statistics. In fact, the statistics go the other way of Mr Lim’s claims.

If you look at the countries with higher productivity, they are the countries that will they pay their workers higher wages and have shorter hours.

Mr Lim’s SBF holds no water at all and is erroneous. To be better, we need to be dearer, not cheaper. And faster? Definitely – which means the government needs to shorten work hours. Will they do it? Go ahead, laugh.

Now, if you remember in May Day last year, PM Lee had made the claim that if Singapore workers are able to increase productivity by 30%, the government will let wages go up by 30%.

Look at Chart 2 again. Singapore’s productivity is very low. Chart 1 shows our wages are the lowest.

PM Lee had said himself that our productivity growth has slowed down decade-on-decade over the past 3 decades. It is unlikely that Singapore’s productivity will go up. So, why in the world did the government tell us that they will increase our wages if Singapore’s productivity goes up? They know productivity won’t increase so why make a promise which they know they cannot fulfill and won’t come true?

So, since their productivity promise didn’t come true, this year, PM Lee has tried a new tack, so he had said – to grow our wages, we should grow the economy. Laughable.

I’ve written about this before [link] and I will illustrate it here again.

In Chart 4, you can see that Singapore’s GDP per capita is the highest among the developed countries.

Chart 4

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS))

In Chart 1, you’d already seen that Singapore workers are paid the lowest wages. So, grow the economy to grow our wages right? Our GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world – is our wages similarly one of the highest? In the past decade when there was economic growth, our wages never grew with it. In fact, our wages remained stagnant and the real worth even decreased for some.

Grow the economy to grow our wages. It has never happened before – the government wasn’t interested to do so. What makes you think the government will do it in future?

So, why did the government make another claim, knowing yet again that it’s one that they won’t be able to keep, or won’t be interested to keep?

In fact, when you look at the countries with the highest GDP per capita, they are also more likely to pay their workers higher wages and let them work shorter hours. But why didn’t Singapore? Our country is the richest and the people are the poorest.

Why didn’t the government return the money to the people?

It is thus unsurprising that Singaporeans have become the least happy people in the world, as you can see in Chart 5.

Chart 5

(Source: Gallup)

We are made to slog long work hours at terribly low wages, even as we help our country earn so much.

Is it any wonder why Singapore’s productivity is so low? When you have such unhappy people who are made to work long hours and paid such low wages, they feel so demoralized that they are not motivated and committed to their work. Do you even need to be a rocket scientist to understand this?

Shelley Prevost, director of happiness at Lamp Post Group, said it best when she said that, “the happiest workplaces are the ones that seriously honor the humanity of their people. “When you ‘get’ that employees are human beings first and worker bees second, you say something about their worth. Companies with happily engaged employees laugh at the rules that are more about upholding policy than caring about the well-being of others. They hire people with a capacity to care for one another, foster connectedness at every level of the company, give an inspiring vision not laced with b.s. platitudes, but about real possibilities. You want to work in these places because they make you feel purposeful, connected, and valued.”

So, when we talk about how Singaporeans are discontented, is it understandable? Chart 6 shows that we have one of the developed countries’ lowest life satisfaction. I’m not surprised.

Chart 6

(Source: Human Development Report 2013)

The sad state of affairs is that the government doesn’t care. In Chart 7, you can see that before taxes and transfers, many developed countries have higher income inequality than Singapore.

Chart 7

(Source: OECD StatExtractsKey Household Income Trends 2012 report)

Yet, after taxes and transfers, Singapore becomes the most unequal (Chart 8).

Chart 8

(Source: OECD StatExtractsKey Household Income Trends 2012 report)

Why is this the case? Because as you can in Chart 9, the government does the least for its people. It helps us the least, even though its arguably the country best able to help its people.

Chart 9

(Source: OECD StatExtractsKey Household Income Trends 2012 report)

Already, you’ve seen in Chart 4 that we are amongst the richest countries in the developed world, so the government is very capable of helping the people.

And in Chart 10, Singapore has the world’s highest reserves per capita and at a staggering amount! Yet, why is the government not interested in helping the people more?

Chart 10

(Source: The World Bank)

To be clear, the government is more than willing to help – it’s not whether they want to help. It’s who they want to help.

In Chart 11, you can see that the government pays themselves the highest salaries in the entire world.

Chart 11

In per capita terms, the magnitude of the richness of the salary is even more stark (Chart 12).

Chart 12

Which explains why Singapore’s in me inequality is so wide. The huge divide is caused by the government and our politicians themselves.

So, we are made to pay one of the highest prices in the world (Chart 13).

Chart 13

(Source: UBS Prices and Earnings 2011 Report)

And our purchasing power is thus the lowest in the developed world (Chart 14) and comparable to that of much poorer countries.

Chart 14

(Source: UBS Prices and Earnings 2011 Report)

But even as the government gives us very low wages and prices goods above the value of our wages, they continue to spend very little on our aspects of our basic necessities.

Our government spends the lowest proportion of GDP on health among the developed countries, and indeed among the lowest in the world (Chart 15).

Chart 15

(Source: World Health Statistics 2012)

Not only that, the government spends the lowest proportion for our healthcare bills (Chart 16).

Chart 16

(Source: World Health Statistics 2012)

And on top of our low wages and low purchasing power, we are made to foot the largest proportion of our healthcare bills by ourselves – the highest among the developed countries and one of the highest in the world (Chart 17).

Chart 17

(Source: World Health Statistics 2012)

We don’t even have enough doctors (Chart 18). No wonder waiting times at the hospitals have become so long!

Chart 18

(Source: World Health Statistics 2012)

All these when Singapore is one of the richest country, where we have the highest reserves per capita and where our government deems that it has earn enough to pay itself such staggering high wages but that it doesn’t have enough to give to the people.

Worse still, housing prices are one of the highest in the world (Chart 19).

Chart 19

(Source: Global Property Guide)

And even as our country is so rich, our people have one of the lowest pension index, which means that our pension “has major risks and/or shortcomings” (Chart 20).

Chart 20

(Source: The Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index 2012)

Is it any wonder why we are the world’s people with the least emotions (Chart 21)?

Chart 21

(Source: Gallup)

We’ve learnt to suppressed our inner feelings. We are being cheated and squeezed left, right, centre.

We are given the lowest wages and made to pay the one of the highest prices. We thus have so little to save for our retirement and all these while the rich get richer, our ministers become richer and the poor becomes poorer.

All these while the many other responsibilities in our lives such as housing and healthcare continues to be so expensive, where we receive so little support and our government expects us to pay out of our own pockets, from the already meager wages that we are forced to receive.

Is it any wonder why Singapore has the world’s lowest fertility rate (Chart 22).

Chart 22

Would we dare bring a child into this world when we do not even have enough for ourselves? How would we expect the child to fend for itself in a Singapore where our government has become so heartless, and where they continue to expound a meritocracy that benefits themselves and helps themselves, all this while telling the people that the people should rely on themselves and shouldn’t expect the government to help them. All this self-reliance bull when the government helps itself.

It all falls into place, doesn’t it? Rich country but low wages and long working hours. Which results in people being unhappy and thus have low productivity. Very high income inequality where government pays itself handsomely while refusing to help the people, making them pay for basic necessities, thus giving the people such dissatisfaction in their lives. With little left for themselves for their retirement and after spending so much on housing, and all these add together, people aren’t really in the mood to reproduce. And Singaporeans have thus learnt to suppress our oppression at the hands of PAP so much so that we’ve learnt to either not express ourselves, or burst out, like many of the drivers on our roads nowadays. It’s very clear what’s happening in Singapore, but why doesn’t the government want to do anything about it?

Singapore is in a very sad state. We have a government which wants the people to live in a make-believe world where they believe that the government has the interests of Singaporeans at heart. Sure, the government has the interests of Singaporeans – not all, not some but only a few who continue to help each other in their small elitist world, while the rest of us slog to help them earn a good living, while the rest of us continue to allow ourselves to pretend that all is fine, while we are being cheated and robbed the living daylights out of us.

The statistics speak for themselves. I don’t know how else or what else I need to say to convince Singaporeans of the truth. Some Singaporeans continue to fear – we live in a fear that the government tells us to believe in and we make it so real that we don’t dare to question them because we are scared as to what might happen to us.

But what we don’t realise is that when we question, we will only make things better for ourselves.

Many Singaporeans still don’t realise that it is because of what people like us – civil society, bloggers, online commenters, Facebook administrators etc – that have forced the government to change so that Budget 2013 was decidedly more helpful for Singaporeans, ever so slightly. I can bet you that if not for the Singaporeans who question and force the government’s hand, prices will continue to spiral this year and we will continue to feel stifled by our stagnant wages.

Why else would the government try to keep coming out with new ways of telling us that our wages will increase. They are panicking! Yet, they still haven’t offered any real solutions. What are progressive wages? What is the Workfare Income Supplement? Will these actually work? What will really work are minimum wages and strong independent unions. Ask the 90% of the countries in this world with minimum wages and the Nordic countries and Switzerland which have strong unions.

It cannot be that Singaporeans are still waiting for the government to make things better. I’ve shown you the statistics! What more do I need to show you? We keep giving away our rights to the government. I still hear people say – why are you thinking or questioning so much? Or people who believe in thinking in a self-defeatist mode – but the opposition isn’t good enough, they say.

If you haven’t realised by now, it doesn’t matter who is in government. As long as people in government have power, the politics they play will deny us our right. If you want your lives to be better, then you make it better. You speak up and you tell the government what to do. You help the government run the country. It really doesn’t matter who is in government. What matters is a government where all parties work together and where we make sure the government works for us.

It’s time we realise this and not wait until the cows come home. Because the cows are never gonna come home. This is not New Zealand.

If I cannot convince you with these statistics, then you have to get out of your own fear. It’s time we take power into our own hands and remake our destiny, as our forefathers had made theirs in 1959 and 1965. It’s about time.

You know, I miss Mr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam and Mr Toh Chin Chye. None of the current PAP politicians have the moral integrity, courage and non-corruptibility that these great leaders of fore who had truly built Singapore for what it is today had.

We need a new batch of leaders among our Singaporeans now to lead Singapore into another truly memorable chapter, one that we will all share together.


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  3. Isen

    This is a very misleading article.
    Leaving Lee’s and Lim’s claims aside, this article uses charts as absolute comparisons across nations with different circumstances. One example is his scrutiny on health expenditure. Just because the government is spending a lot of health, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Keep in mind that more the government spends, the more tax they have to collect and the reason why US and Canada need to/can spend so much on healthcare is because, 1, their income tax ranges from between an average of 30-45%; 2, the US health care system is in major deep shit. The whole healthcare industry may topple over if things take a wrong turn over there.

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