How Should Singapore Evolve Into The Next Era?

I was interviewed by Dr Kieran James, a Professor in Accounting at University of Fiji Saweni, for the blog Joo Chiat Road Online. Below is an excerpt of the interview. 

Question: Please first of all tell us why and how you first became an opposition supporter.

I won’t say that I am an opposition supporter per se. Rather, I believe that Singapore needs a coalition government that is representative of the needs of the people. Within this coalition government, the PAP might make up between 20% to 35% of the seats, because this would be the proportion of the population that would have their values aligned to the PAP’s dogma. The Worker’s Party would take up about 30% of the seats, with the rest shared by the other political parties. This is how I believe a representative government, at this point in time, would look like.

Down the road, when the other political parties are able to operate on an equal playing field, the dynamics and the proportionate representation might change, as the political parties mature in their direction and vision, and a more mature electorate would then shift their alignments accordingly.

At this point, many Singaporeans have become “opposition-supporters” by default, because they no longer align with the values propounded by the PAP. At this point, most Singaporeans do not agree with the elitist and divisive policies created by the PAP.

There is a growing proportion of Singaporeans who believe in having a more equal society. As such, the more egalitarian values of the Worker’s Party (WP) and the more progressive policies of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have appealed to this segment of Singaporeans, which would make up between 35% to 45% of the population at this point.

This also explains why the PAP is now trying to appear more “equal” in their manner of speech. This is also why Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had wanted to pursue a perspective that within the PAP, the “weight of thinking (has shifted to) left-of-centre.”

However, it is not sufficient for a political party to make claims of their standpoints. To have a fuller appreciation of their value system, we would need to look at the policies they put out. For example, in the area of health, the PAP government spends only 1.4% of GDP, whereas the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) and the Worker’s Party (WP) have both called for between 5% to 6% of GDP spending. Also, whereas the PAP government is only spending 31% on total health expenditure (with the rest paid privately and out-of-pocket), the SDP has called for the government to increase its contribution of the total health expenditure to 70%. All the other political parties – SDP, SPP and WP – have called for expenditure rates that are much closer to what high-income developed countries should be spending, and which would also reduce the income inequality that has been growing under the PAP.

Question: What are the topic areas you feel most strongly about where you feel PAP policies have let the country down?

I believe that Singapore needs to become a more equal society. What we see in Singapore is a widening income gap, and a more divisive society. There are now much clearer lines drawn between the haves and the have-nots, and between Singaporeans and foreigners. This is the unfortunate repercussions of policies which were intended to favour a segment of the population. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that, “if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”

However, not only have income inequality risen, the real incomes of the poorest 10% in Singapore has also dropped, even as those in the top 10% have risen the fastest. Also, because the wage share of Singaporeans remain the lowest among the high-income countries and developed countries, Singaporeans now receive the lowest wages and have the lowest purchasing power among the developed countries. Some surveys have also shown Singaporeans to have the smallest and least adequate retirement funds among the developed countries, and even compared to developing countries, like China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

However, Singapore is also the richest countries in the world, if not, one of the richest.

The key question we have to ask is that, if our national wealth is increasing, can the share of the wealth be more equitably distributed? It is unfortunate that this doesn’t seem to be the standpoint that the PAP would like to take. A fairer and more equitable government would ensure that as prices and the cost of living goes up, higher subsidies would be given towards meeting the healthcare and housing needs of the people. However, Singapore continues to spend the lowest public spending, among the developed countries. Our 1.4% spending of GDP on health is also one of the lowest in the world. Also, our investment in education is also far lower than compared to the other developed countries.

Singapore has the one of the largest reserves and surpluses in the world, and one of the highest reserves per capita in the world. By some estimates, the reserves would be able to provide for Singaporeans for the next 20 to 30 years, even if we do not generate any income. Many Singaporeans have thus questioned that if the country has so much wealth in their reserves, could the government contribute more to the people’s basic needs, so that our elderly do not have to work in manual labour jobs past their retirement age (some without being able to retire), and so that the poor can feel financially secure to be able to look for jobs to protect their families?

The current Singapore government believes that increasing social assistance is a waste of resources as this does not increase the productivity of the economy, and would not lead to economic growth. However, the Nordic countries have much to teach us in this area, where the belief is that more social and financial assistance and investments would further increase the productivity of the population, as the people would then be able to redirect their focus towards finding gainful employment.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

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