We were at Ang Mo Kio early this morning with our volunteers and some residents.
One resident, who said that he is a business owner, shared that business costs have been rising, primarily due to exorbitant rents. This has been a top concern among businesses for some time now.
The resident shared that over the last few years, rents have been increasing by 30% to 40% every year. He said that these few years, the landlord would increase the rents, with a take it or leave it attitude and does not even speak to the tenants beforehand before increasing the rents. But where else could he go, since all the landlords or controlled or in some way related to the PAP government, he asked.
The businesses have no way to negotiate on the rents and have to bite the bullet or move out, which means closing their business. The resident said that the other option these landlords gave were for the tenants to sign contracts with fixed built-in rent increases, but this is also very uncertain as well. If they were to sign such contracts, won’t they lose out if rents were to increase at a lower rate?
In the past, the business owner said, contracts are signed on the basis that they will be honoured and businesses would not have to deal with uncertain rises in rents. But he said that today the landlords with links to the PAP government are only concerned about money, and do not care for the viability of local businesses like his.
The resident explained that this is why many of our Singaporean small and medium-sized businesses have had to close down, and even multinational corporations have had to leave Singapore because of the high costs. But this is unsustainable. How can Singapore sustain on a high-cost approach when even big businesses find it difficult to survive in Singapore?
For the resident, he felt that the way the PAP is doing things is wrong – how can the PAP only focus on profit while not caring for how local businesses can function? He feels that such a sole profit-making mindset is dangerous for Singapore.
Indeed, this is something many of our local businesses have been saying for some time now.
This is why, my fellow candidates at the Ang Mo Kio GRC is proposing to reduce rents to let small and medium-sized businesses have a breather.
Jesse Loo has said that high rents are the key impediment to why local businesses are finding it hard and he believes that rents should be reduced. Similarly, Osman Sulaiman who is a business director for a local firm said the same.
Over the past many years, the PAP has been driving up rents by far too much that this has squeezed out businesses. In order to allow businesses to become competitive again, we need to reduce rents to allow our local businesses to thrive and allow Singapore to grow our own domestic industries which can compete internationally.
The resident also shared with me that the government is earning from the foreign workers, via the foreign worker levies. Don’t blame the foreign workers, he told me. He said that for each foreign worker, the PAP government gets to earn as much as nearly a thousand from each of them, because businesses have to pay foreign worker levies to be able to hire foreign workers.
Indeed, it is known that the PAP government earns several billions in levies from these foreign workers.
But these levies not only hurt the workers, but it hurts the businesses too. First, workers are not able to earn higher wages. Also, businesses have to pay out such foreign worker levies which do not add to the productivity of the workers, but becomes money that is mindlessly given to the government.
Clearly, the foreign worker levy is a bad policy. The business owner told me that he would rather these foreign worker levies be returned to the workers instead.
Indeed, the reason why businesses in Singapore have to depress wages is also because they have to pay such high foreign worker levies and cannot give it to their workers. As such, because foreign workers earn depressed wages, this also causes the wages of Singaporeans to be depressed as well.
Evidently, the foreign worker levy and the cheap labour substitution therefore depresses the wages of Singaporeans and is a bad policy. It has to change.
I told the Ang Mo Kio resident that I agree with him. I said that if the foreign worker levies are returned to the worker, each worker could be earning as much as $2,000. When that happens, many Singaporeans would be willing to do the service jobs that is shunted now because of the low and inadequate wages.
It has been estimated by many that a minimum wage of $1,500 to $2,000 is indeed what is needed for Singaporeans to earn today, to have the most basic living.
And this is what many of our candidates, including me, Gilbert Goh, Jesse and Osman have been campaigning for all these while.
A minimum wage is necessary to protect Singaporeans and to improve our livelihoods.
Not only that, there are real and tangible benefits to our economy. With increased wages and purchasing power, this would enable workers to be able to spend more. The increased domestic consumption will also add to economic growth and benefit the country.
As my fellow candidates Jesse and Osman have also said, much of the economic growth has not gone back to Singaporeans. This is why Singaporeans no longer believe in the growth-at-all-costs model.
As such, our team at the Ang Mo Kio GRC believe that it is time we have a fairer and more equal Singapore, where we return the goods of the country to the people, and where all Singaporeans benefit from the hard work that they have put into bringing Singapore to where it is.
Our team wants to advocate for policies that will protect Singaporeans, that will allow us to earn higher wages, so that we will all be able to live decently and with dignity.
Singapore is today a wealthy nation, on a national level, but as my fellow candidate, Siva Chandran, has said, as long as there are still many Singaporeans living in one- and two-room flats and even bigger-sized flats, who are still struggling and suffering, while having difficulties making ends meet, then Singapore cannot be considered a First World country.
Our team believe that for Singapore to prosper once again as a nation and for Singaporeans to be proud of our country once again, we need to build a Singapore that puts Singaporeans at the heart of it all and where Singaporeans are respected and valued for who we are, as people.