Category: Singapore Population White Paper 2013

Population White Paper: Exposing Xenophobia in Singapore and PAP’s Ineffective Leadership

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion among Singaporeans on the issue of xenophobia. Some believe that there is no xenophobic sentiments in Singapore, whereas some think that there are. Some believe that we shouldn’t label what’s going on as “xenophobia”. Yet, the discussion rages on, as different personalities have chimed into the discussion.

There are some key questions that we need to ask.
1) Are Singaporeans indeed xenophobic, or rather, are there some Singaporeans who would discriminate irrationally?
2) What has happened that has led to the current situation?
3) And what do we need to do to move away from the current situation?

Why Are People Xenophobic? Why Do People Discriminate?

The truth is that there are some people in Singapore who would discriminate, and this is not unique to Singapore. Everywhere else in the world, there’s always a group of people who would discriminate. So, in Singapore, before Singaporeans had discriminated against foreigners on this wider scale, there were other populations who were discriminated against, such as against races and other sexual identities, such as gay people. We’ve seen in recent years how the police has arrested people for speaking up on issues pertaining to race.

The question to ask is – why do people discriminate? There are many theories and explanations, some of which are that people discriminate because they fear, and most of the time, they fear because they do not have a good understanding of something, or they might simply be reacting to their own insecurities. So, when there were some people who had spoken up against the wedding practices of another race, it’s because there weren’t familiar with the practice of another race, and when they are in the midst of doing something in their own homes, instead of taking the time to go down to the wedding, and finding out what’s actually happening, and celebrating with the wedding couple, a person might choose to look at things from his or her own perspective, and believe think that the wedding is a disturbance.

But what’s really happening? We simply don’t understand the practices of others well enough and are unwilling to find out more about what the other person is doing, and when we judge them according to our point-of-view, without looking at things from their point-of-view, we will take on a biased perspective. In order for us not to discriminate, we can reach out to learn more and understand more about another so that with that understanding, we won’t be biased in our attitudes.

Resentment Towards Foreigners or Bad Government Policies?

In the current debate about Singaporeans vs foreigners, it’s a similar issue where Singaporeans are reacting to their fears. In the past, the fears arose because our wages were being depressed or not rising as quickly as inflation, prices such as property prices were increasing, places became more crowded and we decided to attribute all these to foreigners. Truth is, it is true that as foreigners were coming in, wages became depressed, property prices increased and places became more crowded. But I would like you to take a step back and reconsider – if the government had enacted adequate policies to prevent businesses from paying low wages, would wages have been depressed? If the government has enacted policies to prevent housing prices from shooting up, would housing prices have shot up? If the government had enacted policies to calibrate the increase of the population in Singapore, would we feel over-crowding?

Let’s not even look at foreigners. How many Singaporeans took advantage of the rising housing prices and invested in homes to earn a quick buck as well? Before we point at foreigners, did we even look at ourselves at pointed at ourselves? Some of us might then argue, but not all Singaporeans had done that. Only the rich did. Well, then perhaps we can go on and on, and keep finding scapegoats for our own displeasure.

First, we need to understand why we discriminate. We discriminate because we fear that we are unable to continue having a balanced livelihood and because we feel that our lives might be threatened. And we’ve learnt to attribute our fear to what seems to be the most obvious cause – people, and more specifically, we’ve learnt to think of these ‘people’ as the foreigners. But as I’ve explained, this isn’t a specific issue about foreigners. It’s a complex issue about wages, prices, over-crowding, and ultimately, where do all these issues point to? Or rather, what’s their common root problem? Bad government policies.

Why Do We Choose to Be Upset with Foreigners Rather Than On Government Policies?

I’ve been trying to reinforce this point several times. However it hasn’t gotten into people. Why? It’s simply easier to direct your anger at a person, rather than a broader idea such as the policies or the government. If you direct your unhappiness at a person, it feels that it’s easier to resolve the ‘problem’. And so, people are asking Li Yeming to de repatriated because they claim that he is inciting xenophobic sentiments in Singapore. It’s very easy to ask someone to leave. Then we can also ask the many Singaporeans who have invested in properties to also leave. And then what? After Li Yeming, who should we turn to? Gilbert Goh (the organizer of the protest against the population white paper)? I read this morning about an article which claims that Gilbert has taken on many ideologies before, some against and some favourable towards foreigners, and had aimed to discredit him. I do not know how much of the information is true.

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But do you see what we are doing? We are picking on one person after another. It’s always a person. Why don’t we dare take on the larger challenges? Why is it, when we know it’s governmental policies that are problematic and the government in itself that needs to reform itself politically, do we yet refuse to take on the larger, more pertinent problem? Why do we continue to target individuals, who, let’s be honest, are only pawns on a chessboard game. Do you think Li Yeming had criticized Mr Low Thia Kiang on his own accord? Do you think that he could possibly frame his arguments all by himself? He’s not acting on his own, but like The Straits Times, he has become a mouthpiece, and he is only sprouting what he had been told to, with guidance by the powers may be. And this is a clever strategy, because in the event that whatever he says backfires, as it has now, it only backfires on him. No one else needs to take the flak for it. So Li Yeming has also become the scapegoat.

And we need to be very clear. Why are we wasting our energies on a scapegoat? Why do we not direct it at the perpetrator? Like an American president, Eleanor Roosevelt, had said before, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Right now, many Singaporeans are discussing the people – Li Yeming and Ong Soh Chin, who wrote an article about the ‘Punk Boy’ who she believes represents a “threatening” presence. But why do we focus ourselves on the people and chastise them? How different are we from them? How different are we from Li Yeming who had accused Mr Low Thia Kiang, or how different are we from Ong Soh Chin, who had labelled a fellow Singaporean as the ‘Punk Boy’? Are we not equally at fault for our own targeted responses at individuals?

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Photo credit: Say “No” to an overpopulated Singapore Facebook page

Moving Beyond Discourse Against People to Developing Solutions

Let’s try to discuss ideas. What did Li Yeming say that we had disagreed with? Let’s have a debate with him. And even as we do so, we do not need to drag his character into the fray as well. We do not need to malign him, whilst having a debate. If we do, we are only playing to our own anger and displeasure. We are only holding on to our internal fears, and we are using our fears to respond to him.

Which brings us back to our fears. In order to have a healthy debate with someone else about ideas and not about directing our anger at them, we need to understand our own fears. As I’ve explained, if you understand that you fear because you feel insecure, and if feel so because of lower wages, higher cost of living and over-crowding and if you understand that this is due to government policies, what action can you take? You can do two things. One, you can continue to get angry and fearful and direct your energies at blaming every foreigner that you see. Or two, you can decide to find ways to to resolve the issue, by speaking up against the government policies, by proposing alternative solutions, and by forming ourselves into groups to rally for change. Which is a more effective solution?

The Population White Paper As A Legitimization of Xenophobia

What the population white paper has done was to bring to fore the unhappiness that is already present among Singaporeans, and actually, among foreigners as well. Many foreigners have as well come to Singapore with beliefs of a world-class city, where they can earn a better living from. Don’t we all have the same wants when we move to another country or city? Yet, the foreigners come, feeling entrapped in a place where the promises didn’t seem to live up to their expectations, where they feel the same pressures from over-crowding, and where they have to put up with the verbal tirade that Singaporeans throw at them. They are as well, like us, victims of bad government policies. Of course, you might say that they have a choice to move out, but like all of us do, we need to think about career progression. It’s not as simple as to say, let’s get out.

Or what about the foreign workers who are lowly paid? How do we treat our maids? How do we treat the construction workers? Do we not similarly treat our maids with little respect and little freedoms? Do we not pay them low wages and expect them to do everything that we want from them? And when we are in a bad mood or stressed up at work, do we not also lash out at our maids? Why do we even complain about our government treating us badly when as employers, we don’t even have the basic decency to treat our employees and maids decently anyway?

It’s not about xenophobia, really. It’s about discrimination and its about our inherent attitudes. What has happened is that we have made use of the white paper to bring our discriminatory attitudes to fore. We have used the white paper to legitimize our discrimination towards foreigners. We have used it as an excuse to be able to throw our attacks at foreigners, by framing it as an issue about how the foreigners will cause the population to balloon to 6.9 million. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s look at our own attitudes. Why do we discriminate. And as I’ve described throughout this article, we fear for our security and livelihood and thus we’ve decided to turn our attention onto foreigners. But foreigners aren’t the problem. The government’s bad policies are.

Where Is The PAP Leadership, Or Absence?

In fact, during this episode, where is PAP and where is the government? After the protest, one after the other PAP member had decided to slight the protest and brush off its significance. Nary one PAP member is willing to address the issues brought out in the protest and perhaps, start to take note of the real concerns that a pool of Singaporeans had brought out. Sure, it might be only 5,000 people but aren’t they people living in Singapore as well? What does it say of a government which is willing to slight the viewpoints of 5,000 Singaporeans but would bend their backs backwards to a few business representatives?

The PAP has not spoken out, to calm Singaporeans or to provide counterbalanced viewpoints about how we can understand foreigners in a different perspective, or to apologise for their missteps, and propose bold solutions to tackle the insecurities that Singaporeans have. Where is leadership when we need one? Where are leaders when we need them? Why is the PAP hiding in every hole that they can dig themselves into, rather than standing up and facing up to what they stand for? Why are the PAP members not being the leaders we’ve paid them millions to be?

I’m very displeased because this is the PAP which has used a fear-based ideology to constraint the people’s minds, such that in times like this, people operate on fear and learn to hurl assaults at another, instead of calm down, reflect and think about how to deal with the situation better. This is the PAP which is happy allowing the people to fight among themselves, where they hide in their holes, not wanting to bring balance back into Singapore. As the patron of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, why hasn’t PM Lee Hsien Loong spoken to the association, to educate the members about the importance of achieving social balance in Singapore? And perhaps if he has indeed has, why is it then the tirade continues?

But PAP’s Main Aim Is To Stay In Power. It’s Not On The Side Of The People

We all know the tirade was meant to attack Mr Low Thia Kiang, to dent the credibility of the Worker’s Party. But why does PAP allow party politics to take precedence over the peace of Singapore? Which is more important in Singapore? For you and PAP to stay in power? Or for there to be balance and peace in Singapore?

I’m very disappointed in this PAP-led government because as much as it claims to be on the side of the people, we all know by now that it’s only concerned about maintaining its power, and that it’s willing to go as far as to maintain its silence while the people let out at each other, all because if the people do not realise what the actual problem is, it saves them from the hassle of having to address the inherent problems. If there’s xenophobic attitudes in Singapore, and if there’s discrimination of any form in Singapore, PAP is, if not an instigator, a key player in allowing such discriminatory attitudes to be at play.

We’ve Allowed PAP’s Fear-Based Ideology to Entrap Us

And which is why I urge Singaporeans to understand what the main problems are. Why do we direct our anger at one another, when such anger cannot lead to any resolution? And so what if we ask one, or one thousand, or one million foreigners to go? Who will we turn to next? Singaporeans? Minority Singaporeans? If we let our fears run amok and allow ourselves to be ruled by our fears, we are playing exactly into the hands of PAP who have used their fear-based ideology to manipulate us.

Chris Ho had shared this on his Facebook today: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” — Noam Chomsky, The Common Good (courtesy of Black Orchid Syndicate [Singapore] on my FB wall). A pal, who used to work in the public media, points out that the quote says it all about the strategy used in Singapore. It’s completely accurate, he adds.” If you’ve noticed, this is exactly what PAP has been doing with the recent news. And we’ve played right into their hands.

Singaporeans Need to Focus on Developing Solutions and Taking the Government to Task

Singaporeans, we need to start looking at the issue clearly. We need to realise that we are showing anger and unhappiness at foreigners, and discriminating, because of our own internal fears and insecurities. Now, we need to cast that aside and understand what the real problem is – bad government policies. If this is the case, if we know that being upset with foreigners is only reacting to our own personal insecurities, we need to direct our energies to something more fruitful and effective, and come out with solutions and alternate policies which we will then rally the government to adopt. If there is a next protest, our aim should be to consolidate ourselves and to identify solutions and alternate policies which we will take the government to task on.

We have to be very cognizant of how the government uses the media to sway our thoughts, and to entrench our fears and how they’ve chosen to stay by the side even as they need to take on a leadership role now. Some Singaporeans are starting to discuss about what the ways are that we can vote, to ensure that we vote for the government we want, at the next general election, and how when the next government is formed, that we can play our part by being part of the solution. This is what we need to do. We need to move away discussing our fears and impinging it on people. We need to move beyond, to understand the backdrop as to why things occur, and how we can direct our energies to thinking about ideas, and putting these ideas out as solutions, and finding ways to make our government hear them. This is a more sustainable and effective solution to turning things around for ourselves, and finding the balance that we want for ourselves.

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Singapore Has The Highest Income Inequality Compared to the OECD Countries

In the Today newspaper today, it was reported that the current way that Singapore computes the Gini coefficient (which is a measure of income inequality) is “based on household income from work per household member, as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan do.”

According to Today, “some countries compute their Gini coefficients based on … the “square root scale” (used in some OECD reports), which “take into account that households may enjoy economies of scale when sharing resources among household members”.

According to the current way, “Singapore’s Gini coefficient of 0.478 last year, before accounting for Government transfers and taxes, is on a per-household-member basis.” According to the “modified OECD scale” Singapore’s Gini coefficient is “0.435 if the square root scale is used” and would be 0.414 after Government transfers and taxes.

All fine and well, right? If Singapore’s Gini coefficient is adjusted downwards based on a different scale, it looks like Singapore’s income inequality is actually not that high, right?

Singapore Has The Highest Income Inequality Compared to the Economically-Developed OECD Countries

Not really. What the Key Household Income Trends 2012 report doesn’t tell you that even if we use OECD’s scale to compute Singapore’s Gini coefficient, Singapore still has the highest income inequality, as compared to all the other developed economies in the OECD.

I had looked at the OECD Stats Extract and obtained the following statistics (of selected countries), in the chart below.

Gini Coefficient

You can see that, clearly, Singapore’s income inequality is significantly higher than the other economically-developed countries in OCED.

According to the ‘An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries: Main Findings’ report, “policy choices, regulations, and institutions can have a crucial impact (on income inequality). They can shape how globalisation and technological changes affect the distribution of income. They can also influence income distribution directly, e.g. through deregulation in product markets, changes in social transfers, wage-setting mechanisms, or workers’ bargaining power.”

According to the report, “Public cash transfers, as well as income taxes and social security contributions, played a major role in all OECD countries in reducing market-income inequality. Together, they were estimated to reduce inequality among the working-age population (measured by the Gini coefficient) by an average of about one-quarter across OECD countries. This redistributive effect was larger in the Nordic countries, Belgium and Germany, but well below average in Chile, Iceland, Korea, Switzerland and the United States.”

I had superimposed Singapore’s statistics into the chart below. You can see that even before government transfers and taxes, Singapore’s Gini coefficient is already much higher than most of the economically developed countries. Whereas all the countries in this chart were able to reduce their income inequalities significantly, with the exception of South Korea, Singapore wasn’t able to do so, or rather, the government isn’t willing to. South Korea did not adjust income inequality downwards but its income inequality is comparatively much lower, to begin with.

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Credit: An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries: Main Findings

The often put out argument by the government is that Singapore’s taxes are low, and thus we are not able to afford to provide high social welfare spending. However, is this true?

The report by OECD clearly puts to myth the Singapore government’s argument. It states that, “Redistribution is not only about cash. Governments spend as much – some 13% of GDP – on public social services (education, health, care services, etc.) as they do on all cash benefits taken together. Some countries even spend much more on the provision of such “in-kind” services than on cash benefits: it is the case in the English-speaking and Nordic countries, Korea, and Mexico. While the prime objective of social services is not redistribution, but the provision of a decent education, basic health care, and acceptable living standards for all, they are in fact redistributive. Across OECD countries, they reduced income inequality by one-fifth on average and their share of GDP and redistributive impact remained constant over the 2000s.”

Rising Income Inequality Will Result In Social Unrest

The report also warns that, “Rising income inequality creates economic, social and political challenges. It can stifle upward social mobility, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to get the rewards they deserve. Intergenerational earnings mobility is low in countries with high inequality such as Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and much higher in the Nordic countries, where income is distributed more evenly. The resulting inequality of opportunity will inevitably impact economic performance as a whole, even if the relationship is not straightforward. Inequality also raises political challenges because it breeds social resentment and generates political instability. It can also fuel populist, protectionist, and anti-globalisation sentiments. People will no longer support open trade and free markets if they feel that they are losing out while a small group of winners is getting richer and richer. Reforming tax and benefit policies is the most direct and powerful instrument for increasing redistributive effects… Government transfers – both in cash and in-kind – have an important role to play in guaranteeing that low-income households do not fall further back in the income distribution.”

According to Mr Soon Sze Meng in the Today newspaper, “The Ministry of Finance’s intergenerational income mobility study, which measured 38,500 father-son pairs for sons born between 1968 and 1978, shows evidence of lessening mobility among the poor… (and) social cohesion will wear away when the poor believe they cannot work their way up.” Though the Ministry of Finance would beg to differ, by saying that, “The cohorts studied (those born between 1969 and 1978) in fact experienced relatively high mobility… (even as) there was some evidence of slightly lower mobility for sons of poor fathers.”

The recent protest against the population white paper needs to be understood in this light. Do Singaporeans understand what the long term implications are to sound economic policies for Singapore? I am sure we do, as our parents and grandparents for a large part of the nearly 50 years of Singapore’s modern day history. However, as the report had pointed out, the rising income and social inequality, fuelled as well by a flawed practice of meritocracy which favours the well-heeled over the poor, has resulted in “social resentment”, and gradually, “political instability”, as can be seen. Thus discussion about xenophobia has also arisen out of this context of being “protectionist” – the people are reacting to their inner insecurities about their own future, and unfortunately have misdirected their anger onto foreigners, even as they should direct it to the government and their flawed policies. Because of government policies which have favoured the rich in and who have come to Singapore, “while a small group of winners is getting richer and richer”, this has caused Singaporeans to feel that “they are losing out” and thus they are starting to believe that Singapore can “no longer support open trade and free markets”. And thus Singaporeans are disagreeing with the 6.9 million population projection figure, because of fears of how an open trade and free market economic system will do to their already worsening livelihood.

Protecting Our Poor, Elderly and Women to Reduce Income Inequality

As the report has stated, “A key challenge for policy, therefore, is to facilitate and encourage access to employment for under-represented groups, such as youths, older workers, women and migrants. This requires not only new jobs, but jobs that enable people to avoid and escape poverty. Recent trends towards higher rates of in-work poverty indicate that job quality has become a concern for a growing number of workers. Policy reforms that tackle inequalities in the labour market, such as those between standard and non-standard forms of employment, are needed to reduce income inequality.”

However, in Singapore, instead of enabling our older workers, women and migrants to acquire new jobs that enable them to escape poverty, they are forced to work on low wages. This has the resultant effect of depressing the wages of Singaporeans who work in jobs which pay similarly, and has thus trap a group of Singaporeans in a state of chronic poverty. There are abour 300,000 Singaporeans who earn less than $1,000 a month and about 450,000 who earn less than $1,500. We often hear of age discrimination where elderly workers are not employed when employers find out about their age or where mothers have their employment terminated because of their pregnancies. Employers also pay migrants low wages because migrants have very low bargaining power. Because of the low pay that employers give to them, this results in Singaporeans’ wages being pushed downwards, which means that the pay of the lower income workers are not commensurate to the cost of living in Singapore.

The clear solution is to ensure that Singapore implements a minimum wage law which protects these marginalised groups from earning unequal wages. It also means for the government and businesses to have a fundamental re-understanding of how these supposed ‘low-skilled’ industries can be restructured, so that with technological investment, these occupations can become more ‘high-skilled’ and the workers can earn higher wages. However, the government currently does not believe in investing in these industries and thus this group of people will continue to be disadvantaged by the system and be trapped in chronic poverty.

As can be seen in the chart below, Singapore is the only country among the developed Asian economies which does not have a minimum wage law, to date.

Minimum Wage in Selected CountriesCredit: TimeOut

The Government Needs to Do The Right Thing

In the latest Key Household Income Trends 2012 report, the government decided to use new scales to compute the Gini coefficient, because they want Singaporeans to think that the income inequality in Singapore isn’t as bad as it seems, or even as we feel. The fact is that with the same amount of money, the people feel that they can buy less. They feel squeezed.

Yet, the government had wanted to put out a preposterous news article to try to confuse Singaporeans into thinking that the income and social inequality isn’t as bad as people think. How irresponsible! When you look at the other countries, these countries have much lower income inequalities, even before government taxes and transfers. Not only that, the government steps in further to further reduce the income inequalities significantly in many of these countries. Yet, our government has chosen to take a back seat and keep purporting about how their hands are tied because of the low taxes that the government is collecting.

In 2011, our personal income tax constitute only 13% of the revenue. The government has many other diversified funding sources, also through our CPF monies which they use for investment which accumulates high interests which are not channelled back. The government also earns substantial monies through their investments through Temasek Holdings and GIC. Is there more the government can do, even with their current state of finances, for the people? Certainly.

The question now is, if this government willing?

It is of no use and simply quite ridiculous to change a numerical statistic to try to make believe to people that our income inequality isn’t that bad, by whitewashing what the fact is, obviously. Instead of fudging the statistics, the government should instead start enacting policies, such as a minimum wage law and to channel more funding into our healthcare bills, where the government already forks out the lowest proportionate expenditure, as compared to other economically-developed countries.

This is the very least this government can do, or lose their already very damaging moral integrity, if there is any.

 

 

Why Singapore Government’s Rent-Seeking Behaviour is Detrimental to the Singapore Economy

In this article, I will discuss specifically on the impact of the rent-seeking behaviour by the government and how this is the key reason for our low productivity growth. This also explains why the government had to resort to increasing the population instead, because they couldn’t effectively improve productivity, by large part due to their rent-seeking behaviour, which reduces impetus for innovation. I will also the white paper in this context, and the reasons and timing for the release of the white paper.

To put it simply, in terms of the management of the economy, the role of the government should be two-fold:

1) Enact minimal laws and regulations to create an environment for businesses which is conducive for the ease of business exchanges, so that this will attract businesses to Singapore, and to also encourage them to invest and innovate, whilst earning profits.

2) Enact policies to protect the people’s social rights and prevent businesses from unfairly treating them, whilst businesses aim to maximise their profits. So, a government should enact laws such as anti-discrimination laws, for example.

At the same time, the government should regulate as minimally as possible, so that it doesn’t make businesses feel constricted. Otherwise, businesses will not find Singapore an attractive place to invest. Over-regulation might also reduce businesses’ willingness to innovate and develop new ways of working.

The Problem of the Singapore Government’s Business Interests

On the issue of Singapore, why has this become a problem?

1) First, our government is also in the business of profit-making activities. By some estimates, the government owns 60% of the economy. By right, what this means is that the government will do its best not to regulate the economy, so that it doesn’t impede on its own profit-maximisation activities. This is true in that the government is thus interested in keeping corporate tax rates low and is thus resistant to implementing a minimum wage or to increase employer’s CPF contributions back to 20%.

2) Not only that, because of the government’s ownership of the economy and this large ownership, the government, in effect, becomes a monopoly. Thus this reduces incentive for the government-company to innovate and do things differently since even as there is competition, the government controls the competition. Companies who want to invest in Singapore have to abide by the rules set out by the government, which thus means that they are less likely to challenge the government’s control over Singapore companies and will work around these barriers. This might explain why our broadband speeds for example, continue to fall behind other countries in the region, such as South Korea and Hong Kong. Because the telecommunications companies are owned by the government, and because there is a lack of competition, there is no incentive for the government to increase broadband speeds.

3) Most importantly, the government is also in the business of collecting rents from businesses. This, in itself, isn’t a problem because as a responsible government, the government needs to diversify its income sources, and so through taxes, CPF contributions, from housing and COE premiums. And for the businesses, this will be from corporate taxes and rents. We know that for Singaporeans, because of the government’s diversification of income sources, we are paying more to the government from different channels. Not only that, we are paying increasingly more over the past few years, as can be seen from the lower CPF withdrawals, and the much higher housing prices and CPF premiums. But what had not been discussed adequately is the impact of the government’s rent-seeking behaviour on companies.

As mentioned, the government is also in the business of running the business and because it owns a large part of the Singapore economy, it also acts as a monopoly in some sense. Businesses which want to invest in Singapore needs to play by the government’s rules, by virtue of the fact that the government is, well, the government. And thus in the event that rules are not favourable towards businesses, the hands of the businesses are tied.

How Does the Government’s Practices Affect Businesses

Then, the question is, why would businesses then want to invest in Singapore? Fortunately, for now, businesses are still coming in because of a sound legal and regulatory framework, which provides a business environment which is relatively non-corrupt and which protects businesses from unfair practices. The logic is that it should encourage innovation.

Now, where rents become too high for companies, this means that companies would have to close or move out from Singapore. The main businesses which will be affected are the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) because of low cash-flow. However, big businesses are less likely to find high rents a problem because they would have more capital. As a paper by Murphy, Shleifer and Vishny featured on Harvard’s website had said, “public rent-seeking in particular may afflict innovative activity the most and hence sharply reduce the rate of economic growth.” Now, the government obviously knows this and the government knows that at the rate it is marking up its rental, mainly big businesses will be able to sustain themselves in Singapore, and which is why the government’s key focus is on attracting big businesses and multi-national companies (MNCs) to Singapore.

For MNCs, it isn’t a problem for them to want to invest in innovation, because they should have the capital. However, it would be a problem for SMEs, because they don’t. So, for SMEs who continue to want to stay in Singapore, they are unlikely to want or are able to innovate, and thus productivity is unlikely to improve for them. So, herein lies the problem of the rent-seeking behaviour of the government. It prevents SMEs from wanting to innovate, and productivity will stay stagnate, or drop. Not only that, because these businesses feel squeezed by the high rentals, they are unlikely to pay their workers fair wages as they would want to depress their worker’s wages as much as possible, to reap higher profits. At the same time, they would also want to import cheaper labour to do so.

Low Rental Causes Productivity And Wages to Remain Low

So, this explains Singapore’s issue of chronic low and dropping productivity. It also explains Singapore’s chronic problem of low wages. Where does the problem come from? The government’s rent seeking behaviour, that’s where. Does the government knows this? I bet it does. Which then begs the question – why did they want to peg the increase in wages to the increase in productivity when they would know that productivity is unlikely to rise in their planned scenario, and thus wages are unlikely to rise as well. Then, why? Well, the government isn’t interested in reducing rents, because it will eat into their revenue, and thus this proposal of pegging wages to productivity. Then, you might say, maybe the government wants more revenue so that it can spend more on the people. I don’t buy this because first, if so, why would the government do this pegging and causes wages to continue to remain low? Second, if indeed the increased revenue is for the people, where is it? It’s not coming back, and at the same time, people are taking less out of their CPF. So clearly, the government is in this to increase the revenue and profits, but for who?

Bringing In More Workers to Resolve Low Productivity Growth

But back to the problem – and so because the government isn’t able to raise productivity, because of their refusal to reduce rent, the other solution for their equation is thus to increase the number of workers, to increase economic output and grow the economy. And that’s why there’s the Singapore Population White Paper 2013. As said, the whole problem arises because of the government’s rent-seeking behaviour and their underlying profit-making objectives.

Which means by the government’s economic activities, by their size of it and by the way they could monopolise it, it has created competition against the very companies that the government wants to grow and attract into Singapore. Now, this is very dangerous. If the government doesn’t have the interests of the people at heart, they can continue to have a workforce here because it’s not like people are so mobile that they can all decide to leave. But if the government becomes disinterested in taking care of businesses, whilst protecting their own business interests, businesses will feel marginalised and will leave. And it’s easier for businesses to leave, at least for the big ones, because there are many other financial and economic centres in the world.

This is not forgetting the other softer aspects of our society, which also creates impediments for businesses. Right now, it’s really mainly our legal and regulatory framework that’s keeping businesses here. If you look at our workers, at least for the lower paid workers, they feel that they are not paid an adequate renumeration for their job. This reduces their motivation and interest in innovating or in being productive. There is many research to support this. Also, for the middle income earners, they feel that they are also unequally treated because of the high income inequality. This also has adverse effects on their willingness to work productively. I’ve also mentioned because that our workforce aren’t the most innovative because our education system has created a workforce which as many has observed, is good at maintenance work, but not innovation. So you can see, our Singaporean workforce feels highly disempowered and unmotivated. Why then are businesses still willing to come? This is also why the government has such an open door policy towards having foreigners come to Singapore to work.

Increasing the number of foreign workers into Singapore is the government’s solutions to first, increasing our economic growth, and second, to compensate for a workforce which which is unmotivated and less innovative. But as said before, this is a very lazy way to resolve the problem, as as the Worker’s Party had said, a “half-hearted” attempt.

But you need to understand, it’s not because the government is unwilling to take time to seriously resolve the issue. They simply do not want to because this means that they need to reduce rent, and thus essentially means that they will earn less profits.

Positive Effects of Reducing Rental for Businesses

If you ask me, what the government is trying to do is that they are trying to milk rental as long as they can, and in fact, milk their other sources of income (from the people as well) for as long as they can. They want to do this so that they can accumulate as much wealth as they can, before they embark on their next step, which they know would be to have to restructure the economy, and then to to reduce rents. Perhaps the government intends to continue with their current course for another 3 years or maybe 5 or 8, or 20, but it looks like they’ve miscalculated the balance and thus they would need to revisit when they want to transit into the next stage of our economic development now, rather than later.

As explained, once the government reduces rental, this will give businesses some breathing space, which will allow them to decide if they want to invest in technology to enhance productivity. Also, as mentioned at the start of this article, the government should regulate as minimally as possible, so that businesses will not feel stifled by the regulations. So, the problem of low wages can theoretically be resolved without having to implement a minimum wage, if the government reduces rental for businesses. This will then free up some money, which the businesses might then use to increase the wages of workers, so that they will be more motivated to innovate as well, and to increase productivity. So, the effect of reducing rental, as one of the key pillars of restructuring our economy, can have very positive outcomes. It can create a more dynamic economy an workforce and will definitely be more sustainable than simply increasing the number of workers, who will feel stifled and uninspired to work in a crowded and lowly-paid environment.

Like I’ve discussed many times, can this be done? Can the government reduce rental? Can the government restructure the economy? Well, they can. It’s a question of whether they want to, whether their vested interests will allow them to, and whether they will be committed to do so, and not simply pay lip service to it.

Now, with the current decisions that the government is making, it will bring Singapore towards an undesirable direction. Already, companies are feeling the squeeze and the only thing that is really keeping them here is because Singapore is still the 4th largest financial centre in the world, so they can continue to interact with the other major businesses which are here. Also, our sound legal and regulatory environment is also what is keeping them here. Right now, our government is making use of our natural central location and institutionalised systems to keep businesses here. But there’s really nothing else to keep them here, because they can always move to the other top financial centres, say South Korea or the cities of Canada. And if they continue to want to stay in the region, they can also consider moving to Kuala Lumpur, which is moving up as a financial centre quickly.

*****

Back to the White Paper: Why Did the Government Release it?

Which is why it’s very worrying that the government doesn’t want to change its course. Do you know why the government had wanted to release the Population White Paper? They know that businesses are unhappy, and so, if they show businesses that there are plans to increase the number of workers, they can buy more time to continue to charge businesses high rental, for another 10, 20 years. This is why they had released the white paper. The government knows that it can push the endorsement of the paper through easily in parliament, and pacify companies. The government is willing to sacrifice the people, at the expense of companies, so that they can continue to grow their wealth.

What Does the White Paper Have to Do With Aim-AHTC and the By-Election?

What they didn’t count on was the people’s displeasure and uprising. It was a series of poor miscalculations. In early January, the government knew that they had to call for a by-election soon, because they needed to. They had already planned to release the white paper anyway, and then to release Budget 2013 anyway. This means that for the whole of February, they wouldn’t be able to hold a by-election. They most probably have other announcements for March and April, possibly on the Our National Conversation, which they are now conducting. What this means is that they have no other suitable time of holding a by-election, except at end of January.

But the two things that they didn’t count on was first, they called for a by-election right after the Aim-AHTC episode, where the distrust that Singaporeans have towards PAP was going down. Second, they didn’t realise that the anger that Singaporeans have towards their mismanagement of Singapore was so great that it would have such a negative effect on their losing the by-election. And then again, it is very bad timing when they decide to release the white paper, right after the euphoria came with Singaporeans’ vindication at the by-election. Singaporeans got really pissed off that the government had to ruin their celebrations.

And this why PM Lee said on Chinese New Year’s eve that the government will looking into how to manage the announcement of the white paper better in future. They had calculated many things wrongly and they had timed many things wrongly. The problem that has occurred is that the government had made their plans very early on, possibly last year for the announcements of the white paper and budget. As someone had commented, they needed to announce the white paper first, to secure its endorsement, so that they can then proceed with releasing the budget based on the endorsement. But as mentioned above, the Aim-AHTC incident was not part of the plan. Also, they most probably would have wanted to call for the by-election by end-December but the Aim-AHTC incident didn’t allow them to, so they had no choice but to wait it out. Finally, they simply didn’t have a choice by early January as the Aim-AHTC dragged on and because of their refusal to come clean, it looked like there was going to be no end to it, and which is why they had to announce that a review of the town councils would be down, to diffuse the situation, so that they could then immediately call for the by-election. So, it’s really a matter of timing. Their had compressed everything together, because of unexpected circumstances and because they had miscalculated. They simply pushed themselves into a corner and had no choice but to announce the review of the town councils, the by-election and the release of the white paper back-to-back. Most importantly, they had been very rigid. And the reason why they are rigid is because PAP has taken it for granted that they can determine the pace of things, but no longer.

Also, to be clear that even as PM Lee said that they would look into how to manage the announcement better, this isn’t the real problem. If they sincerely believes this is the problem, this shows that they continue to be deluded. The inherent problem is their profit-making fundamentals which has prevented them from finding the real solutions.

The other thing that worked against their favour is this – because they want to control mainstream media so much and because they want to sway public opinion so much, they became the victims of their own perpetration. They were deceived by their own media and the stories that they’ve created of themselves, and they sincerely believed that people weren’t as angry as they actually were, and they sincerely believed that they were going to win the by-election.

So, together with rigid planning, severely bad timing and miscalculations of on-ground sentiments, driven by their control and self-deception of mainstream media, the situation spiralled out of control, and out of their hands, back into the hands of the people. Yay!

What’s the Solution?

Actually, this whole episode which began all the way from late last year shows that PAP needs to open up. They need to, because it’s for their own good as well. As much as they want political survival, the situation that they’ve created is also what has messed up for them. They simply do not know how to handle their control anymore. So, they need to open up so that they can have a more accurate understanding of Singaporeans, and be able to read them properly, and anticipate their reactions better. This will then mean that they would be better able to predict responses to the release of white papers, and also gain more support, if need be.

The current problems are self-inflicted and can be resolved, all if PAP is willing to be truly honest, non-corrupt and open. A quick note that as much as PAP believes that it’s non-corrupt, the very structures that they’ve created and tie themselves to means that they are inadvertently allowing their own people to benefit, and whether this is intended or not, has created unfair practices.

Finally, back to the issue of their rent-seeking behaviour, PAP simply has to reduce their want for wealth generation and to remember the basic principles of governance – to first protect the people and take care of their welfare. Once they remember that, they will know to do the right thing.

But if they don’t, well, there’s the next general election. And we will then do the right thing for them.

Please Don’t Fall For PAP’s Gimmick: We Are Not Xenophobic

Singaporeans, please don’t fall for it.

I have said it again, and I will say it again. This Singaporean vs foreigner sentiment is a gimmick, it’s a ploy.

Please, I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but we need to remember who we are directing our unhappiness to. It is not to the foreigners.

Singaporeans, the reason why there will be too many people on this small island of Singapore is because of a government who has implemented bad policies which have not been properly thought out by them. The reason why this country is too crowded is because this government has made population projections, which they couldn’t adhere to, and where the actual numbers ran out of proportion, and where because they didn’t plan properly, there simply isn’t enough infrastructure and diffusion of spaces to keep up with the speed of population growth. This government has bad planning, bad foresight and bad policies – now, let’s get this right, please.

Who is to blame for the current problem? If there are good policies that are enacted, what do you think will happen to Singapore? We will have a more moderate flow of people coming in and going out of Singapore. The growth of the population will be more balanced and measured. And we will not be in a state of unhappiness. So, what is the problem? The government’s policies of managing the flow is flawed and not thought out carefully.

Now, I speak in thorough disdain and displeasure of this government because:

  1. The government’s responsibility is to maintain and upkeep the social fabric of Singapore. As a citizen, it is our right to ask – how dare PAP bring in people without any consideration of the well-being of all the people that will reside on this island? How dare PAP not come out now and firmly put to rest the discussion about Singaporeans vs foreigners, by apologising for their bad policies. PAP needs to amend this policy, and not simply retain the policies and put unnatural curbs on the number of people coming into Singapore, without any other adjustments to business costs or wages. This has thus not only resulted in a twin problem socially, but also among businesses, who are thus stifled.
  2. Why are foreigners getting the flak in the discourse of Singaporeans vs foreigners? PAP lured the foreigners to come into Singapore, and then left them in Singapore to fend for the criticisms that they are facing, in large part because PAP could not plan their policies well and resulted in over-crowding. And why are the foreigners left to pick up the pieces while PAP continues to sit on their high horse, planning for more people to come in, which will allow for more foreigners to be verbally abuse, and possibly in other ways? They didn’t ask to be abused. PAP invited them into Singapore, and if you have the cheek to ask them in, then you jolly have some basic decency to take care of them. Otherwise, you manage your flow better.
  3. Why does this government allow Singaporeans to lose our moral character because of bad policies that you cannot even plan properly? Now, this government allows the conversations of the people to degenerate into bad mouthing one another, and this government doesn’t even come out and apologise for the bad policies that they had implemented, which has resulted in Singaporeans feeling so stressed that they have allowed themselves to speak badly of another.

Where is the human decency and humanity of this government?

Singaporeans, please, if our government is unable to maintain their respectability and their standards, at least we, as a people, should have a decency to speak up and stand up for what is right. The right thing to do is not to get angry at the foreigners, or to get angry at one another. The right thing to do is to refocus our attention and direct it at the perpetrator – this ineffective government.

Accusation Against Mr Low Thia Kiang on ‘Inciting Xenophobia’

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Picture credit: Martyn See’s Facebook

Today, The Straits Times reported on how Mr Li Yeming, vice-chairman of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, had made a charge on Worker’s Party chief Low Thia Khiang that he was “inciting xenophobia”. Li “accused Mr Low and the WP of fanning anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant sentiments during the White Paper debate.”

Now, let me be clear – who was it who started talking about the “Singaporean core”? Who was it who started talking about increasing the population of Singapore to 6.9 million, such that there will be over-crowding in Singapore? Who was it who wanted to grow Singapore at all costs, while pretending to want to keep a “Singaporean core” in 2030, which by 2040, will no longer be the “core”? It was not Mr Low Thia Khiang.

Mr Low Thia Kiang had to speak up in parliament to protect the people on this island from over-crowding. And thus he suggested slowing down the pace of growth in the first decade, and then increasing the pace of growth at a moderate rate in the subsequent decade, when the infrastructure has been increased after the first decade. Mr Low wanted to do what was right to protect Singaporeans, foreigners and anyone who will reside on this island.

Who was it who didn’t bat an eyelid as to how bad the situation might be in Singapore but then, only because of the pressure put on them by Singaporeans, passed a separate motion to ask Singaporeans not to focus on the white paper, and started discussing about how perhaps, we need to look into building up the infrastructure first, before we talk about the population projection?

It is Mr Li Yeming who has gotten his facts terribly wrong. Perhaps Mr Li might not have known better, but why would he? Mr Li is from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations. Have you taken a look at their website? On their website, PM Lee Hsien Loong is the patron of the Federation of the 14th session of the Governing Council.

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The federation is also very proud to display pictures of our PAP politicians, such as DPM Teo Chee Hean, Vivian Balakrishnan and President Tony Tan.

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Now, where is PM Lee, DPM Teo, Mr Balakrishnan and Mr Tan when Mr Li from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations had decided to send this letter of accusation to Mr Low Thia Kiang?

As Mr Low had put it, “In the past, those who held different political views from the Government would often be charged for dividing society, inciting the people or different races, or being against national interest.”

Now, I ask of my fellow Singaporeans, who is it who is holding different political views and who is dividing our society now? Who is the one who is inciting the people of different nationalities? Are we Singaporeans protesting against PAP’s population and economic policies because we are “against national interest”? Clearly, PAP is the one who is against national interest by pushing through policies which harm the large proportion of the people living on this island.

As I have said before, this government is not interested in protecting the rights of the people. This government is interested in seeing the people on this island degenerate into bad mouthing and mudslinging. The more you do it, the more it takes the attention away from them. And so, now, Mr Li Yeming from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations has also been thrown into the fray to add to the divide and rifts that is already tearing Singapore apart.

May I remind you that for many associations and clans in Singapore, they have ties with this government. May I remind you that The Straits Times is also a mouthpiece of this government, without nary a sense of pride or integrity. And now, we have seen it for ourselves how this clan and this newspaper has sold their morality and soul to the government by reporting on a fellow Singaporean who, they claim, is inciting xenophobia, when Mr Low isn’t even the one to first speak of the “Singaporean core” or the 6.9 million population. Mr Low is not the one inciting xenophobia. Rather, the accuser is.

Right now, Mr Low and the Worker’s Party hold the high moral ground among the people in Singapore. After PAP’s disastrous showing at the Punggol East by-election and their unsuccessful attempt to sway the people to buy into their population white paper, and with the protest against the white paper over the weekend well-attended by a few thousand people in Singapore, PAP is starting to feel anxious and nervous once again. What better way than to find ways to compromise on Mr Low’s integrity?

Singapore for Singaporeans: Xenophobic?

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At the protest over the weekend, an individual had held up a signboard with the words, “Singapore for Singaporeans”. There have been many discussions ongoing about how this individual might also be displaying xenophobic sentiments.

Singaporeans, I will be wary to jump into conclusions. You have to understand that at the current state of mind that many people in Singapore are in, there is a careful cautiousness that pervades the people, because of the current sensitivity of how the issue of Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans is being discussed. If this signboard was held even 10 or 15 years ago, would it have thrown up such divisive sentiments?

Now, I have spoken to this individual and I know where he is coming from. I myself have written in one of my articles about how we need to build a Singaporean Singapore. Why do we say that? In light of the current context, many people will be fearful of fanning xenophobic sentiments, and thus the words we use or the things we say can be held accountable to doing that. Rightfully so, this means that we need to be even more cautious in the way we express ourselves. As a responsible and thoughtful society, we should ensure that we respect the rights of others. In this context, the choice of word use to describe a “Singaporean Singapore” might not be the most enlightened.

But, please allow me to explain. I share this individual’s understanding of the matter because when we talk about a “Singaporean Singapore”, this is talked about, in comparison with a “PAP’s Singapore”. I do not want a Singapore where PAP makes all the decisions and where this Singapore is sculpted by the one-side or 80-sided PAP politicians. I want a Singapore where all Singaporeans have a voice in making Singapore the Singapore that we want to live in and where we can call home. When we talk about a Singaporean Singapore, we are talking about all citizens who have a right to vote, who get to have a stake and a say in this country, and who get to make decisions for ourselves, and where we do not want to have our rights taken away by the 80 PAP politicians, who believe that we should be the ones dictating how our lives should be, and by the PAP. This is the context that this is talked about, and as I understand, how the individual feels.

There are many ways to look at a situation, and the words that have been used, “Singaporean Singapore”, are used in the context of our electoral and citizenry rights. Does that mean as a Singaporean who gets to decide the fates and fortunes of our country, that we get to slight others who are thus not Singaporean? If we were to think so, then I would be terribly embarrassed. True, in light of the ongoing discussion, the choice of “Singaporean Singapore” might be poor word choice which I would most likely not use in my subsequent articles, because I do not want what I say to be misconstrued, because of the many interpretations that can occur.

PAP Has Lost Its Moral Authority

But let’s be clear. I think at this point, many of us have an amazing awareness of how we need to be careful in our thoughts and attitudes, as I have, and as this individual in question has as well.

But the positive outcome of this episode is that in this discussion and in a discussion which the protest at Hong Lim Park on Saturday was able to refocus onto, everyone on this island has to be cognizant that we shouldn’t be directing our unhappiness at anyone individual, be it a Singaporean or foreigner, or people of any other identities or characteristics.

It is clear that the current situation that we face in Singapore now is due to bad policies and a government which refuses to apologise for the bad policies and a government which continues to fan nationalistic sentiments and divisions. This government had started the use of the idea of the “Singaporean core”. This government has not stepped out to apologise for the xenophobic sentiments that they have caused by the usage of this terminology. And this government has not stepped out to recognize the upset and divisions that they have caused to a large population of Singaporeans, but continue to slight the people as being significant. This government doesn’t want to take the people seriously, because it continues to think that it knows what right and will continue to play divisive politics where it can. This is a highly irresponsible and reprehensible government which should be ashamed of itself and its own doing, and soon-to-be undoing.

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Mr Lee Kuan Yew had said in 2008 that he believed that the optimum size of the population in Singapore should be 5.5 million, so that we can “preserve the open space and have a sense of comfort”. Perhaps our current ministers have so big a salary and a house that their open spaces are so well-preserved in their bungalows that they believe that they have achieved the sense of comfort that they need, that other Singaporeans can be thrown into small living spaces of 60 or 90 square metres, without needing a sense of comfort.

As Mr Low had said, “I hope to see a society where civilized debate can create a consensus and cohesiveness, and a Singapore where people feel a sense of belonging to their nation.” Mr Goh Chok Tong had slighted the speeches by the speakers at the protest as “rhetoric” that this “rhetoric” is “too political, too one-sided, appealing to issues only and not shedding light on important issues.”

I think we can see for ourselves who the leader of this country truly is.

Reflections On The Protest Against The Population White Paper: Part 3

A reader had posted a comment in the Part 1 of this article, sharing that the Singaporeans need to take responsibility for our xenophobic attitudes as well. I agree and I have more to add as well. This was my response to her:

If I may add, as to why Singaporeans do not seem to exhibit accepting attitudes towards others, you are right and this isn’t just reflected in our attitudes towards foreigners, but also on our attitudes to other races and other populations as well.

There are two attributions to this – first – on the people themselves, and this is why the people need to be more aware and need to learn to look within and deeply to reflect on themselves and their own attitudes and second, this can be attributed to the government’s policies.

Why do I say this? The government’s policies of segregating the races, for one, has inevitable created a situation where the different races have as well a less understanding of one another. Whereas in our parent’s and grandparent’s time where they had close kinship with their fellow neighbours of all races, is this as prevalent in Singapore now?

Also, because discourse on racial and cultural issues are strongly frowned upon and the Singaporean society is not encouraged to reflect and think about social issues, because of laws in place which causes people to inhibit social and political thinking, it has bred a people whose ability to think critically and deeply is severely stunted.

So, when people judge another, do they step back and take the time to think about and understand why they judge another, and in doing so, learn not to do so? They don’t. In our culture where we’ve learnt to be look at things on the surface, we’ve inevitably created a people who judge because they think in reactionary ways and do not explore their reactions deeply.

Do I fault them? It has to be an equal share where both the government and the people play a part. But I would attribute more missteps to the government’s policies. You see, I know of some people who are able to learn to be aware, and it requires a mind that is willing to challenge the system and think beyond the system, to be able to then learn to identify with the fellow human person and to learn to understand what another person is going through, so that we can then learn to understand and accept them.

With government policies which causes undue stress among the people, where day in, day out, they have to think about their own survival, people are unlikely to spend time empathising with another. Not only that, nearly 50 years of controlled education and political landscape has created a people who have been severely limited in their minds and imaginations to be able to think otherwise. Yes, we might have a well-educated population, but one which is educated in hard sciences, where our ability to understand the human psyche and society has been severely compromised.

Do I fault the people for not being able to appreciate and accept differences? Yes, because we should try to break out of the mould and learn to think deeply about our own attitudes and learn to show acceptance to others. But, I would place most of the attribution on the government for refusing to overhaul or reform a system which has created people who are unthinking and obedient, and because of this, has created people who have become so sorely self-centred and self-protectionist. This government has to allow for people’s rights and autonomy to be respected if we are to move the Singaporean society into a first world society. We have a first world economy but hardly a first world government or society.

Do I fault our people for behaving like cultured barbarians when their government, which isn’t too far off, has set the tone and standards which they are made to abide by?

Reflections On The Protest Against The Population White Paper: Part 2

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Photo credit: Julius Yang

This article is a continuation of Part 1 of the article which was published yesterday. In Part 1, I had discussed that we need to be clear that in our disagreement with the 6.9 population figure thrown up by the government that we need to be cognizant that the unhappiness that we face shouldn’t be directed at the foreigners and that if we reflect further, we would know that the inequalities that has been created by bad government policies was what had resulted in further segregation among the people, and thus the negative emotions which we had thus misplaced on the foreigners. It’s time to shift the focus back onto the government for their bad policies, and not misdirect it on foreigners, who have become the inadvertent scapegoat, on both sides.

In this article, I will delve deeper into the social and political landscape of Singapore to help us understand the dynamics and complexities that exist in our landscape and how it affects our psyche. I would finally like to remind Singaporeans that the current sea wave of change is part of a larger shift in the awakening among Singaporeans to the realities of Singapore, and how if we believe that change needs to happen, we must ride the wave of change and create the possibilities that we want to become reality. We must take back the rights that are ours, and create a Singapore that we believe in.

So, What Were Singaporeans Protesting About?

On Saturday, when more than 5,000 Singaporeans descended onto Hong Lim Park yesterday, what were they really protesting about? This, in fact, wasn’t just what the media was asking, but I believe, what many Singaporeans were thinking about. If you take a look on Facebook on some of the reasons why people had decided to go to the protest, there was a multitude of reasons – because they were unhappy with the government, because they didn’t think the government is listening or because they feel that the cost of living has become increasingly too high. There really wasn’t one common thread that ran through why Singaporeans had wanted to attend the ‘protest’ for. They might be attending this protest against the 6.9 million figure, but was it really this figure that had evoked their feelings for participation? And as I’ve discussed, it’s not.

But to the foreign media, they do not understand the complexities that are rooted in the psyche of Singaporeans. To the foreign media which had come down, they wanted to know – if you do not want 6.9 million people, then what are your solutions? What are your alternatives to growing an economy without 6.9 million people?

But to the people who didn’t adequately understand their feelings towards the 6.9 million, they were simply unhappy and they were gradually realising that it could perhaps be the government that they are unhappy about, and actually not the population, or the proportion of foreigners itself. And that’s why at the ‘protest’, the speakers spoke about how Singaporeans felt, and the feelings of how we no longer we that we are at home, where we feel that we do not have a stake in this country. We do not feel that we belong.

How Do You Understand The Unhappiness of Singaporeans?

To the foreign media, they might not understand how Singaporeans feel because – so, Singaporeans, you are telling me that for a country recently ranked 6th in terms of governance by the Economist, where you have the world’s highest per capita income and which is an envy of so many other countries, you are telling me that you are not happy? Seriously?

But, you see, not everything is measured in terms of money. Well, of course the foreign media would know this! Their own governments also pander to capitalistic interests. But their governments are not capitalists themselves – not to the extend that ours are. Their governments do not sideline the people so much so that the people are accorded as little social welfare as the government can afford, where the only so-called pension that the people have – the CPF – has also seen withdrawals decline since 2001 even as more people would need to withdraw from it.

On the surface, Singapore seems to have a perfect government where the government has fine-tuned a system that has worked so well for the people, and where the government continues to maintain a non-corrupt and secure environment. But when surveys by Gallup show that Singaporeans are the least happy people in the world and that we show the least positive emotions in the world, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Trappings of This PAP-Led Government

As much as government might have perfected the system, this perfection disappeared more than a decade ago. The golden years of policy-making by the PAP-led government has long pass and this current government has lost the art of balance in policy-making more than a decade ago. From 2001 onwards, their policy-making, or rather, policy-tweaking has become more firmly rooted in their profit-making motives, that it has resulted in an imbalance in the way they manage their policies, such that the policies are increasingly disadvantaging the people, and diverging away from the people’s needs.

And unfortunately, this government continues to believe that it knows what is right and what needs to be done for Singapore. This government continues to think that Singaporeans do not know what needs to be done and slights them as “noise” – this, even as the think tanks set up by them, such as the Institute of Policy Studies are also quoting articles which are contrary to what they have purported in the population white paper.

As I’ve mentioned before, the second fundamental problem with PAP is that they’ve also let power rule them. You can tell, by their behaviour and their resistance that this is a government which is increasingly scared that they will lose their power. Having very few ideas on how they can curb the participation of the opposition parties at the election and in parliament, they know that their control and time as government has become very precarious and because of that, they are starting to withdraw into their tortoise shell. PAP is now operating on a state of semi-shock where they are trying to continue to cruise on the firm institution built by Singapore’s founding leaders, but yet not knowing how to oil this institution anymore. They fear of losing their power and their denial of this happening and their resultant delusion, has caused them to unwittingly cripple themselves in their ability to govern.

What we now have in the PAP-led government is a very lethal combination of a government which has styled itself as a business and monopolized the competition in our economy and one which has allowed the almost-50 years of power to get into its head that at this time of mid-life crisis, it’s now suffering from pangs of anxiety and withdrawals, that has led it to become ineffective.

Making Ourselves Heard, Whether They Want To Or Not

Now, when Singaporeans were ‘protesting’ on Saturday, these were all that we were protesting about. But not all of us could articulate this. Not all of us know that this was what we want to articulate because some of us haven’t thought thoroughly about the issue at hand yet, or even if many of us have, we are still trying to come to terms with how this government might actually be using us to further their own means. We are also living in our own state of denial.

To the foreign media, as a reporter, you want clear outcomes. You want to come to a protest, know what the agenda clearly is, look out for a clear trend and await an outcome which you can write about. But today, when they came, they didn’t see that. They couldn’t see a clear message or a clear outcome. Most of the speakers spoke about how they felt and what their concerns were, which were very diverse. At the end, when asked if the government would take note of the protest or the petition that will be submitted, no one could give a definite answer because we know that the government will most probably slight us, once again, as “noise”. Then, what is the point of holding a ‘protest’? To the foreign media used to seeing protests in their countries and possibly seeing protests lead to affirmative action by their governments, what were these Singaporeans trying to get act with their protests? What were we hoping to achieve if not to pressure our government into changing at least the content of the white paper?

I’ve been asked many times as well why, in spite of the education that so many Singaporeans have received, that we allow our government to run us down with whatever they want to do. People talk about how Singaporeans are such pushovers because we allow our government to steamroll over us. Indeed, some speakers said at the ‘protest’ that they do feel defeated or are at their wits’ ends. To non-Singaporeans, it’s very hard to understand this because how can anyone with such a good education (qualified by the number of years of education) be so seemingly incapable? This is because you have to understand the education that we’ve been through, which as much as it produces students with good mathematics and science scores, are only as much a factory of robots, packaged to be unthinking and unquestioning, that are churned year after year for the Singapore factory.

Understandably, the foreign media might have expected much more – for the people to push the government into action. Give us 3 years. When we put a new government in place, we will make sure that this government works for us. We will make sure that this government listens to us and do what we want. We will make sure that this government makes decisions that will be for the good of all, and even businesses. We will make sure that this government reprioritises itself and not allow themselves to become so bogged down by their profit-making needs that they sacrifice both the interests of businesses and the people to protect their own power and wealth.

But This Is Not A Protest, It’s An Awakening

The truth is that the ‘protest’ on Saturday isn’t really a protest. The ‘protest’ today is only part of larger awakening that Singaporeans are undergoing. It’s part of a realization of our rights as people, learning what is truly wrong with our government and trying to find new ways of thinking, working and developing solutions for ourselves and for our country. Today is only part of a larger awakening that has been ongoing since prior to the general election in 2011, and which intensified from the SMRT bus drivers incident, the Aim-AHTC saga, the by-election, the release of the white paper, finally the protest now, then later, Budget 2013 and then back to the Aim-AHTC saga, with the review of the town councils and possibly a report on Our National Conversation. Today, we might have organized a protest. But, for many of us, this is an awakening. The protest should really have been called an awakening, a realization – a realization that there are many other Singaporeans who feel the same as I do, that I am not the other one, that the unfairness I feel that I’ve been feeling is common among my fellow Singaporeans and slowly but surely, we are all realising that we are suffering from our unfair treatment under a government which has lost its bearings and is using us for its own wanton wants. And today, we will continue to be spurred to find out more and to push them to admit the truth, and to push them out of power, because we need to protect ourselves and our future generations.

In the last few months, the raising of our awareness has been fast-tracked. This is not a matter of whether we are want to be awakened. We will be awakened even if we are not ready to, because at the pace things are changing, we can only expect to be carried with the winds of change. Even the heavens are playing their part by not allowing us to let up in our learning, where we are left catching our breath, with each new incident – straight after the by-election, we have the release of the white paper and immediately after that, the protest. We are now given an excellent opportunity to understand the workings of Singapore. Each new incident has uncovered new understands of how this government operates and the inherent flaws. The more we know, the more we will be able to take them on at the next general election and the more we will be able to form a government, that together with the rest of Singaporeans, will be able to run on the ideals and principles that we truly believe in. When we put the next government in power, we will make sure that we will also be the ones to govern together with them. Governance is not the sole propriety of an elected group of people. If we want our rights to be respected, then we need to learn to exercise our rights and learn to govern ourselves.

*****

End-note: Do remember that even as we keep talking about the next general election as happening in 2016, it can happen in 2017, or 2015, or even 2014. So we must be prepared for the general election to be held at anytime. But rest assured that when that time comes, we will be more than ready to handle it, as our learning by then will more than adequately prepare us to handle what is to come.

Reflections On The Protest Against The Population White Paper: Part 1

It is perhaps somewhat disappointing to see the initial media coverage that the foreign news media had thus far reported about the protest.

Yesterday, more than 4,000, or perhaps 5,000 Singaporeans protested at Hong Lim Park. Officially, the protest was intended to protest against the 6.9 million population figure that the government had projected for Singapore in 2030 in the population white paper that was recently released.

CNN had reported that, “Protesters on Saturday insisted they didn’t fear foreigners but worry about the loss of Singaporean jobs to foreigners, depressed wages and overcrowding that has taxed Singapore’s infrastructure, including housing and transportation. Protesters also say the government’s plans will make them a minority in their own country. “Imagine a place where you can be a stranger in your own home,” a protester said.”

According to BBC, “Many locals blame immigration for rises in property prices and living costs … (and that) many local people say the surge in foreigners in recent years has already put a strain on the small, wealthy island state’s resources, and has pushed down salaries while raising property prices.”

Bloomberg has also reported that, “Protesters expressed unhappiness with the policy that could see citizens, including new ones, making up only one of every two people on the island smaller in size than New York City by the end of the next decade should the population reach 6.9 million.”

What was disappointing was that the media coverage had, so far, been framed about the xenophobic sentiments that seems to pervade the Singaporean society. It is unfortunate that as much as the organizers and speakers had tried their best to frame the protest as one that isn’t about Singaporeans being unwelcoming towards foreigners, this was possibly the most consistent theme that had caught the media’s attention. It did not help that the day before, the organizer, Mr Gilbert Goh, had released an article which had described the characteristics of foreigners in Singapore. This caused an uproar among Singaporeans who were against such profiling and what they thought was xenophobic sentiment. Mr Gilbert retracted the article after the uproar. He also apologised at the protest.

Are Singaporeans Unhappy with Foreigners?

Yet as much as he might have shown seemingly xenophobic attitudes, the truth was that, there are also many Singaporeans who were adopting attitudes and beliefs similar to his in their arguments against the white paper or the 6.9 million figure, or about their unhappiness with the current state of Singapore. When the article on the profiling of foreigners came out, what it did was to put it in writing what a segment of Singaporeans had been thinking about all this while – the article put a mirror in front of Singaporeans and showed them how ugly they had turned the conversation into. As unfortunate as it was, it was a blessing in disguise. If Singaporeans had continued on the path of sidelining foreigners, simply because of their unhappiness which they have not thoroughly understood, there are dire implications. This should hopefully help put a check to their beliefs.

If we put aside our unhappiness for a while and think about Singapore for a second, we would remember that as the 4th largest financial centre in the world at the current moment, we would need to be open to foreign investment, being that we have no large MNCs on our own. We need to be open and welcoming to foreigners because they also partake in making our economy vibrant and progressive. Unlike South Korea, which is the 5th largest financial centre, there is perhaps lesser reliance on foreign investment, because of the strong presence of local companies. However, Singapore doesn’t. Now, what then is the problem? Is the problem because foreigners are coming to take our jobs away, or because we did not develop strong global companies to start with?

Then again, we do have global companies, if you could count Singtel and DBS Bank, as among some of the companies which have ventured beyond our shores. Yet, have they developed products which have an appeal such as that which Korea’s Samsung and LG, or Japan’s Sony has? Our companies merely invest in the telecommunications or banks of the other countries, and even when the money flows back to Singtel and DBS, they go back to Temasek Holdings and the government, where the people hardly receive the benefits of our local companies’ global investments. Back to the question, is it then a problem of foreigners or that we do not have global companies? Well, we do have companies with global investments, but definitely not comparable to the likes of Samsung, Apple, Google or even McDonald’s. Can we then blame foreigners for coming in, because of our lack of ability to create companies which can go global?

The Problem Isn’t With the Foreigners – It’s With the Government

Or, if we look deeper, we’ve heard from others how our government’s efforts to grow local companies seem to lack steam. But why is this so? There are many reasons, some of which we are not privy to because of their behind-the-scenes decision-making. But one big reason, as companies have continually cited, is the high costs – high rental and transport costs among others. And as I’ve explained, the high rental and transport costs are in the control of the government, which can decide how much they want to charge businesses. Now, the question then is, is our government interested to grow local businesses, if they continue to keep costs high, and price businesses out of the competition? It does seem that the government isn’t interested in creating local companies because their main agenda is to increase their own coffers and profits. If that is the case, we will always need to import foreign MNCs and wealthy SMCs into Singapore, to make up for what Singapore isn’t able to do for itself – build local companies.

And if you’ve been following my train of thought, you would know that the issue isn’t about putting our displeasure on foreigners, but directing our questions directly at the government – why do you insist on earning money that the sustainability of Singapore is put into question? Without our own local companies which are able to make their mark globally, Singapore doesn’t have a company which is able to help hinge Singapore in the global economy and solidify Singapore’s status as an innovation hub. And I’m not talking about companies like Singtel which identify investment opportunities. Singtel is acting more like an investment company, like Temasek Holdings, an not as innovating company. In fact, our major local companies and also owned by the government, seem to act as investment companies more so than anything. Otherwise, the closest we’ve come so far with, is Creative, which is no longer as influential and possibly Hyflux, which has developed an expertise in water destination.

The Problem Is That The Government Is Also The Business

So, to be very clear, our anger shouldn’t be directed at foreigners. That’s misplacing our anger. The problem is with a government which has learnt so much to rely on its rent-seeking behaviour that it has priced our own local businesses out of the market. Unlike other countries which enact protectionist policies to help their local companies grow in the short term, our government adopt a protectionist rent-seeking behaviour to protect their own profits, while side-lining even local businesses. The problem with this government is that it wants control.

In another country, very broadly, there is the government, and then there are businesses and there are people. So, the government relies on businesses to make money which uses the labour of the people and then pay the people. In turn, the government will obtain money from the businesses and people and redistribute wealth to equalize the society. In Singapore, the government wants to be the business. The government wants to be the one to make money and to then obtain the money. But what isn’t happening is that first, by right, the government should prevent businesses from paying the people low wages. Yet, because this government also owns 60% of the economy, this government wants to pay people low wages. Second, because this government is the business, it has thus not decided to redistribute wealth back to the people.

And therein lies the first fundamental problem for Singapore – a government which is a business which has decided that making money is of a higher priority and that taking care of the people’s needs is secondary, and of more lesser importance. When the government had decided to play such a controlling role in Singapore’s early years, if we could try to appreciate that they might have good intentions, it could be because they had believed that if they could control everything, that they would be able to make key decisions faster and implement them faster. Because they had wanted to grow Singapore as fast as they could, they might want to have control over key areas in governance and the economy. Yet, this very belief has overpowered them. Now, because they’ve institutionalised the control by making themselves as the business, they’ve assumed this role more pervasively than their role of government. Essentially, they’ve neglected their role of governance – of taking care of the people.

This Is Why The Government Wants To Increase More People

And this is why, when they had developed the population white paper, their mindset towards the white paper was based on this – on making money, and not on taking care of the people. And looking at how they’ve been thinking, they want to continue to implement high rents and costs on businesses. In doing so, they know that businesses won’t have enough profits in the short term to want to innovate to increase productivity. So, if they want to squeeze businesses in terms of costs, they would need to allow businesses to be able to take a breather for other costs not within their control – wages. And this is why they want to bring in people which companies can pay low wages for. And this is why the government wants more people – 6.9 million people.

Now, I’ve tried many times to explain this because it is essential that you understand this. Because once you can understand this, you will know where to direct your unhappiness at. On the surface, when we look at the 6.9 million people figure, we process this information to be – oh no, there will be too many people! If Singaporeans are not giving birth, then the additional people are foreigners. We should not let these foreigners in! These foreigners are here to take our jobs.

But wait a minute! These foreigners would go anywhere where there are jobs! So would you! So, it’s not about who is coming but why the policies are so lax that it does not cater to a balance in the number of people who are coming. And as I’ve described above, the problem is with a government which wants to earn money off the rents of businesses which has given businesses very little incentive to restructure their operations, and so without restructuring, they will continue to employ low-wage workers, which the government is very willing to give, so that it allows the government to continue to collect high rents from businesses. Now, you need to be very, very clear on this.

When we talk about protesting against the 6.9 million figure? What are we talking about? We are talking about the government’s profit-making motives and their bad policies to manage foreigner in-flow, rooted in their ideology in profit-making. And we are talking about a government which does not care about the people.

You can continue to read Part 2 of the article here.

The Real Problem With the Singapore Population White Paper 2013

In this article, I will discuss specifically on the impact of the rent-seeking behaviour by the government and how this is the key reason for our low productivity growth. This also explains why the government had to resort to increasing the population instead, because they couldn’t effectively improve productivity, by large part due to their rent-seeking behaviour, which reduces impetus for innovation. I will also the white paper in this context, and the reasons and timing for the release of the white paper.

To put it simply, in terms of the management of the economy, the role of the government should be two-fold:

1) Enact minimal laws and regulations to create an environment for businesses which is conducive for the ease of business exchanges, so that this will attract businesses to Singapore, and to also encourage them to invest and innovate, whilst earning profits.

2) Enact policies to protect the people’s social rights and prevent businesses from unfairly treating them, whilst businesses aim to maximise their profits. So, a government should enact laws such as anti-discrimination laws, for example.

At the same time, the government should regulate as minimally as possible, so that it doesn’t make businesses feel constricted. Otherwise, businesses will not find Singapore an attractive place to invest. Over-regulation might also reduce businesses’ willingness to innovate and develop new ways of working.

The Problem of the Singapore Government’s Business Interests

On the issue of Singapore, why has this become a problem?

1) First, our government is also in the business of profit-making activities. By some estimates, the government owns 60% of the economy. By right, what this means is that the government will do its best not to regulate the economy, so that it doesn’t impede on its own profit-maximisation activities. This is true in that the government is thus interested in keeping corporate tax rates low and is thus resistant to implementing a minimum wage or to increase employer’s CPF contributions back to 20%.

2) Not only that, because of the government’s ownership of the economy and this large ownership, the government, in effect, becomes a monopoly. Thus this reduces incentive for the government-company to innovate and do things differently since even as there is competition, the government controls the competition. Companies who want to invest in Singapore have to abide by the rules set out by the government, which thus means that they are less likely to challenge the government’s control over Singapore companies and will work around these barriers. This might explain why our broadband speeds for example, continue to fall behind other countries in the region, such as South Korea and Hong Kong. Because the telecommunications companies are owned by the government, and because there is a lack of competition, there is no incentive for the government to increase broadband speeds.

3) Most importantly, the government is also in the business of collecting rents from businesses. This, in itself, isn’t a problem because as a responsible government, the government needs to diversify its income sources, and so through taxes, CPF contributions, from housing and COE premiums. And for the businesses, this will be from corporate taxes and rents. We know that for Singaporeans, because of the government’s diversification of income sources, we are paying more to the government from different channels. Not only that, we are paying increasingly more over the past few years, as can be seen from the lower CPF withdrawals, and the much higher housing prices and CPF premiums. But what had not been discussed adequately is the impact of the government’s rent-seeking behaviour on companies.

As mentioned, the government is also in the business of running the business and because it owns a large part of the Singapore economy, it also acts as a monopoly in some sense. Businesses which want to invest in Singapore needs to play by the government’s rules, by virtue of the fact that the government is, well, the government. And thus in the event that rules are not favourable towards businesses, the hands of the businesses are tied.

How Does the Government’s Practices Affect Businesses

Then, the question is, why would businesses then want to invest in Singapore? Fortunately, for now, businesses are still coming in because of a sound legal and regulatory framework, which provides a business environment which is relatively non-corrupt and which protects businesses from unfair practices. The logic is that it should encourage innovation.

Now, where rents become too high for companies, this means that companies would have to close or move out from Singapore. The main businesses which will be affected are the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) because of low cash-flow. However, big businesses are less likely to find high rents a problem because they would have more capital. As a paper by Murphy, Shleifer and Vishny featured on Harvard’s website had said, “public rent-seeking in particular may afflict innovative activity the most and hence sharply reduce the rate of economic growth.” Now, the government obviously knows this and the government knows that at the rate it is marking up its rental, mainly big businesses will be able to sustain themselves in Singapore, and which is why the government’s key focus is on attracting big businesses and multi-national companies (MNCs) to Singapore.

For MNCs, it isn’t a problem for them to want to invest in innovation, because they should have the capital. However, it would be a problem for SMEs, because they don’t. So, for SMEs who continue to want to stay in Singapore, they are unlikely to want or are able to innovate, and thus productivity is unlikely to improve for them. So, herein lies the problem of the rent-seeking behaviour of the government. It prevents SMEs from wanting to innovate, and productivity will stay stagnate, or drop. Not only that, because these businesses feel squeezed by the high rentals, they are unlikely to pay their workers fair wages as they would want to depress their worker’s wages as much as possible, to reap higher profits. At the same time, they would also want to import cheaper labour to do so.

Low Rental Causes Productivity And Wages to Remain Low

So, this explains Singapore’s issue of chronic low and dropping productivity. It also explains Singapore’s chronic problem of low wages. Where does the problem come from? The government’s rent seeking behaviour, that’s where. Does the government knows this? I bet it does. Which then begs the question – why did they want to peg the increase in wages to the increase in productivity when they would know that productivity is unlikely to rise in their planned scenario, and thus wages are unlikely to rise as well. Then, why? Well, the government isn’t interested in reducing rents, because it will eat into their revenue, and thus this proposal of pegging wages to productivity. Then, you might say, maybe the government wants more revenue so that it can spend more on the people. I don’t buy this because first, if so, why would the government do this pegging and causes wages to continue to remain low? Second, if indeed the increased revenue is for the people, where is it? It’s not coming back, and at the same time, people are taking less out of their CPF. So clearly, the government is in this to increase the revenue and profits, but for who?

Bringing In More Workers to Resolve Low Productivity Growth

But back to the problem – and so because the government isn’t able to raise productivity, because of their refusal to reduce rent, the other solution for their equation is thus to increase the number of workers, to increase economic output and grow the economy. And that’s why there’s the Singapore Population White Paper 2013. As said, the whole problem arises because of the government’s rent-seeking behaviour and their underlying profit-making objectives.

Which means by the government’s economic activities, by their size of it and by the way they could monopolise it, it has created competition against the very companies that the government wants to grow and attract into Singapore. Now, this is very dangerous. If the government doesn’t have the interests of the people at heart, they can continue to have a workforce here because it’s not like people are so mobile that they can all decide to leave. But if the government becomes disinterested in taking care of businesses, whilst protecting their own business interests, businesses will feel marginalised and will leave. And it’s easier for businesses to leave, at least for the big ones, because there are many other financial and economic centres in the world.

This is not forgetting the other softer aspects of our society, which also creates impediments for businesses. Right now, it’s really mainly our legal and regulatory framework that’s keeping businesses here. If you look at our workers, at least for the lower paid workers, they feel that they are not paid an adequate renumeration for their job. This reduces their motivation and interest in innovating or in being productive. There is many research to support this. Also, for the middle income earners, they feel that they are also unequally treated because of the high income inequality. This also has adverse effects on their willingness to work productively. I’ve also mentioned because that our workforce aren’t the most innovative because our education system has created a workforce which as many has observed, is good at maintenance work, but not innovation. So you can see, our Singaporean workforce feels highly disempowered and unmotivated. Why then are businesses still willing to come? This is also why the government has such an open door policy towards having foreigners come to Singapore to work.

Increasing the number of foreign workers into Singapore is the government’s solutions to first, increasing our economic growth, and second, to compensate for a workforce which which is unmotivated and less innovative. But as said before, this is a very lazy way to resolve the problem, as as the Worker’s Party had said, a “half-hearted” attempt.

But you need to understand, it’s not because the government is unwilling to take time to seriously resolve the issue. They simply do not want to because this means that they need to reduce rent, and thus essentially means that they will earn less profits.

Positive Effects of Reducing Rental for Businesses

If you ask me, what the government is trying to do is that they are trying to milk rental as long as they can, and in fact, milk their other sources of income (from the people as well) for as long as they can. They want to do this so that they can accumulate as much wealth as they can, before they embark on their next step, which they know would be to have to restructure the economy, and then to to reduce rents. Perhaps the government intends to continue with their current course for another 3 years or maybe 5 or 8, or 20, but it looks like they’ve miscalculated the balance and thus they would need to revisit when they want to transit into the next stage of our economic development now, rather than later.

As explained, once the government reduces rental, this will give businesses some breathing space, which will allow them to decide if they want to invest in technology to enhance productivity. Also, as mentioned at the start of this article, the government should regulate as minimally as possible, so that businesses will not feel stifled by the regulations. So, the problem of low wages can theoretically be resolved without having to implement a minimum wage, if the government reduces rental for businesses. This will then free up some money, which the businesses might then use to increase the wages of workers, so that they will be more motivated to innovate as well, and to increase productivity. So, the effect of reducing rental, as one of the key pillars of restructuring our economy, can have very positive outcomes. It can create a more dynamic economy an workforce and will definitely be more sustainable than simply increasing the number of workers, who will feel stifled and uninspired to work in a crowded and lowly-paid environment.

Like I’ve discussed many times, can this be done? Can the government reduce rental? Can the government restructure the economy? Well, they can. It’s a question of whether they want to, whether their vested interests will allow them to, and whether they will be committed to do so, and not simply pay lip service to it.

Now, with the current decisions that the government is making, it will bring Singapore towards an undesirable direction. Already, companies are feeling the squeeze and the only thing that is really keeping them here is because Singapore is still the 4th largest financial centre in the world, so they can continue to interact with the other major businesses which are here. Also, our sound legal and regulatory environment is also what is keeping them here. Right now, our government is making use of our natural central location and institutionalised systems to keep businesses here. But there’s really nothing else to keep them here, because they can always move to the other top financial centres, say South Korea or the cities of Canada. And if they continue to want to stay in the region, they can also consider moving to Kuala Lumpur, which is moving up as a financial centre quickly.

*****

Back to the White Paper: Why Did the Government Release it?

Which is why it’s very worrying that the government doesn’t want to change its course. Do you know why the government had wanted to release the Population White Paper? They know that businesses are unhappy, and so, if they show businesses that there are plans to increase the number of workers, they can buy more time to continue to charge businesses high rental, for another 10, 20 years. This is why they had released the white paper. The government knows that it can push the endorsement of the paper through easily in parliament, and pacify companies. The government is willing to sacrifice the people, at the expense of companies, so that they can continue to grow their wealth.

What Does the White Paper Have to Do With Aim-AHTC and the By-Election?

What they didn’t count on was the people’s displeasure and uprising. It was a series of poor miscalculations. In early January, the government knew that they had to call for a by-election soon, because they needed to. They had already planned to release the white paper anyway, and then to release Budget 2013 anyway. This means that for the whole of February, they wouldn’t be able to hold a by-election. They most probably have other announcements for March and April, possibly on the Our National Conversation, which they are now conducting. What this means is that they have no other suitable time of holding a by-election, except at end of January.

But the two things that they didn’t count on was first, they called for a by-election right after the Aim-AHTC episode, where the distrust that Singaporeans have towards PAP was going down. Second, they didn’t realise that the anger that Singaporeans have towards their mismanagement of Singapore was so great that it would have such a negative effect on their losing the by-election. And then again, it is very bad timing when they decide to release the white paper, right after the euphoria came with Singaporeans’ vindication at the by-election. Singaporeans got really pissed off that the government had to ruin their celebrations.

And this why PM Lee said on Chinese New Year’s eve that the government will looking into how to manage the announcement of the white paper better in future. They had calculated many things wrongly and they had timed many things wrongly. The problem that has occurred is that the government had made their plans very early on, possibly last year for the announcements of the white paper and budget. As someone had commented, they needed to announce the white paper first, to secure its endorsement, so that they can then proceed with releasing the budget based on the endorsement. But as mentioned above, the Aim-AHTC incident was not part of the plan. Also, they most probably would have wanted to call for the by-election by end-December but the Aim-AHTC incident didn’t allow them to, so they had no choice but to wait it out. Finally, they simply didn’t have a choice by early January as the Aim-AHTC dragged on and because of their refusal to come clean, it looked like there was going to be no end to it, and which is why they had to announce that a review of the town councils would be down, to diffuse the situation, so that they could then immediately call for the by-election. So, it’s really a matter of timing. Their had compressed everything together, because of unexpected circumstances and because they had miscalculated. They simply pushed themselves into a corner and had no choice but to announce the review of the town councils, the by-election and the release of the white paper back-to-back. Most importantly, they had been very rigid. And the reason why they are rigid is because PAP has taken it for granted that they can determine the pace of things, but no longer.

Also, to be clear that even as PM Lee said that they would look into how to manage the announcement better, this isn’t the real problem. If they sincerely believes this is the problem, this shows that they continue to be deluded. The inherent problem is their profit-making fundamentals which has prevented them from finding the real solutions.

The other thing that worked against their favour is this – because they want to control mainstream media so much and because they want to sway public opinion so much, they became the victims of their own perpetration. They were deceived by their own media and the stories that they’ve created of themselves, and they sincerely believed that people weren’t as angry as they actually were, and they sincerely believed that they were going to win the by-election.

So, together with rigid planning, severely bad timing and miscalculations of on-ground sentiments, driven by their control and self-deception of mainstream media, the situation spiralled out of control, and out of their hands, back into the hands of the people. Yay!

What’s the Solution?

Actually, this whole episode which began all the way from late last year shows that PAP needs to open up. They need to, because it’s for their own good as well. As much as they want political survival, the situation that they’ve created is also what has messed up for them. They simply do not know how to handle their control anymore. So, they need to open up so that they can have a more accurate understanding of Singaporeans, and be able to read them properly, and anticipate their reactions better. This will then mean that they would be better able to predict responses to the release of white papers, and also gain more support, if need be.

The current problems are self-inflicted and can be resolved, all if PAP is willing to be truly honest, non-corrupt and open. A quick note that as much as PAP believes that it’s non-corrupt, the very structures that they’ve created and tie themselves to means that they are inadvertently allowing their own people to benefit, and whether this is intended or not, has created unfair practices.

Finally, back to the issue of their rent-seeking behaviour, PAP simply has to reduce their want for wealth generation and to remember the basic principles of governance – to first protect the people and take care of their welfare. Once they remember that, they will know to do the right thing.

But if they don’t, well, there’s the next general election. And we will then do the right thing for them.

Singapore Population White Paper 2013: Exposing the Flaws of Policy Making

It is highly worrying how our politicians understand the concerns of Singaporeans, and how they are interpreting them. Being able to interpret the problems accurately is key to resolving the issues faced by the people, or if the resolution is not the right one, the problems will continue to spiral and the rifts that were created will continue to deepen.

Such is the case as how the government has handled the issue of the migrant workforce, which has resulted in the the huge disparity in understandings between the government and the people, and how it has also caused more dissent among the people and growing discriminatory attitudes among Singaporeans and the foreigners.

This is worrying because a strong social fabric and cohesion is also one of the key pillars of our infrastructure which enables Singapore to continue to attract foreign investment, and this needs to be managed well, which is why it is of high importance that the representatives in government need to have an acute understanding of how people feel, what the underlying emotions and beliefs are, and how best to manage them.

The current debate that we have on what the Singaporean core is, and how we view ourselves vis-a-vis foreigners, is one which has deeper roots. But where do these roots begin?

To identify the root of the problem, we would need to conduct a thorough analysis of the decision-making of the politicians, as well as their principles of governance, but for the purpose of this article, we will use the starting point of 2005 as the year in which our current problems started.

Root Problem 1: Overly-Loose Policy for Foreign Inflow

In 2005, the government swung the floodgates opened to allow an influx of migrants into Singapore. Due to the economic downturns of the late 1990s and the uncertainties of economic growth brought about by 911 in America, the government would have decided that the best way to grow the economy, was to increase the workforce. There were only two ways to increase the workforce and since the fertility rate among Singaporeans was low, and it would take at least another 20 years for fertility policies to come into effect, the decision was to increase the number of foreign workers to immediately. Some would say that the government’s want to increase the workforce to boost the economy was due to the losses that Temasek Holdings had made in bad investments and that is why the government is now trying to recover its loss.

The inherent flaw of this policy of increasing the rate of foreigners coming in, is only coming to light now, as we are discussing the optimal population of Singapore. It seems apparent now that in the 2000s, the government had at least two options to move our economy along – to either restructure the economy so that we could invite higher-skilled labour and industries into Singapore, or that we could continue to increase the population and drive the economy with low-skilled labour. I would suggest that the government had adopted both trajectories. For example, the government started to branch out into the biomedical science, educational and clean technology industries. However, whether it’s a mixture of bad policies, management or poor hindsight it seems that one of the trajectories has become more entrenched than the other.

To be fair, the government’s aim of growing the biomedical sector has seen some success. According to Contact Singapore, “Today, eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical and all of the top 10 medical technology companies have their regional HQs in Singapore.” Yet, at the same time, we have also heard of top researchers who have been invited into Singapore who have also decided to leave, citing reasons as to how they didn’t have free rein to decide the research projects that they want to do, as the government decides what is financially viable, and not what is scientifically challenging. We are also hearing some success in the education sector, where some educational institutions have set up in Singapore, because of the financial investments that EDB had pumped in the bring them into Singapore, but where some of them have also decided to leave. The University of New South Wales (UNSW) decided to close its campus in Singapore because, “it was facing a financial shortfall of $15 million a year due to lower-than-anticipated student enrolment numbers.” The New York University Tisch Asia’s Singapore campus had also announced early this year that it will close its Singapore campus because of “financial challenges in its Singapore operations.” We haven’t seen clear headway in the area of clean technology yet.

Yet, the government would have recognised that it would take time for the economy to restructure, and so while they wait for that trajectory of high-skilled industries to become a dominant force to drive the Singapore economy, it would seem that in the mid-2000s, that they had decided to further expand the workforce so as to also fuel the engine for the trajectory of low-skilled labour, to feed into the service industry. The underlying assumption that the government had would be that it would save costs on simply hiring more people for the service industry, instead of restructure this industry to increase the skills of the workers, and upscale this industry. Because they did not believe that there was a need to reinvent the workings of this industry, the development of this industry languished, where the hiring of cheap labour has resulted in chronic depression of the wages of these ‘low-skilled’ workers. This had a spill-over effect, which also resulted in the wages of Singaporeans in these industries to be depressed as well. While we pay the wages of these ‘low-skilled’ foreign workers, pegged to the cost of living of that between Singapore and their home countries, the wages of Singaporeans were also inadvertently pegged to the cost of living of the home countries of the foreigners, which means Singaporeans were thus not accorded a wage that is commensurate to their cost of living in Singapore.

And herein lies the first problem – because of the government’s lack of investment to grow the service industry, the businesses in this sector got used to hiring cheap labour as the way to increase their profit margin that they have learnt not to find new ways of improving themselves. There simply wasn’t impetus to do so, since the government didn’t believe in investing in this sector and felt that the way to go was by means of cheap labour. The efforts to restructure the Singapore economy was thus thwarted by the government’s dual growth strategy, which compromised the development of Singapore into the next stage of our economy. We thus became stuck in an economy, hinged by low-skilled workers at the bottom, whilst the efforts to restructure the economy with new high-skilled industries haven’t taken roots.

On top of that, to grow the wealth of the economy, the government also created a third trajectory, aimed at attracting individuals with high net worth, so that they could also increase the overall wealth and income of the country. However, add to the low wages paid to the ‘low-skilled’ workers, the problem of increasing income inequality thus further entrenched itself by the pace of which this third trajectory took. By the early 2010s, our efforts to restructure the economy had thus gone to nought as productivity continued to be very low, driven by large part because of an economy and businesses which didn’t have the impetus to invest in new technology, except to increase the number of relatively lowly-paid workers.

The problem was that we were hiring a third of the population on wage scales that were also pegged to the cost of living of the workers’ home countries, such that even as the cost of living for Singaporeans rose, wages increased not alongside the cost of living in Singapore but alongside the cost of living in China, India, Philippines, Malaysia and so forth. Yet, at the same time, the government continues to peg housing prices, COE premium and other increases in cost to Singapore’s cost of living when a group of Singaporeans, especially those in the low wage group, found it more and more difficult to afford a cost of living by Singapore’s standards with wages which grew by the standards of the other less wealthy countries. When we talk about a sandwich class in Singapore, it was a new sandwich class not trapped between the poor and the rich in Singapore alone, but trapped between the wealth disparity of the different countries.

What has become a problem was that the government’s policies of paying foreigners a lower-wage has created an unequal situation, which also marginalised Singaporeans down the road.

By 2011, the government realised that Singaporeans were very unhappy with their disparity between their wage growth and the cost of living. However, instead of realising that the problem was due to an unequal wage structure, everyone’s attention was diverted onto the stream of foreigners coming into Singapore. The main reason why it was so easy for foreigners to come in was because of an overly-relaxed policy by the Singapore government who believed that the service industry needs to continue to be low-skilled and thus to compensate for the lack of growth in skills, this has to be matched by an increase in manpower. The government thus allowed businesses to treat foreigners on an unequal level, because the policies that they had enacted allowed businesses to do so as well. The very treatment of workers at unequal levels was what drive the wage disparity and resulted in Singaporeans’ happiness.

Root Problem 2: Curbing Inflow of Foreign Workers Instead of Adjusting Costs and Wages

However, instead of realising that the problem was on unequal treatment, the government decided that the number of foreigners coming in was the problem. But it wasn’t – foreigners coming into Singapore, in itself, is not a problem. What the problem was, was with foreigners who were coming but paid low wages. Given a demand-supply dynamics, when businesses are able to pay foreigners low wages, their demand for workers will increase, and with an overly-loose policy, it was easy to bring in more and more foreigners.

And what did the government decide to do? Last year, the government decided to reduce the number of foreigners coming into Singapore. However, foreigners were still being paid low wages. The government had also refused to institute a minimum wage policy or encourage companies to increase the base wages of workers. The government went further by saying that wage increase should be pegged to an increase in productivity, knowing that productivity was unlikely to increase in the near term, because of their lack of investment in productivity growth, especially in the service industry, where they had doomed to be low-skilled.

It didn’t make sense to restrict the flow of foreigners when there wasn’t a boost in investment for technology, so as to improve productivity, and increase in wages, to match the reduced workforce. First, businesses did not have the impetus to improve productivity, due in part to high costs, such as rent and transportation put in place by the government. Second, there wasn’t an impetus to improve productivity on the worker’s part, because they weren’t compensated on a fair basis. Thus the government’s policy of restricting the flow of workers’ failed because of a confluence of these factors.

What would have been an effective policy? The government should have adjusted wages to ensure that workers are paid fair wages on a fair wage structure. At the same time, as wages take time to come into parity, the government should also ensure that locals are paid a minimum wage which allows them to afford the cost of living in Singapore, and not have to live a wage pegged to the cost of living of another less wealthy country. At the same time, the government should ramp up on investments to improve productivity. There wouldn’t be a need to artificially curb the inflow of foreigners, if the government had increased wages and improved productivity, because demand-supply economics will ensure that downstream, businesses will hire less workers and reduce our reliance on cheap foreign labour. At the same time, the increased productivity from technological investment and a more motivated workforce would compensate for the reduction in manpower.

Question is, why did the government curb the number of workers instead of implementing the solutions above? The government has always been a believer of leaving businesses decisions to market forces, and yet they had imposed an artificial solution. In the first place, the government was the one who had allowed market forces to run free and rampaged the Singapore economy with low-skilled workers. The solution shouldn’t to be then regulate the flow but regulate the dynamics that cause the flow – wages and productivity.

So, why did the government decide to (over-)regulate and curbed the flow? Two things come to mind – first, the government had just emerged from their worst election results since Singapore’s independence in 1965, and this was a knee-jerk reaction to pacify the people. For a government which claims that it doesn’t pander to populist policies, it has indeed not mastered the art of responding to the demands of the masses, and has instead over-reacted to the situation. The other thing that comes into mind is this – is our government so profit-oriented and so money-minded that it stridently insists on not increasing the wages of workers, so that they can continue to profit? One reason why they couldn’t simply ask businesses to raise wages was also because of the other costs that they have strapped businesses with – high rents, transportation costs etc, so much so that wage costs was the only oasis with which businesses had any flexibility in adjusting, and the government simply couldn’t touch this, because of the various reasons.

Then, if this is the case, what would be the most obvious solution? The government could give corporate tax breaks, reduce costs such as rents, to reduce the overall costs of businesses and allow businesses to have more flexibility to restructure. Yet, the government might worry that this will reduce their profit-margin, and also if businesses were to rely on these measures to be permanent, this would represent a long term loss. Already, the government has allowed businesses to run amok with the paying of workers low wages, due in part to their own policies. Were they ready to allow businesses to run amok with another round of loosening? But, yet, all these troubles came about because of an uneven wage policy fuelled by discriminatory policies and a profit-oriented government bent on increasing the costs of businesses. The government has a responsibility to undo its own mistakes and missteps.

Thus instead of curbing the flow of foreigners, the government should work to reduce their want to profit by reducing costs for businesses, so that businesses could be freed up to have the ability increase workers’ wages and invest in technology to improve productivity. This will be the first steps towards re-restructuring our economy.

Root Problem 3: Continuing on the Path of No Return

If we understand the above correctly, what the government should have done this year was to release a white paper to propose to restructure our industries, the job market as well as conduct a wage restructuring exercise. But instead, the government had decided to release a white paper aimed at increasing the number of workers. As mentioned, increasing the worker population is a myopic and short term solution, which will only further entrench the problem and will not resolve the long term problem at hand, and this is what the government has decided to do, which is both perplexing and dangerous.

It is apparent at this point that if we do not manage the current issue properly, this will cause further tensions and tears in our economy and society. The missteps of the policies of the past decade has exposed the urgent need for the government to refocus itself on restructuring the economy, because our current mode of working is unsustainable and has already upset the balance between an optimal population and economic growth, spurred by low-skilled labour.

You can already see that there are now new problems that are being created. In parliament and all over Singapore, everyone had started discussing about what the Singaporean core is and how we need to protect it. Some people proposed that being Singaporean means to serve National Service and one MP suggested levying a National Defence Duty. None of these discussions go to the root of the problem. The main reason why we are discussing about the idea of a Singaporean core is because we feel threatened by over-population, and thus we are trying to latch onto new ideas of framing the issue of over-population, by thinking that if are able to define a Singaporean core, we would then be able to propose that because of the need to protect this core, we need to reduce the number of foreigners coming in. But this discussion is not meaningful nor useful because the current problem is a demand-supply problem which needs to be resolved by reducing the costs of businesses to free up space and money for wage and productivity growth. This essentially means policy-making which does not over-regulate but also ensure equal treatment of the people.

The positive side-effect of this discussion was that it has finally allowed Singaporeans to think about the Singaporean identity, which has been long overdue and postponed, but to tie it to the issue of policy towards foreign workers is misplaced and dangerous, because of how it can stroke unnecessary tensions and discriminatory sentiments.

Conclusion

It is obvious what this government needs to do to set things right. This government needs to admit the flaws in their policy making and embark on a new direction of consulting with the people – the current debate has shown that this government does not have all the solutions to an increasingly dynamic and complex global economic situation, which would require the participation and support of everyone in Singapore. This government has invested heavily in the education of its people, and through and after the debate of the white paper, the people have helped identify what the problems are that are inherent to our economic trajectory and have helped identify the many solutions that we could move towards. This government needs to change its tack and undo its own fears by consulting sincerely with the people, and working together with them to chart Singapore into new territories.

What is The Singaporean Core?

I hope to chime in a bit on the discussion on what the Singaporean core is.

The History and Development of The Nation-State

If I may, I would like to first discuss the history of the nation-state and how this concept came about. Very briefly, the idea of the nation-state came about in the 18th and 19th century. Discussions about what a nation-state intensified during the French Revolution, as people started asking how they can organise themselves, if they were to not be ruled as monarchies. How could people have their power back? It further entrenched itself in the 20th century, after the two world wars, as the European countries further demarcated physical boundaries to distinct themselves. After the colonial countries regained their independence, they also started outlining their boundaries. So, Singapore became a nation-state in the 1965, and for the first time ever, had a formalised boundary, when in the past, we were a city, a town, part of a region etc, but anything but a country. We saw out fates intertwined in history, first with the Malay peninsula and Indonesia region in the times of Malay rule, and then as part of Malacca and Pahang, under the Straits Settlements, during the British colonial rule, and then as part of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965. If this has taught us anything, it’s that the idea of a nation-state is a very new concept and one which Singapore is still trying to grasp with.

You see, for the European countries, it was easy for them to demarcate themselves. Even before the idea of nation-states appeared, Europe was already organised according to language and cultural subgroups, so it was easy to say, the French-speaking people would from then on, be known as the French people in France, and so let’s map out and outline their physical boundaries according to where they already are, and so forth. So, it was not a case of boundaries which were randomly draw because the people felt like it. They divided the land according to the cultural subgroups that had existed on the land. And this is why, some theorists of the nation-state describe the nation-state as a group of people with shared history, shared cultures and shared language. For the Europeans, the subgroups were homogenous, generally speaking, and it was possible to outline that each homogenous group will become one country. Of course, I generalise but on the whole, it was a lot easier to divide Europe into nation-states. In a way, the same would apply to China because of the existing homogenous population there. Though, again, there are localised histories which are debatable, such as that with Tibet, Mongolia and Taiwan.

For the new nation-states which came about in the mid-20th centuries, many of them became nation states after they regained their independence from the European colonists. And how were their borders decided? Their borders were decided according to which European country had colonised them, and their borders were demarcated accordingly. So, if you look at Africa, their borders aren’t even representative of the cultural distinctions of the people of the land. In fact, the borders divided similar cultures into separate countries and merge different cultures into one country. So, these countries which formed weren’t representative of the cultures of the land. And this is partly the reason why there are still civil conflicts in these countries, where the different cultures haven’t learnt to co-exist with one another, though the lack of strong and non-corrupt government is also key to why they continue to languish politically and economically.

Singapore’s Development Into A Country

For Singapore’s case, it’s clear that Singapore, on its own, never had a strong cultural identity by itself until recent times. In fact, Singapore never existed by itself until 1965. Our identity was part of a shared identity of the Malay region before 1819, before Raffles ‘founded’ Singapore. Thereafter, we became a port of call, where waves after waves of people came to Singapore, mainly from the Malay region, China and India to work on our lands. And here was the very first beginnings of what we know of today in Singapore. But did the people see themselves as part of a country? I didn’t live during those times so I wouldn’t know. But in large part, the different cultural groups in Singapore continue to affiliate themselves with cultural groups back in their home townships. So, you see, our cultural identity wasn’t even formed yet, perhaps up until the 1940s, 50s or even 60s.

In fact, if Singapore was never colonised by the British, or if Europe didn’t become a world power, there might not even be nation-states or countries and we will continue to form ourselves along cultural affiliations without fixed demarcated boundaries and where we we would still be fighting over who gets to stay in which plot of land. So, one good thing about formalised boundaries was that it meant that we had to stay put within our boundaries and are not allowed to encroach into each one another’s land, in principle, of course, because even after boundaries were somewhat established, wars were still fought, such as the two world wars and the subsequent ones in other parts of the world, and in recent times, by America.

What Is The Singaporean Culture or Identity?

So, the question is this – what is the Singaporean identity? What is the Singaporean culture? When did it begin? Unlike Europe, our country wasn’t formed along a homogenous culture. What we did was to do it the other way round, to try to create a homogenous identity to fit into this one land which became a country. And that’s why the founding leaders decided to come out with ideas such as the same language, for example. And because you couldn’t really homogenise the different cultures, you entrench the existence of the different cultures and officiate them, and so the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others. And then, you try your best to keep this ‘racial mix’. I don’t agree completely with this, because this is artifical in itself, as whatever racial mix we had then was simply a by-product of what happened in history and who was left in Singapore at 1965, more than because this ‘racial-mix’ is natural. However, that’s how the history of Singapore had developed, or at least, that’s how the founding leaders had chosen to define Singapore and Singaporeans.

But yet, almost 50 years later, we are still debating over what the Singaporeans culture or identity is, and essentially what the Singaporean core is. I’m not sure if this is the right question to ask. As I’ve tried to explain, up until now, we are still not any wiser about what the Singaporean culture is. We fight tooth and nail over a Singaporean culture we try so hard to embellish and protect, without knowing what we are really protecting.

If I may go on and explain, what you and I are trying to protect is not the Singaporean culture. We are simply to trying to protect ourselves. We feel marginalised and disadvantaged, and we are starting to feel unimportant and we are scared. Now, when people are scared, they will find ways to band together, so that with a larger pool of people, they hope that with a louder voice, they can then use that to challenge whoever they feel is oppressing them. So, which is why Singaporeans are wanting to band themselves together over a Singaporean identity, as much as we are unsure as to what it is. And so, right now, we are starting to try to define it, once again. Ten years ago, we had said that being Singaporean is to speak Singlish and be kiasu. And now, we are starting to say that to be a Singaporean, you need to have served National Service (NS). But how are we defining this ‘Singaporean identity’. Ten years ago, we plucked it out of nowhere, based on the so-called ‘ugly’ traits, which were the most obvious traits we could identify among Singaporeans, simply because there didn’t seem to be ‘good’ traits which seemed as obvious. Now, we define our identity, in opposition to those who, well, are not Singaporeans. So, if I had to go through the pain of two years in NS, then you better jolly well also go through two years of your life with the same pain, and waste your time like I did. I’m not sure if we really know and believe that this – going through NS – is our Singaporean identity. We simply feel injustice done upon us, and we want others to go through the same injustice.

What The Real Problem Is: Bad Government Planning and Policies

You see, the problem isn’t about what the Singaporean core is. What the problem is, is this – the government had very badly managed the population of Singapore, so much so that right now, Singapore faced a problem of over-population, because of infrastructure which hasn’t matched up to the pace of population growth. To put it in another way, imagine if we only have natural growth by Singaporeans and this continues unabated, by 2100, there might be 8 million people in Singapore. When, that happens and Singapore gets too crowded, can we blame the foreigners when Singaporeans would obviously form the bulk of the population? So, the current problem that Singapore faces isn’t one about Singaporeans vs foreigners, but really, it’s about over-population, and bad planning.

The other big problem is this – Singaporeans know that they are not treated properly and fairly, and in fact, they feel that the government is treating foreigners better than Singaporeans and so they feel that injustice is done to them, and they are asking – why are foreigners being treated better, when you should be treating us better? And they are right, because fundamentally, why should anyone be treated unequally and unfairly? No one should be treated in unequal ways. It’s a basic human right. Now, before I go on, I would like to remind you that the problem doesn’t lie with the presence of foreigners. The problem lies with a government which wants to treat the foreigners better because the government has set up a policy that ensures that if you are rich and give the government more money, they will treat you well. And so, because of the government’s policies, they want to treat foreigners better.

Our Government is Highly Irresponsible to Singaporeans

Now, I find it highly irresponsible and if I may, disgusting and shameful that this government chooses to pretend that it cares about the “Singaporean core” and chooses to thump their chests and announce how much they are on Singaporeans’ side, when they know next to nothing about what the Singaporean core is, and they do not care what Singaporeans feel, because most Singaporeans aren’t as rich as the foreigners. Now, it’s highly disgusting that they are speaking up in parliament about the Singaporean core and ‘wanting’ to protect it, and Singaporeans have also adopted this ideology of a “Singaporean core” and have started discussing it, when actually, you know, all of us have been had. We have all bought into their little propaganda idea of the “Singaporean core” and we are now debating fiercely over what it is and trying to protect what we essentially do not understand, at least not right now or in the next 5 years. Look, to develop a Singaporean identity, it takes more than talking about it or plucking ideals out from random observations, and then trying to align ourselves to them.

Singapore Could Have Developed A Singaporean Identity

If you ask me, after the Japanese occupation, there might actually have been a Singaporean identity – one where the people on this island suffered under the hands of the perpetrators and together, overcame the hardship and became a stronger and more resilient people. And when PAP came into power, they erased all that. It’s highly, highly irresponsible of PAP to do that. Because they wanted a silo focus on economic growth, they veered the people into thinking that money is everything. Now, we don’t have a clear culture nor identity at this point, simply because we had over-focused on economic thinking, that we sacrificed the ability to think in terms of one another. Not only that, the government had erased and repressed the shared history that our people went through during the 1940s and deny us the opportunity to further develop our shared allegiance to one another then.

Look, we cannot talk about a common identity because this government has put in place impediments which prevent us from doing so. To truly understand what this identity is, we have to recreate it, but the government cannot be the one doing it, by saying let’s have 4 races, or let’s all use English as the common language. The 4 races ideology was done for political supremacy for the government and the common language was instituted for economic purposes. Those aren’t about our culture. If we want to know what our culture is, right now, we are on the verge of another discovery. Right now, at the repression and unjust treatment by this government, the people will start to realise who they really are.

Our Government is Highly Irresponsible to Foreigners

On the other hand, I find it highly disgusting that the government has brought in foreigners because they want their wealth, but when Singaporeans got angry, the government hid themselves and allowed the foreigners to face the full force of this anger. Now, if you want to bring people under your wing, then you have certain responsibility to take care of them. You don’t hang them dry. Already, this government is hanging the Singaporeans out to dry. Now, they are hanging the foreigners out too, so essentially, they are hanging everyone in Singapore out to dry. Why does the government do that? Well, this government is selfish. Their two twin focus is to ensure wealth generation for themselves and that they can maintain their power. By allowing Singaporeans to get angry at the foreigners and have the foreigners against Singaporeans, you prevent any of them from realising that the government is the problem, so while they continue to say nasty things about each other, the government can kick back, sit back and relax while money continues to flow in. This is highly disgusting. I do not know how to frame it otherwise.

Look, is it healthy that we get Singaporeans so angry that they call foreigners names, so much so that foreigners are getting angry back and calling Singaporeans names? This is never going to end! And so, when foreigners go on their Facebook and their say angry things about Singaporeans, do I blame them? I don’t, because they’ve been subjected to so much verbal abuse by Singaporeans that they have to let it out somewhere. Do I blame them when they go back to their own countries for holidays and lament about why Singaporeans are there? I don’t, because when you are working in Singapore and you face do much nasty remarks day in, day out, the last thing you want is to go back to your country and see another Singaporean, whom you feel have been treating you so unfairly! Why are Singaporeans going on their Facebook to make remarks about the other races? It’s the same problem – everyone feels marginalised and unfairly treated, so something gives.

The Government Needs to Admit to Their Responsibility

Am I sympathetic to the foreigners? No. What I’m saying is this. We are all focusing on the wrong thing. Look, Singaporeans and foreigners all feel unjustly treated in Singapore. And we’ve learnt to get angry at each other. I ask again, what is the fundamental problem? The fundamental problem is that this government has enacted bad policies which has thus created over-population in Singapore, and which has thus angered everyone staying on this island. Not only that, because the government has differential treatment towards people here, when people feel disadvantaged, they start taking it out on the next person. It’s basic human rights and dignity. When you don’t feel fairly treated, you react. And it’s highly irresponsible for this government not to admit that they have mismanaged their policies and it’s highly irresponsible for them not to admit that there’s over-population. What’s even more unforgivable is that not only are they not admitting to their mistakes and missteps, they are rampaging on and continuing to increase the population, and causing further over-population and inequality.

What Is The Solution?

The solution to everything that I’ve mentioned in this article is, first, to enact policies which slow down or limit the flow of people coming in, as the Worker’s Party had suggested. The key issue isn’t about whether the people here are Singaporean or not. The key issue is how many people we are letting in. So first, we need to slow down the flow of people into the country, simply because we have to manage the problem of over-population. The government has to acknowledge that the problem is about over-population and not pretend to come up with some fluffy concept about how we they still want to retain the Singaporean core, so if we can do that, please let us bring more people in. By 2040, Singaporeans won’t be the majority, then what excuse will they give to bring people in? Again, this government is highly irresponsible for not wanting to tackle for the real problem is – overpopulation, and by wanting to further entrench the problem by creating other problems around it.

Second, the government has to ensure that its policies treat everyone in Singapore equally, so that no one is treated better, or no one worse. Once you have unequal treatment, there will be people who will feel disadvantaged, they will get angry, they will find fault with another person and there will be rifts. And this problem will trickle down to other segments of society. So, the solution is to enact policies which do not marginalise certain groups of people, at the expense of another. This brings into question, once again, of the government’s governing principles. This government wants to make money and so as long as they want to do that, they will bring in people who are rich who they will continue to treat better, they will bring people in who will work in the blue-collar industries, which they will treat badly in by paying low wages, and this in turn, will create a pool of Singaporeans whose wages are depressed and who will be treated badly in, where income inequalities increase, where inflation rises and every other Singaporean will feel the pinch. The problem with Singapore has become chronic because of a government whose governing principles are aligned to wealth generation for themselves, and which is unjust and dividing. A responsible government will ensure everyone benefits from the wealth generation, not just themselves.

Finally, if the government wants to bring people into Singapore at large numbers, it will indefinitely have impact on the social makeup and ongoings. If the government wants to bring more people in, they have to invest in a lot more resources to ensure that everyone they bring in are schooled in what Singapore is about. The people who come here need to know what Singapore is like, how people do things here and what they need to observe, not only on a legal basis, but socially as well. If the government is only bringing a small number of people in, perhaps this isn’t an issue because the people who come in can interact with the people who are here to learn and adapt. But if the government brings in huge masses, then they have a responsibility to ensure everyone is able to understand everyone and respect everyone. So, this means also educating Singaporeans as well. Now, as I’ve mentioned, not only has the government not invested sufficiently in this, they are happy that the people do not respect one another. When you have that, you diffuse people’s attention on the government and the government’s ineffectiveness, and that’s why the government wants this.

We Are Now On The Verge To Developing Our Singapore Identity Again

On the last note, there is something that needs to be done as well, but it’s not something that the government, by themselves can do. In adversity and hardship, people learn to find commonalities, they learn to help each other, and they learn to align themselves with one another. At this current point in Singapore’s history, this is the closest we can get to adversity, in a Singapore that has been so manicured. It’s a pity that the resilience and friendships that we’ve developed after the war has to gone to wrought, so much so that we have to start anew to redevelop our culture and the resilience of our people. Let now be a time where we can learn to understand the pain that one another is going through, and learn to understand how we are in this together, and how we need to pinpoint who the real perpetrator is and work together towards a solution that protects us all. Let us work together for the next election, where we will put ourselves forth and we will vote ourselves in. We can no longer trust others to do what is right for us. PAP isn’t right for us. PAP isn’t healthy for us. They don’t care. Now, you do. So, you have to protect yourself, and protect those around you.

Conclusion

I’m saddened by the discourse that has been ongoing for the past few years. We’ve grown more and more unhappy with foreigners. Yet, we have friends who are foreigners whom we respect and admire as well. The issue isn’t about whether a person is Singaporean or a foreigner. A person is a person. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and equally. Like I’ve said, the issue lies in bad policies which have resulted in over-population in Singapore, as well as unequal treatment. Once we are able to enact the right policies, we will be able to significantly reduce the unhappiness that people currently face, and we will be able to live together, Singaporeans and foreigners alike, working together for this land. Once we have a population that is manageable, we will have people who will be able to enjoy their livelihoods, whether they are Singaporeans are not. And we can continue to discuss what the Singaporean identity is and how we can come together around it, not to oppose others, but to develop a sense of pride and commitment to ourselves and the people we live with.

We need to learn to think expansively. We cannot be like our government and learn to put the blame on one another. Our government wants that but as people with hearts and souls, unlike our government, we need to grow beyond our unhappiness, and see the common human condition that binds us. This government is the problem. This government refuses to address the real problems and want to pass them on to the people. This government wants to make money so it doesn’t care about the people. Look, I’m sorry that there might be some people in this government who truly want to do good and serve the people but they need to realise that the core people on their team have other interests and their hands are tied as long as they continue to align themselves with their party. There are 3 million Singaporeans. But there are only 80 elected PAP politicians. For the greater good of Singapore, who should we protect? We should protect all, and if the direction that PAP is going will be the undoing of Singapore and of the 3 million people who have staked their lives here, then we need to help PAP to go, so that all of us will be protected.