By now, it should be obvious to you that what the debate over the white paper has taught us is this – Singaporeans have the answers and we have the solutions.
After all the government’s fear mongering that we need a strong government with majority control because only they have the answers and that only they know what needs to be done, by now, we should realise that:
1) First, the government does not know everything that needs to be done. In fact, for the white paper, they had relied on old solutions to fix new problems, and
2) That Singaporeans, when we are given the chance to think and to debate, we are able to coherently think through issues, think through them deeply and propose alternative solutions and ways of working.
PAP’s Inherent Flaw: Their Own Trappings
One common idea that is propagated is that this government is made up of politicians who are part of group think. But what exactly do we mean? This group of current government politicians are a by-product of the education that has favoured them, at least most of them, who have been to good schools and who have been educated with an elitist mindset that they were born to be the best achievers in life. Once they enter the PAP’s machinery, they are expected to align themselves to their topmost leadership’s beliefs. And by and large, they do because their education has also wrought them into believing that wealth generation, even if it’s at the expense of Singaporeans, is necessary and right.
But what this debate around the white paper has shown is this – actually, they don’t have the solutions, well, not all anyway, and in fact, they’ve run out of ideas. When asked to increase economic growth in Singapore, what is PAP’s solution? Increase the population. And what was their previous solution? Improve productivity. That started more seriously to do so three years ago, but they haven’t seen outcomes. But does that mean that improving productivity is not the right solution or that Singaporeans can hardly be made more productivity? No, the problem lies exactly with what the Worker’s Party has described of PAP’s efforts – “half-hearted” attempts.
Why Productivity Didn’t Work and Why They Had to Turn to Population Growth
If you want to improve productivity, you don’t just set money aside. You go speak to companies, you speak to workers, you find out which companies need to improve their productivity most, and you work your way up, helping each sector develop new ideas and innovate. So, you don’t just throw money but you work with them and collaboratively come out with new ways and new methods. Sitting on your high horse won’t do anything. And you don’t just give money. You look at how companies can be made more nimble. You reduce their rents. In fact, this is one bugbear that companies have been hoping that the government will do more about, but the government has refused to reduce their reliance on their rent-seeking behaviour and this government continues to be part of the problem. And most importantly, you speak to the workers and you listen to their needs, you reduce work hours, give them higher wages, so that from all these, you create a workforce which is motivated to be productive, businesses who have the impetus to innovate and we would by now, start to see the seeds of innovation sowed bring about higher productivity.
But the government had refused to look at the whole issue of productivity growth as one that needs to be looked from multiple angles. They thought that setting aside some money will resolve the issue without looking at the structural impediments within the business, their policies and the workforce. And thus the “half-hearted” attempt. But the government wouldn’t want to implement a full-hearted solution! That would have eaten into their profits.
And so, after 3 years of not being able to improve productivity, and not being able to understand why, being trapped in their own dogma and thinking, the government decided that they needed to think of new solutions. And so, they figured – if improving productivity doesn’t work, then we need to increase the number of people. New solutions? The government is stuck with their dual-perspectives for economic growth – we can only increase economic growth by either increasing productivity or population. And so, their new solution was to rely on, well essentially, what’s an old solution.
And this is why they’ve decided to release the white paper as a ‘Population’ paper. To them, increasing the population is the solution, and so they had decided to frame the title of their white paper as the solution. But worse still, for the white paper, not only will there be more workers, wages will still continue to be low. This is hardly a solution!
Singaporeans Start Offering Better Solutions
And then, that’s when the new solutions started coming in. And these solutions aren’t even from the government! Given that the people only had a week to really sieve through the content of the white paper, they started telling the government – it’s not the population, silly! You need to restructure the economy, you need to look at how we attract companies which are able to operate in a tighter manpower environment where they would be able to compete and use new technologies to work. You need to restructure the economy, allow for a more competitive market and attract the right industries and not those that rely on freely and cheap labour. In fact, you need to reduce rentals so that businesses will have the impetus to innovate. You need to increase the wages of your workers so that they will become part of your solution, and altogether, productivity will grow. And when productivity grows, our economy will grow, and there you have it! We won’t need to increase the population by that much and we will continue to have a strong economy.
And all these solutions came from Singaporeans. All these solutions and ideas came from Singaporeans who came together to look at the issue, look at other statistics and information, develop their own ideas and together, put together a more convincing framework of how we can understand our economy and reenvision it. Not only that, we were able to look with different lenses and look even more deeply at the issue, and realise that we cannot just look at our economic situation at the surface, but that we need to look within to look at how we need to undo some of our current practices so that it will create breathing spaces, precisely what the Worker’s Party and many Singaporeans were talking about.
Singaporeans, we are the solution! We have ideas and we know what can be done to improve our country! For a long time, the government says that only it knows what can be done and Singaporeans need to trust the government. But from this episode, not only has the government shown itself to be lost and actually quite helpless, Singaporeans took on the mantle and took on the responsibility to take care of ourselves. I am very impressed by how Singaporeans got our act together and did what we did. We should all give ourselves a pat on our backs.
PAP Continues to Want to Hold the High Ground
This is so much so that that Minister Heng Swee Keat was reported to have said today that, “economic restructuring is of “utmost priority”. Before the debate on the population white paper, “population growth” was their buzz word, but after the debate, “economic restructuring” is now the new buzz word. But isn’t this what Singaporeans started saying first? Isn’t this what was being proposed by us as the solution to mitigate population growth? And now, the government is starting to adopt our ideas. Well, it’s good that they are listening but the problem with PAP is that they do not like to admit that they are wrong and they like to think that they are the holders to new ideas and new thoughts, so even as Mr Heng or any other PAP politicians were to utter, “economic restructuring” as the solution now or in future, they would want to think and believe that they came out with the idea, when it was Singaporeans who started discussing the idea. The danger with this is that then, they will keep thinking that they know everything that is needed to govern for Singapore, and forget that they need to work with Singaporeans.
To PAP’s credit, we do have to thank them for messing up, for releasing the white paper without sufficient detail, and also releasing a paper which does not address the key concerns of Singaporeans enough, and all these right after they’d suffered one of their most embarrassing defeat at the Punggol East by-election. We have to thank PAP for messing up, so that we were given the chance to realise that even without them, we have the power, we have the knowledge, and we have what it takes to resolve problems in our own country, in our own home.
We Do Not Need Smart Leaders, We Need Leaders Who Can Listen and Think
If anything, what this should show you is that no matter who is in the government, we have the ability to create solutions for our country. If that’s the case, does it matter who is in government? It doesn’t, because what is it that you truly need? You need a government and politicians who know how to listen and who know how to put what they hear from us together and frame them into solutions.
So, it’s not about getting the smartest and best people into government. It’s about putting in thinkers and listeners, who are able to put what they hear from you together, philosophise what they hear, understand the deeper issues and with that all, create an overarching way of approaching the issue and then, check in with you again to see if the proposed solution makes sense, and if this is what you want and what is good for the country. This is the kind of leaders we need. Not just surgeons, lawyers or engineers who are able to analyse something mathematically or logically. We need not just these but anyone from all walks of life who can weave things together and who can understand the philosophies behind why things happen and understand the psychologies about how people feel and dynamically create a solution from it all. We need leaders.
Given a choice between smart people, and people who can listen, draw connections and put things together based on what they hear, what would you prefer? It’s easy to find many smart and well-educated people, but to find someone who has the humility to listen and the ability to think – “I don’t have all the answers but I’m willing to listen to everyone to create a communal solution”, I think I will take the latter anytime.
How Should You Vote at the Next Election?
At the next election, what you should be looking out for isn’t who has the masters, the PhD, who is the doctor, engineer or lawyer, but who is listening, and who knows how to listen without letting it all get into his or her head. You get people who listen, you put them in government, and when it comes to the time when we need to find solutions, they should then open up, come back to all of us and ask us about what we think, listen, go back and put everything together, then come back and ask us if what they’ve thought through is what we want. By then, chances are that the solutions would most probably be what we want, and all of us will have a stake and say in this country we call home.
How the government should work is to consult us, consult the think tanks and consult all stakeholders, such as government agencies, businesses, civil society etc – not just create a one off conversation but regular conversations, always listening and allowing people on the ground to brainstorm and discuss issues, so that ideas develop organically and there is always a constant boom of ideas among Singaporeans.
From this debate, we now know that Singaporeans are capable of doing this and being part of a Singapore where they have a stake. We know we have the knowledge and the ability to create for Singapore. Now, we need leaders who can acknowledge that and allow for that to happen. We need leaders who are willing to work with us, listen to us and have the humility to walk with us. This way, we will then learn to trust that they have our interests at heart.
Will PAP Heed the Signs of Change?
Is our current government willing to do this? There are now many people asking for the government to open up and to remove laws which impede on our freedom of speech. The only way this government can go is to give us our voices back and let us be part of the solution. If this government continues to want to protect their power to refuse to do so, this will be their downfall. There’s no two ways about it. If this government continues to disrespect the people’s rights, the people will only do what’s right for themselves at the next election and vote this government out.
From this current debate over the white paper, the people should know that they don’t need a government to do everything for them, now that they know that they can also do things for themselves, by themselves. By now, they would know that they need a government who knows how to listen and to be humble. And the people would know by 2016 to vote someone who will respect them according to these.
By now, you would know that “Parliament had passed motion” for the Singapore Population White Paper 2013.
According to Today, “Parliament today passed the amended motion to endorse the White Paper on Population with 77 ayes and 13 nays. Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan abstained from the vote.” This means that 85% of the MPs had endorsed the amended motion and 14% did not.
All the 77 PAP MPs present endorsed the amended motion while, all the “Opposition MPs (including the 2 WP NCMPs and SPP’s NCMP Ns Lina Chiam), who all voted against the motion, NMPs Faizah Jamal, Janice Koh and Laurence Lian also voted ‘no’.”
The amendment was was proposed by PAP MP Liang Eng Hwa “to do four things:
1) Place priority on resolving current strains on infrastructure, particularly in transport;
2) Plan, invest in, and implement infrastructure development ahead of demand;
3) Ensure that the benefits of population policies, such as better job opportunities and salaries, flow to Singaporeans; and
4) Carry out medium-term reviews of population policies and assumptions to take into account the changing needs of Singapore and Singaporeans, as well as changing domestic and external circumstances.”
Why Was the Motion Amendment Proposed?
I believe that internally, at the start of parliamentary debate, because PAP knew that they couldn’t salvage the white paper by then as they had already released it, they had then decided to propose the amendment, so as to frame the white paper as focusing on solving the current problems that’s facing Singaporeans at the current moment. It was only after they had released the white paper did they realise that they had to get buy in from Singaporeans on the white paper, before they could start selling it. But they had jumped the gun and had started selling it before anyone saw value of it.
And thus PAP proposed the amendment. I would argue that this amendment can stand independently of the white paper. Essentially, this amendment is akin to PAP saying that, oh shucks, we know that Singaporeans don’t believe in this white paper at all, so we need to sell them new things. They couldn’t retract the white paper and only propose the amended items, as it would look like bad planning on their side, so they decided to propose an amendment, whilst keeping the white paper as the main discussion point. Silently, what they are saying is this – we might need to actually bring the white paper back to the drawing board but we aren’t going to tell people this as its too embarrassing. Or they might push ahead anyway.
With this as the backdrop, this is why some PAP MPs started debating their points along the lines of these amended points, suggesting that the government should put the white paper on hold, to look at implementing the white paper proposals in phases, or to look at ensuring existing problems are resolved as well. So much so that online, some people began to also propagate the same ideas. Why? There are two reasons why people started associating themselves with the amended motion. First, the amended motion is about the present and the foreseeable future, so for humans who naturally gravitate towards short terms gratification, the amended motion of fixing their current problems had a lot of appeal. Second, this amended motion was actually proposed to appease the PAP supporters. PAP would have read that their supporters would somewhat believe that the white paper might not be an issue though they had certain qualms and needed to be convinced that PAP could execute the plans, and the way that PAP needs to prove it is by resolving existing issues. You can sum up to say then that the PAP supporters would generally be people who believe that PAP has the solutions and the capability to resolve Singapore’s problems, but the white paper represents one of the few times they aren’t fully convinced. PAP had smartly predicted that if PAP could suggest that if they could resolve the current issues well, that they would be able to retain the buy in of their supporters of the white paper. For now, PAP has managed to retain the support of about 25% of the Singaporean voters, yet again. They have 3 years to prove that they can continue to be capable, to gain the solid trust of this 25%.
So, actually, seen in this light, even as much as the white paper and the amended motion seems to most people a facade, it had a strategic aim of appeasing PAP’s core supporters (at least for the amended motion), and in influencing the tide of the conversation for another 20% to 30% of the population, to shift the discussion away from the 6.9 million population projection figure, to a discussion that is more manageable. For some 50% of Singaporeans, they didn’t buy it. But PAP’s strategy would have abated disaster for 50% of the population, and was actually a good PR move.
A lot of focus was given to PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech in the mainstream media. I wouldn’t go into the detail of his speech. You can read the coverage here. However, what I do want to discuss is that internally, PAP still believes that PM Lee has a positive image to sell. Somehow, they are still in the believe that when you put PM Lee up, Singaporeans can be appeased. For now, I am unable to assess the impact. At PAP’s last rally just before the Punggol East by-election, PM Lee was also the speaker who had the longest speech, at more than 30 minutes. However, his speech wasn’t convincing enough to save PAP from the 10% vote share loss. However, I wouldn’t yet attribute the loss to PM Lee, as there were other factors at play. In a survey conducted by Blackbox Research and reported on Yahoo Singapore, only 25% of respondents said that the results of the by-election was intended to be a “report card” on PAP. Also, the more important issues for voters were the cost of living and that the government not listening, which were highlighted as the two main reasons for voters to have voted away from PAP. Perhaps PAP and their PR team continues to believe that PM Lee is able to project a non-threatening and softer image, and thus he is, they hope internally, the secret weapon for PAP. However, we should be able to have a better idea in the coming weeks how Singaporeans would truly respond to PM Lee’s impassionate appeal. When I read through the speech, it felt like the same-old lip service that PAP usually plays to, but I suppose the answer would lie in, as they had managed somewhat to shift the discussion towards, their resolve and capability to fix the current problems (and not the opposition!).
Do Our MPs Represent Our Viewpoints?
In the second part of this article, I would like to discuss if the 85% of MPs who had voted to endorse the amended motion are actually representative of Singaporeans. In the by-election, PAP received only 43.71% of the votes whereas WP won with 54.52% of the votes. In the general election in 2011, PAP won an overall 60.1% of the votes in the constituencies that they had contested in. In the presidential election in that same year, the candidate aligned to PAP, Mr Tony Tan, won by a very close margin of less than 1% to win 35.2%. I will roughly surmise there is about 35% to 40% who are core supporters of PAP, by looking at their vote share. According to MARUAH, “a significant share of Singapore voters – approximately 10% – still cast their vote in fear that their ballots may be traced back to them by the authorities.” Accordingly, this would suggest that the core supporters of PAP would be about 25% to 30%, which explains the figure of 25% used above.
If this is the case, this would mean that PAP would securely only represent 25% of Singaporeans. As discussed in a previous article, WP, on average, has been able to attract a 40% vote share among Singaporeans, which would suggest that there are about 40% of Singaporeans who would align themselves on the other side of PAP. At this point, I’m going to make some assumptions. I am going to assume that as PAP governs according to economic principles which favors businesses, so the core supporters of this white paper would predominantly be business owners, since it favors businesses (as much as PAP claims it’s meant to put Singaporeans first). According to the Ministry of Manpower, about 50% of workers are self-employed. Assuming that of these, half (or 25% of the voters) are core supporters, we can make an unscientific assumption that of the rest of the 25% self-employed workers, they can be split with some who support the white paper and others who don’t – which means that we would be back to roughly a figure of 35% or 37% of voters who would support PAP no matter what.
In the context of this discussion on the Singapore Population White Paper, it is without a doubt that for one of few times in Singapore’s recent history, the majority of Singaporeans are up in arms against the white paper. Assuming thus that 35% are somewhat agreeable with it, we might be able to assume that about 65% are not agreeable. However, in Parliament today, 85% of MPs had voted in favour of the amended motion, even as only 35% of Singaporeans might be agreeable with it. If all the MPs were present today and all PAP MPs have to vote according to party lines, 81% of MPs (all 80 PAPs) would have endorse the amended motion, and 13% would have not endorsed it. The views of the rest of the 5% (all 5 other NMPs) are unknown. So, even in this scenario, the 81% who would have voted along party lines won’t represent the 65% of Singaporeans who would be against the white paper.
By now, we would know that the problem is because the seats in parliament is determined by the seats won directly at the election and is not representative of the proportionate votes of Singaporeans. If the seats were distributed according to the voting proportion of the population, PAP would have 52 seats (60%) and WP would have 35 seats (40%). Together with the NCMPs and NMPs, the non-PAP seats would be 47 seats. Even then, PAP would be able to endorse the white paper by 53% and will still not represent the 65% of Singaporeans who would be disagreeable with the white paper. But of course, the opposition would have been able to block the paper, if they would be able to garner at least a one-third representation.
So, what this inherently shows is the flaw of our governance. First, the proportionate affiliation of our MPs do not proportionately represent Singaporeans. Second, the MPs, at least for PAP MPs are required to vote along party lines, which means that even as they have been voted in to represent us, they are unable to do so, because they would have to vote along party lines. Third, and a philosophical one, if our MP was given the free will to vote, what are the considerations that our MP would use to determine how he or she would vote? Would our MP ask us to take a vote separately, so that with that, our MP will then vote in parliament accordingly? Or will the MP speak to us and find out what we think before he or she comes to a consensus. But, in PAP’s case, it’s obvious that MPs aren’t voting for residents, but are voting for their party, which then is weird, right? In a democracy, the MPs are elected to represent the people in his or her constituency. But our MPs are elected by us to represent their party (at least for PAP), which means that we are not voting for our rights, but voting to keep PAP in power.
Now, I will make a comparison. In Britain, their parliament had 3 days ago “voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.” The Coalition government in Britain is led by the Conservative Party. The Conservative MPs were given free rein to vote on the issue. 136 Conservatives opposed the bill, whereas 127 were in favour and 35 did not vote. But the bill was passed with the support of the Liberal Democrats and Labour parties. There wasn’t such a thing as voting along party lines for the Conservatives, just because they did not hold similar views towards the issue. Which was exactly the situation with the PAP MPs for the white paper – that a minority if them didn’t share similar views to the majority of PAP MPs, yet all of them had voted to endorse the amended motion.
Interestingly, the Singapore Population White Paper has actually heightened the consciousness of many Singaporeans, especially since it also focused on their livelihoods and future. At this point, Singaporeans would asking why the white paper was passed even as many of them were concerned that it didn’t adequately address issues, but as much as their MPs had said that they were on the people’s side, why then did they still pass the motion, and not forestall it if they were truly on the people’s side. As said, the endorsement was on the amended motion and not on the actual white paper, so perhaps MPs were voting along this line. Still, whether PAP will still proceed with the plans anyway is unclear.
At this point, Singaporeans would also start asking, if my MP isn’t able to be independent and isn’t able to fairly represent my rights, and if by my voting, I am not voting for an MP to represent my rights, but to vote for an MP which helps to consolidate his or her party’s power, maybe I need to decide if this is the kind of MP I want. As of now, after all the debate, not only have we not dealt with the key issues behind the white paper, we are none the wiser as to how, and whether the plans will be executed and how the plans will meet our needs. If our MP had been responsible, he or she would have forestalled or halted the endorsement of even the amended motion, so that more research could be conducted, and so that we are able to make an informed decision and to be able to voice our views to our MPs. Yet, this won’t be done.
Thus this episode has exposed the workings of our parliament, and the representation of the MPs not for our rights but for their party, and how we need to now be a lot more discerning with our votes and vote for someone who can really speak up for us and be our voice, and not a meek voice of their party. You see, voting for someone into parliament is to vote for someone who is able to speak up on our behalf and to consolidate what we think to formulate broad strategies. The white paper was a proposal compiled and researched by the people working in the civil service. Any government would be able to put it up for discussion and vote for it. So, we need to vote in MPs who are able to adequately perform their roles, without having to face barriers from within their party. PAP, to some, have enacted unnecessary barriers, which compromises on their fighting for our rights.
This means that for the next general election, we need to be quite clear about how our we vote, and to vote for representation that is able to clearly represent us.
Fundamental Issues about the White Paper
After a week of debate, the debate still doesn’t cover the depth and scope of the white paper. Much of the debate has centered around how the government believes that it’s on the side of Singaporeans and how we should continue to trust the government to do its job.
Yet, we haven’t dealt with the fundamental questions. What are the governing principles of PAP. PAP is primarily wealth-driven and also, driven by their want to stay in power. Thus their core idea is to maximize profits, which means they would enact high rents on businesses, whereby businesses will then translate these costs into depressed wages for their workers. Consequently, productivity decreases because of businesses who do not have the incentive to invest in technology or programmes to boost productivity due to low profits, and also because of workers who do not feel that they are compensated enough to work more efficiently. From such a perspective, it thus seems like there is a need to bring in more people to compensate for a workforce which isn’t motivated to be productive, just so that we can continue to increase economic output. Clearly, the fundamental problem isn’t to increase the population or to look at the population as the problem. A deeper and more urgent problem needs to be tackled, and that is to revisit the government’s rent-seeking and profit-maximizing behaviour. However, if the government is unwilling to relook their ideals of governance, which are the key impediments to the sustainability of the Singapore economy, then one would need to ask if PAP is still relevant to the governance of its country if it holds on to principles which will adversely harm Singapore.
I will leave you with some very good articles which also explore the deeper underlying issues behind the Singapore economy. Lucky Tan, of the Diary of a Singaporean Mind, had explained how the economy of Singapore had developed into the situation that it is now. He explained that, “Since the mid-90s, Singapore has evolved what is known euphemistically as an “open” economy. It is a combination of low corporate taxes, less financial sector regulation, less restrictive labor laws, less protection for workers, etc. Businesses escaping the regulated environment back in their home countries came here for the “open” environment where they can escape high taxes and tight labor regulation. In the past, businesses came primarily for our local human resource – Singapore’s number one workforce in the world. But in the last decade, we attracted business that came because they were able to hire liberally from anywhere in the world and not because they want to build their expansion on the skills of the Singaporean workforce. The existence and expansion of these businesses that hired foreign labor curtailed and stifled those that build on the strengths and training of the Singaporean workforce. Now we have an economy that grows by taking in foreign labor – one that depend on suppression of wages not on advancing the skills and wages of Singaporeans.” Please visit his blog here to read further.
Alex Au had also looked into how we should look into exploring using technology to boost productivity and to look into fair wage compensation as the inherent issues to also look at. You can read his article here.
Finally, the vice-presidents of the Economic Society of Singapore have also penned a very excellent article which debunks the logical fallacies in the thinking behind the white paper and proposes alternative ways to relook the Singapore economy and population, so that we are able to develop a more sustainable approach towards managing our economy and population. You can read the article here.
I’ve also written a series of articles to explore the principles and thinking behind our government’s planning of the Singapore Population White Paper, and to look at how we can rethink the philosophies behind understanding the governance of Singapore, as well as to understand the deeper issues of our society. You can read the articles here.
Collectively, this article and the articles in the links should allow you to have a deeper appreciation of the population and economic issues of Singapore, and to understand why we need a fundamental philosophical shift in approaching the solutions of our country, so that we can develop a more sustainable future for Singapore.
Key questions addressed in this article:
- Employment of older workers
The Today newspaper reported that during the debate on the White Paper on Population in Parliament, NTUC’s Deputy Secretary General and Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Heng Chee How, had “described (the older worker segment of the workforce) as an untapped one, and urged the tripartite partners to start working on further extending the re-employment age limit from 65 years old to 67 years old. He said that the limit of age 67 is already provided under the law, so there is no need for further legislation, but there is a need to ensure smooth implementation of the re-employment or people aged 62 to 65 and consider how best to facilitate further extension sooner rather than later.”
Today also reported that, “Mr Heng said a key part of this would be to ensure that employers in both the private and public sector value their older workers as assets, pay them fairly even as they enter re-employment and not make mechanical cuts to their pay and benefits.”
Mr Heng claimed that we should “value” our older workers as “assets” and that we should “pay them fairly”. I looked through the statistics and found out that in spite of Mr Heng using such supportive words to highlight the value of our older workers, the government’s actual treatment of our workers is hardly the case, which is appalling.
In this article, I will discuss the older workers as those aged 50 and above, because I wasn’t able to locate statistics of older workers, by further stratified age differentiation.
If you look at Chart 1, you will see that older workers are employed at a higher proportion for the following industries:
- 66% of those employed as Cleaners, Labourers and Related Workers are older workers.
- 56% of those employed as Plant and Machine Operators and Assemblers are older workers.
- 49% of those employed as Craftsmen and Related Trades Workers are older workers.
- 36% of those employed as Service and Sales Workers are older workers.
As a comparison, for all occupations, 30% of those employed are older workers. This means that older workers make a higher proportion in the following occupations:
- Cleaners, Labourers and Related Workers
- Plant and Machine Operators and Assemblers
- Craftsmen and Related Trades Workers
- Service and Sales Workers
If you want to find out how these occupations are classified, you can refer to this link.
For a clearer picture, you can look at Chart 2. In this chart, you can see that the older workers are clearly over-represented in the occupations which you would classify as ‘blue-collar’ or menial jobs.
I would like to understand from Mr Heng how the government hopes that companies will “value” our older workers as “assets” when they are employed in ‘blue-collar’ and ‘menial’ jobs? To be clear, in other countries, ‘blue-collar’ jobs are not necessarily discriminated upon. For example, construction workers in Australia can earn $3,000 or $4,000 and are considered professionals.
However, in Singapore, ‘blue-collar’ workers are looked down upon. From this perspective, how does Mr Heng believes that our older workers are actually “valued” as “assets”, when the very jobs that they do are being looked down upon and devalued?
If you look at the educational level of the older workers (Chart 3), the majority of them have secondary educational qualifications or below. This is compared to the educational level of the general population which is more spread out, and where a slightly higher proportion of them are degree holders. This might explain the concentration of ‘blue-collar’ jobs in the older workers.
Chart 3: Education Profile of Economically Active Residents by Age, June 2006
However, if you look further into the statistics, you would see that 93.1% of them work full time jobs (Chart 4).
Chart 4: Profile of Employed Residents by Age, June 2006
What is upsetting though is that the older workers are also the workers who work the longest hours. According to Chart 5, older workers work 49.5 hours every week!
Chart 5: Average (Mean) Usual Hours Worked of Employed Residents by Age, June 2006
Again, I ask of Mr Heng, is this how we “value” our older workers?
Finally, let me show you one last statistic which will put a nail in the coffin to the Mr Heng’s claim of how he believes that older workers should be “valued”.
Chart 6: Median Monthly Gross Wage by Age and Occupation, 2005
If you look at Chart 6, you will see that in all the 4 occupations that older workers make up the bulk of the workers in, these workers were paid the lowest median gross monthly wage. Not only that, there was a also drop in the median gross monthly wage in 3 of the occupations:
- Cleaners, Labourers and Related Workers
- Service and Sales Workers
- Craftsmen and Related Trades Workers
You can see that the wages of cleaners, labourers and related workers have remained at a low of less than $1,000. In fact, it dipped to $800 when they grow older. Also, service and sales workers earn less than $1,500, where there is a gradual decline as the workers grow older. For production craftsmen and related workers, as they grow older, their wages drop to $1,600.
Mr Heng said that we should pay our older workers “fairly”. Is this what Mr Heng means by “fairly”? Making our older workers work the longest hours and paying them the lowest wages?
If you see in Chart 7, you will see that among the older workers, 56% of them work in the occupations where they form the bulk of the workers. Also if you look at Chart 8, you will see that as compared to workers in all occupations, older workers are also over-represented in the occupations where they form the bulk of the workers as well:
- Cleaners, Labourers and Related Workers
- Plant and Machine Operators and Assemblers
- Craftsmen and Related Trades Workers
- Service and Sales Workers
This means that for the majority of the older workers who are cleaners, labourers and related workers, they have to survive on less than $1,000 every month. For the third largest group, of service and sales workers, and also for the craftsmen and related trades workers, they earn less than $1,500 every month. Does Mr Heng think that this is fair treatment to the older workers, that they have to work the longest hours and are paid less than $1,000 and $1,500 every month?
Will Mr Heng be willing to clean our tables if he has to earn $1,000 every month?
As Mr Zaqy Mohamed had also said that, “on the wages benchmark, we should be conscious of how real wages move in line with inflation and cost of living indices.”
Very clearly and this is something that the government has acknowledged themselves as well, the wages of the lowest wage earners have not been increasing with inflation, which means that their real wages have been dropping. According the the National Wage Council, “while workers in general have seen an increase in real incomes over the last 10 years, the income growth of low-wage workers have lagged the rest of the workforce.” According to Mr Leong Sze Hian, he “estimate(s) that the wages of cleaners and service workers have declined by about minus 33 and minus 2 per cent, respectively, in the last decade or so.” Our older workers are not paid fair wages and they are not treated fairly, having to work in menial jobs and work long hours.
According to Mr Heng, he had “urged the tripartite partners to start working on further extending the re-employment age limit from 65 years old to 67 years old,” so that we can employ more older workers to work in Singapore. Which means that he wants to free up more older people to work in the menial jobs in Singapore, so that they can be subjected unfair wage conditions and unfair treatment.
The question you have to ask is this – why are we asking our older workers to keep working? It’s an oft-repeated line by the government which they say that from what they gather, the older people want to remain active and so, they want to be able to work. In South Korea, the older people also want to remain active, and which is why, every weekend, they put on their sporting gear and they go to the hills and mountains to trek, at their own leisurely pace.
Now, you tell me, who in their right mind would so much yearn to remain active so much so that they can’t wait to work at a food court to be a cleaner, to clear the tables and to wipe after the mess that we make after we eat? Now, you tell me, who in their right mind would want to spend 49 hours every week, working longer hours than most people, having to touch other people’s saliva and spit and to handle their utensils? Would you? When our government keeps saying that our older workers want to keep active, do they mean our older workers want to spend their time, standing day in, day out in inside the toilets, cleaning up after people who do not know how to pee or shit properly, and who have to manually use their hands to clean the toilets?
Mr Heng, would you want to clean up after someone else’s shit? Mr Lee Hsien Loong, would you want to hose the shit off in the toilet every other day, because people simply do not have the basic courtesy to pee or shit properly, not helped by the stressful lives they lead? I simply cannot imagine how our government is unable to empathise with our older workers.
Look, why do the older people in Singapore have to keep working?
- First, the majority of them work in low-paying jobs, so they simply do not have enough money in their savings for retirement.
- Second, their real wages haven’t been increasing for more than a decade, which means that not only do they not have enough to use and save, over the decade, this has grown worse for them.
- Third, CPF withdrawal has been dropping since 2001, which means on top of not earning an adequate wage for subsistence living, the older people do not have enough in their CPF which they can withdraw to use as well.
- Fourth, if the older workers had bought flats and used their CPF to fund the flats, not only are they not able to keep enough money in the CPF before which they can draw out with, if they had used their CPF to purchase the flats, they actually have to pay more after interest, as compared to if they had taken a housing loan from the banks, which again mean lesser in their CPF, which they are then unable to take out – their own money!
- On top of all that, inflation has been increasing so the prices of goods and services have been increasing, but with the same money, they are able to buy less.
- This is on top of the other essential services which they have to access, such as healthcare which is even more pertinent for the older people, where the government’s expenditure on our healthcare bills have dropped whilst healthcare costs have increased. The older people have to pay more out of their pockets when they do not even have enough for their daily needs. Because they do not have enough in their CPF, they do not have enough to use in their Medisave as well.
Our older people have been structurally marginalised and discriminated by a system that the government has created and by a government which has forgotten the contributions that these older people have made to Singapore, when the people had walked with the government, to make Singapore what it is today. Our government has simply forgotten them!
Because our government has learnt to value people as workers and to pay them according to an economic value that the government has chosen to determine by, the older workers are put into jobs which treats them the least fairly in Singapore. Where is the heart, my government? Do you not remember these people who had supported you and worked with you to build Singapore when Singapore was trying to find its footing in the world?
Where is our government, if the government says that it is “always on our side”? Is the government really on our side?
But what could the solution be?
- The government has to pay low wage workers a fair wage, which is pegged to a basic standard of living that can be accorded to them.
- The government has to revisit their policies to ensure that people are able to retrieve more of their monies in the CPF, and not lock it up in the CPF for the government’s investments, and which is not returned to the people.
- The government has to increase its proportionate expenditure for healthcare bills, and to increase the interest rates earned for Medishield and Medisave, so that there are more subsidies for the older people for healthcare.
Once we are able to pay our low wage workers a fair wage, when they grow old, they wouldn’t have to be forced to work in ‘menial’ jobs. If the government is indeed sincere that we should keep our older people active, then when they are older, they older people should be able to take a walk in the parks, do volunteer work and take up hobbies and join activities that they are interested in. If they are paid fair wages, they would have enough to use at their old age while they continue to remain active. Also, if they had been paid fair wages, they would be able to continue to spend and consume, and help create growth for our economy.
Now, this is very easy to understand and something that you would do, if you want to have a fair and basic standard of living, right?
As I have said many times, the government will not do this. Why? The government’s governing principles are aligned towards profit-making maximisation. They simply will not increase the wages of low wage workers and older workers to one that will accord them a basic standard of living, because the government believes that this will eat into their profits. The government isn’t interested in having any spare Singaporean who is not working. As long as you can work, we will find a way to make you work so that you can be another statistic to help grow the economy. At the same time, the low wages that they are paying you and they low amounts that you are able to withdraw from the CPF – your money which the government has locked up – means that you are forced to continue to work, even at your old age, because the government has systematically develop a structure which ties the hands of the older workers, such that damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Look, this is simply not right. It is simply not right to not treat people right. There is no way else I can say this. PM Lee had said today that, “We are worried about population … we want to make sure elderly Singaporeans are taken care of.” PM Lee, just paying lip service won’t do. PAP, you should be ashamed of yourself! But so what right? They are earning enough money to laugh all the way to the bank. So, what is a few hundred thousand people who do not get paid fair wages and are treated unequally when we have a few hundred dollars go into our bank regularly?
Key questions addressed in this article:
- What is the Singaporean core?
- Why is the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 centred around the Year 2030? Why not 2060 or 2070?
Today is the last day of the debate in parliament over the Singapore Population White Paper 2013. To be clear, after all the fanciful arguments for and against the articles in the paper, and even after PAP politicians speak out against the paper, or parts of it, the motion being debated on will still be passed by an overwhelming majority. The problem, as anyone would have pointed out by now, is that PAP has all the power in Singapore, and they can decide anything they want for Singapore at their whims and fancies. Of course, this is our fault as well, to have allowed ourselves to be scared, to give up on our rights to vote, and to treat our vote as a game, and keep voting PAP into power. Yet, as much as we talk about how we want a want a better quality of life, how it’s not all about money, and how it’s not right for our kids to have to live in a future that we think is unimaginable, we continue to vote PAP at the ballot boxes, because we start thinking about our money and how, you know, actually, under PAP and their materialistic mindset, our money can keep growing, so let’s put out bets in that basket again, even as we know how they are at the same time, making money of us. We are willing victims to a crime which we perpetuate because we pay lip service to our own beliefs. We want a life which can accord us more joy and freedom but when it comes down to it all, we let money rule our minds, and hearts. So, don’t blame PAP when you are now in the rut that you had created. Don’t blame PAP when you were the one who kept voting them in. They are so emboldened to do what they are doing now, because you didn’t have the balls to do the right thing for yourself. So, if you have any self-respect, I hope you know to do the right thing for yourself at the next general election.
What Are The People That We Are Bringing Into Singapore?
But today’s article isn’t about this. Today, I would like you to think a bit further. As I’ve discussed before, one of the fundamental problems of the government’s planning principles of Singapore is that they look at Singapore as a city and not as a country. And as I’ve discussed, when we look at ourselves as a city, it’s about the buzz and dynamism of the city but it’s temporal in that you come into this city to soak yourself in the business of it all, and then you leave. On the other hand, when we look at a country or a nation, it evokes feeling of attachment to our shared history, culture, way of life and the relationships and ties that we would develop with one another.
So, why is it a problem when we look at Singapore primarily as a city? It is a problem because it impacts on the kind of people that you bring into Singapore, as well as the sense of place and connections that people who come have for Singapore. Essentially, is there a sense of rootedness? You see, because Singapore is a city, with the buzz and dynamism, what are the mindsets that people who decide to come have? I want to come here, live in it, be part of a city, be part of the hectic life and because I’m young, it’s something I’m willing to live with, as I build my career. But when you reach an age where you want the pace of life to slow down, the attraction of the city no longer appeals to you as much. You want a place where you are able to walk slower on the streets, where you can have long, slow chats and walks with your friends or with your dog. You want to slow down and a city life just isn’t for you anymore. Or maybe it is, but you would move to a quieter suburb while you commute to the city centre.
So, with this as a backdrop, who will Singapore attract? People who want to come for a short time to be part of a dynamic city life in this part of the world, and when it’s enough or when there are other job opportunities to advance themselves elsewhere, they will hop to another city. This is the kind of people that we are mostly attracting to Singapore.
To be very sure, this does not mean we should discount them or judge them as people. Everyone has their priorities and preferences and they decide how they want to live our lives. In fact, many Singaporeans have the same mindset of hopping to other cities and around, and perhaps not come back to Singapore. So it would be highly hypocritical of us to criticise others for wanting to do so, when we ourselves have the same want. And why so? Because of a global economy which has allowed those who can be economically mobile to do so. If you have the relevant qualifications and experience, know-how and ties, you get to move. So, this isn’t the issue.
The issue is that when there are the people that we attract into Singapore, the people who come do not have a sense of rootedness to this place. To them, it’s about enjoying the cultural spaces and contributing to the economy, so what’s with the daily lives of the people who are born and living here? Singaporeans can go on in their daily lives and perhaps they might be upset with their government, but I get to make money while I’m here, so it’s all good right? Their concerns won’t be about Singaporeans or our livelihood. Their concern won’t be about helping to shape our identity or helping to create an environment that’s conducive to the social and developmental well-being of us and our children. Of course I’m generalising here as there are foreigners who come and contribute to our society. But what I’m saying is this – the only people we can truly be relied on to want to protect the social interests and well-being of Singaporeans are those who are born here and are here for the long haul, whether they want to or they have no choice. We cannot rely on foreigners who come because their mindsets are of a looking at Singapore from a transient perspective. Again, I mean this as no judgment, mind you.
So, this is what we mean when we talk about the Singapore core. As mentioned, as a city you attract anyone here who can contribute to the economy and are economically productive, but people who do not have an allegiance to the building up of this place as a country. As a country, you need people to want to create a sense of community which you can shape your lives around. By right, our starting point should be that once we are able to shape this community, we then build up the other aspects around this developed community, so the economy, and so forth. But more and more so, it looks like we are developing the economy first before we develop the community. Which means we are weakening the social core. Whither Singapore? George Yeo, that’s what it means.
So key to this, why is it an issue? Without a developed community and social core, people do not have ties or a sense of rootedness to this place. You have no allegiance to this place or want to stay and make it better. If you can, you would want to find another place where you can still make money anyway, and if it so happens that you stay there long enough and develop a sense of attachment to it, that place becomes your home, and that place becomes the social core that you identify with. This is why it’s an issue. And already, you can hear of many young people who do not have plans to stay in Singapore and will leave once they can. You already hear of it from people who come, maybe get a citizenship from Singapore, and then leave when their time to soak in city life dissolves. What then is there to ground the people onto this land, if they do not feel a sense of connection to this place, to want to help build it?
According to Ms Sylvia Lim of the Worker’s Party, she had said yesterday at Parliament that a Singaporean core should be “made up of Singaporeans who grew up in and with Singapore.” However, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that a Singaporean core “is defined not by whether these Singaporeans are born and bred here, but by whether these are people who have made the Republic their home, where they serve and contribute to society.”
To be clear, does this need to be a Singaporean core. Look at it from another perspective, it’s about anyone who has a sense of connection to this place who develop a sense of rootedness to this place and who thus want to make a contribution to this place, and make it work for them. Does this has to be Singaporeans? It doesn’t. The idea is the general belief is that because Singaporeans are born, bred and grow up here, that they would naturally have a sense of attachment to this place and will want to contribute to it. But as we have seen, more and more so, this idea seems to become untrue.
But what is the problem? The problem is that the government primarily plans Singapore as a city, which takes the sense of rootedness that you would develop for the country, away. And so, not only do foreigners who come do not come here with an intention to stay for the long haul, gradually, Singaporeans are finding that they are also losing their sense of attachment to this place, and they are leaving, or thinking of leaving. So, in that sense, it’s not about keeping the Singaporean core. Because so what if we have a Singaporean core, if this core isn’t committed to this place?
So, even as Mr Tan countered that, a Singaporean core can be Singaporeans who “may not have grown here, but they have decided to make this place home, and serve and contribute to this society,” foreigners will not root themselves in Singapore because the very principles that the government plans itself along is along attracting foreigners who want the vibrancy of a city, who intend to stay for as long as they can increase their wealth from it, then leave to find greener pastures, and eventually a place where they can really call home.
Ultimately, what is more essential is that anyone who is here decides to stay for the long haul, and this means that the government’s planning principles cannot be solely one of looking at Singapore as a transient city stopover but one of developing the sense of attachment and commitment to this place.
Will Singapore Still Be A Country?
Then, the next question to ask is, is the government interested in that – to develop a Singaporean core, or actually, developing people’s sense of attachment and commitment to this place?
That’s when the next part of the discussion comes in. Now, why did the planning parameters for the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 end with the year 2030? In the Concept Paper 1991, the government was already planning for 2030, and in the Concept Paper 2001, the government was already planning for 2040 to 2050. And there were also plans for Year X, where plans were outlined for a longer term future. So, why did the government stop at 2030 for the Population Paper 2013? Why not plan until 2060 or 2070?
You know why? Make your own projections of our population after 2030. You see, already, by 2030, the government is projecting that Singaporeans will only make up 55% of the population. According to the Worker’s Party, if you look only at the population who is born in Singapore, it will make up less than 50% of the population. By the Worker’s Party’s estimates, Singapore would already have a marginalised Singaporean core, who is assumed to be committed to Singapore.
And what if it was 2040? You can see that in the chart below, that by the government’s projection, by 2040, the Singaporean core will have also become a minority. And by 2050, we would just make up 40% of the population.
Now, this is if all goes as plan with the projections. But as we can see from the population projections of 1991 and 2001, not only were these projections not met, they were exceeded greatly and the population projections were breached many years in advance.
So, what this means is that you can expect that by 2030, we won’t have 7 million people. We will have 8 million people. By 2050 (chart below), we might have 10 million people. So, the government says that 6.9 million is a worst case scenario. They know it themselves it isn’t even the best case scenario.
At this rate, it means that by 2030, we won’t be having 55% of the population who are Singaporeans. It would be 48%. And by 2050, Singaporeans would only make up 38% of the population.
Is this possible? I’m not surprised if it happens. Now, if you understand that the government plans for Singapore as a city and along economic principles, you would know why this would make sense. If Singaporeans form only a minority population and you get to shape the rest of the population who comes, isn’t it a joy for planning and for economic growth? You can attract young people, in their most economically productive age of between 20 to 40 years old. We won’t have a problem with the elderly population because by then, they will make up less than 10% of the population.
By then, when Singaporeans no longer feel rooted to Singapore and they leave en masse, you will see that those who are the most mobile would leave first, which means the very poor and the elderly might continue to stay here, which will continue to be the cleaners and labourers for a highly transient and young workforce. Because this transient workforce is not rooted to Singapore, they won’t care about what happens to the very poor and elderly in Singapore anyway. On the flipside, the very rich who get to benefit from Singapore will stay as well. And because they are so rich, the government will allow them to hold the Singaporean citizenship, and dual-citizenships with other countries, as is happening right now. So, the people who will leave in bulk will be the middle income earners. What this means is that by 2080, the Singaporean core will make up only 28% of the population. Of this 28%, they will be split between the very rich and very poor. The interests of the very rich will continue to be aligned to the government and be part of the government, while the very poor will continue to suck it up as they earn stagnant wages which will never grow on par with inflation, as they continue to clean our food courts and streets.
And why is this a highly desirable scenario for the government? You get to attract anyone you want to Singapore and those who are the most willing to travel are also those who are most willing to strive and help the city grow rich. At the same time, businesses will continue to come to Singapore because by then, we are an established city node for the world. Shanghai is attached to China. Hong Kong is attached to China. Seoul is attached to South Korea. Singapore has no hinterland. World, we are all yours. So, come the businesses and come the MNCs. Is it any wonder why the government is so keen in attracting MNCs, so that the brand name of Singapore is boosted by them? Is it any wonder why the government isn’t interested in growing SMCs? SMCs are a waste of time. They take time to grow and you never know if they are ever going to make it. It’s a waste of resources. You want to be an innovative startup? Go to New York. Go to Silicon Valley. Heck, even go to Iskandar for all we care. When you show some form of success, then maybe the government will start wooing you over with cash. Otherwise, don’t waste our time and space with your aspirations, when we can easily attract established big businesses and companies who are able to propel Singapore into success.
By 2080, Singaporeans would make up 28% of the ‘Singaporean core’. The very rich will be those who are related to PAP. And there might still be a segment of the very poor who are chronically poor, and who are needed to continue to do the cleaning and washing for Singapore. By then, Singapore will no longer be seen as a country. We will be the first truly global city without a hinterland where we belong to the world. The government has always wanted to develop Singapore as a hub. By then, we will be a city hub and firmly established as one of the top 4 financial centres in the world.
By then, the government won’t be known as the government. They will be known as the administrative centre of this global city, where they continue to manage the laws and regulations, to allow businesses to operate efficiently. At the same time, they will also be the businesses making money. Isn’t this what PAP has always been planning Singapore for? Why do we keep talking about Singapore Inc.? Because that’s precisely how PAP sees Singapore. Look, Singapore is a company. And you simply don’t need to take care of the social well-being of the people. We are not an American company like Google. We are an Asian company like Foxconn. Work, people! By 2050, the first signs of a truly Singapore company will emerge. By 2080, Singapore Inc. will be fully incorporated, and we will be the first country in the world to transit from being a city-state to a company.
Is this possible? Well, look – look at the population projection. At the rate we are going and at the rate PAP continues to hold on to its power, and at the rate Singaporeans simply refuse to see clearly and to live in fear, what is the most likely scenario? Definitely, by the middle of the 21st century, we won’t even make 50% of the population. Unlike the Middle Eastern countries where their populations make less than 50% of the population and where their governments provide free education, housing and healthcare, this is and will never happen to Singapore. The government does not need to value the people when its priorities are focused towards making money. And businesses are a safer bet if you want to make money, naturally!
Why Am I Doing This?
I will leave you to think about whether the scenario that I have shared will pan out. But what I would further say is this. I am starting to hear so many people say – I might just as well leave Singapore. Me too, I want to too. I want to go to a country where the government treats me humanely, even if I am not their locally-born citizen. But if I leave, who will take care of my parents? My parents don’t speak English and they are old. I cannot bring them to Canada or New Zealand, because their daily lives will be affected. They will be quite old so I would have to earn enough for 3 people. We could move to Taiwan or even China but my Chinese is terrible.
This is why I am speaking up and I am raising awareness about Singapore, how Singapore is being planned and managed and how we can look at Singapore more holistically is because of this – I simply have to make Singapore work. I cannot choose to uproot myself just like that, and leave the very people whom I need to think about here.
Singapore can be a place we can call our home, and we can make Singapore work. We can make it a place which respects our lives and where we can continue to work, yet feel comforted, contended and at peace with ourselves. It can, but first, we need to awaken ourselves to the deep slumber that the government has put us through, through a controlled education and messed-up mainstream press which pander so much to the government that they have lost their bearings. We need to awaken ourselves to this, and we need to learn to think so much more dynamically than our education has constrained us to doing so. We need to know that it’s ok to think in explosive ways, which we have thought that we shouldn’t be thinking and make the dynamic linkages and connections to how things work in Singapore. We need to have the clarity and perspective to understand things for what they truly are, and make all the connections we need to understand Singapore for what it truly is.
I am betting on this to work. I need it to. You need to remember, you are a person with your rights. Now, you can choose to use it or you can choose to keep thinking that your fate is resigned into the government’s hands. Your fate is yours to control. Your life is yours to lead. Now, you make a decision as to how you want to live your life, and to make it happen. And I don’t mean finding a job that can help you make enough money, earn enough and then spend as much as you can to make yourself seemingly happy. That’s not what I am talking about. You can do this anywhere in the world. What I am saying is this – you know what needs to be done for our country. You know what is wrong. You know how to make it right. We need to put the right people in our government. And we need to consolidate ourselves, to then also check on the government. It’s all up to you now, so please, think about it. Your life isn’t about just making money and complaining about the government not respecting your other needs if you pander to the needs of money yourself and thus put yourself in the conundrum. I am not saying, give up on making money. I am saying, if you think there’s something else worth fighting for, then stand up and do it. Stand up and let your voice be heard. Stand up and do what is right for yourself. And respect yourself.
You can see in this chart the summary of the root problem for Singapore and the Singapore government.
Essentially, the problems that exist in Singapore now are created by the government and their wants – the want for power, wealth, profits and rent.
This has resulted in the problems that our economy currently faces, of a disempowered citizenry and inefficient workforce, low productivity and thus the need for work workers.
This is how to read it:
1) The government’s governing principles is to maintain their power, so they prevent the estates of governance from being independent, rig the electoral system and enact barriers to prevent opposition participation. This gives them the monopoly to make all policy decisions by themselves.
2) The other government’s governing principles is to increase their wealth, which is to increase their profits, and their way of doing so is by way of increasing rents for businesses, as one of them.
3) Because of high rental costs, businesses have to pay high rents, so they depress workers’ wages. Because of high rent, their profit turnover is also low, and so there is little incentive to invest in technology or programmes to boost productivity.
4) The main reason why businesses are still investing in Singapore is because of the strong legal and regulatory structure that was set up by the founding leaders of Singapore.
5) Because workers’ wages are depressed, there is lower incentive to be work, which contributes to a low quality workforce. At the same time, businesses bring in cheap foreign labour which also contributes to a low quality workforce.
6) In order to control the people, the government also makes people work long hours so there is poor work-life balance, which creates a low quality workforce as well.
7) Also, Singaporeans are not able to speak up against bad policies, they feel that even if they have alternative solutions, they cannot propose them.
8) Essentially, because education is controlled in Singapore, Singaporeans are not fully equipped with work skills, as well as creative thinking and innovative thinking. It has thus created Singaporeans who feel disempowered, and who are thus do not feel motivated to work, and do not work efficiently. They are also not adapted to creating a productive workforce.
9) Because of an inefficient workforce and low profits which reduces incentive to boost productivity, productivity remains low.
10) And because productivity remains low, the government and businesses needs to bring in more workers for to increase economic output.
11) And hence, the Singapore Population White Paper.
But, what is the fundamental problem?
To understand more about the problems facing Singapore, you can read the following parts of the article:
Key questions addressed in this article:
- PAP’s governing principles
- Singapore’s fundamental economic problem of high rents
Hold on a minute. Has anyone wondered why the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 is titled the ‘population’ paper? In 1971, 1991 and 2001, the government had unveiled concept papers. Why did they unveil the ‘Population White Paper’ this year? Or why not the Economy Paper or the Productivity Paper? Other than on population, much of the discussion in the white paper is also centred around economic growth and productivity, so why not that?
And if you look at it, population is a easily tangible figure where if you want to increase it, all you need to do is to say, I want to let more people into Singapore. But when it comes to economic or productivity growth, it’s not just about saying, ok, I’m going to increase our economic output or productivity and wa la, we have higher productivity growth. So, if we want to increase our productivity growth, for example, we would need to go deeper into the discussion to talk about how we need to invest more in infrastructure, technology and training of workers. In fact, we have to also look at reducing work hours, creating a more diverse and flexible workforce through education which is more encompassing and diverse in nature. So, the government needs to talk about how much they want to set aside for investment and what programmes they have in mind to enhance productivity, and how the government intends to restructure our education system so as to provide an education that can create a workforce that’s more creative and innovative. But where are all these in the Population White Paper?
So, why did the government choose to frame the paper as a POPULATION paper instead of about the overall planning for the economy of Singapore, for example? Obviously, the government wants to focus the discussion on the population.
But why are we letting the government set the tone of the discussion? Obviously, many can see that the current debate surrounding the Population White Paper has thrown out so many other issues, other than population itself. Because you know what, the population isn’t the question. The question is why are wages stagnant, why is income inequality rising, why are there still a growing number of people of low wage workers, why do we have more and more elderly working as cleaners, why are we paying more for healthcare, housing and COE, among others. Now, the population paper might on the surface, be about the population. But it has undercovered many other issues, which are related but more key than the issue of population.
So, again, why are we allowing the government to set the tone of the conversation? The government wants to introduce this paper as a POPULATION paper to centre the discussion around the paper. Why? So that it will throw us off the scent of other issues, as those above? So that we are so focused on the 6.9 million figure that in all the rage, we forget about the other issues that really matter now, so that they don’t get as much focus in parliament? So that when parliament finally passes the motion (anyway) that perhaps, they would then lower the population estimate, perhaps they will discuss how to improve the infrastructure, but then they wouldn’t have needed to deal with the other issues that surround population.
Is this it? Is it to throw us off the scent? Is it their attempt to refocus the issue so that our attention is so focused on population, that it consumes us that we are steered away from the issues that really matter? You know what, I think it is.
And the above issues might not even be what they are mainly concerned about. The above issues concern Singaporeans. The government won’t deal with those issues, not in a big way anyway. And they know Singaporeans can do nothing to stop them or change that. What’s their bigger worry? Businesses.
You see, because the government has carefully steered the discussion on the white paper on population, even businesses are latching on it and debating about how even the 6.9 million people won’t be enough for their growth. Is this what the government had counted on to happen? If the businesses complain, then the government can pitch the businesses against the people. And who will win out? The businesses, of course, because the businesses will get to pressure and threaten the government (seemingly) and more importantly – Singaporeans, if you don’t allow us to have more people, your livelihood will be at stake! Was the government counting on this to happen?
Do you remember just a few years ago, when Singaporeans started being angry with the foreigners? Now, think carefully, are Singaporeans really angry with the foreigners? You are not. What you are angry about are bad policies that the government had instituted. Because of the bad policies, the government allowed foreign workers to be paid at a low wage, which caused the wages of Singaporeans to be depressed. So when the wages of Singaporeans got depressed, who did they get angry with? They got angry with what the most obvious competition of their wages seemingly was – foreigners. But if you think more broadly, you would know that the fault doesn’t lie with the foreigners but in the government, their bad planning and their policies. And all this time when the people were blaming the foreigners, the government allowed it to happen. Why? Well, it takes the attention away from them. You pitch Singaporeans against the foreigners and you let them fight it out. Meanwhile, the businesses continue to earn. Meanwhile, the government continues to earn.
So, you can understand that historically, the government has a history of allowing those on the ground to pitch themselves against each other. So, is it surprising that the government is now allowing businesses to be pitched against Singaporeans?
Now, this isn’t even the issue yet. Again, do you know why the government has chosen to frame the issue as one of population? As I’ve mentioned, it’s not just to frame the issue for Singaporeans so that we lose our focus, it’s also for the businesses.
In a research conducted by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS), “rental cost continues to be one of the top concerns related to business costs for Small and Medium Enterprises. 81 percent want measures to reduce or offset rental cost as their top wish list item for companies in the coming Budget 2013.” But who controls the rental and who control the wages? For a business, which is the easier battle to fight? Look, if you want to come into Singapore and set up a business in Singapore, as much as the rental might be exorbitant, you bite the bullet and you shoulder on. The government decides how much rent they collect. So, the simpler fight for a business is on wages – by giving lower wages. And whose wages? The population. And this is why the government has skewed the framing of the white paper on population, so that when even businesses are made to focus on that, they panic and they react, and if the government can count on them to do that, they will push against the people and the people will be pushed back into their corner. And so far, it might actually work.
The other factor is this – companies have become so complacent in Singapore. If they want more output, what is the easiest thing they can do? Increase the number of workers. And output will increase. So, is the company concerned about productivity? Of course not. So why is productivity is low? They have more workers, their economic output will still increase. Do you know why then there’s no focus on plans to increase productivity? There’s no need to! You pay lip service to it. But as long as you can increase the population, profits will still increase anyway, and economic growth and GDP will still increase. There, solved. As I’ve said, this is the lazy way out. The government has allowed our businesses to become lazy and our businesses are glad they are able to be unethical, with maximal protection to them by the government and minimal protection to the worker. And so, the government has counted on rightly that businesses will join them to to wage the war against Singaporeans to increase the population to 6.9 million, at least. What they didn’t count on, of course is that Singaporeans will actually make that much “noise”, and yet, the businesses that they are counting on aren’t coming on loud and fast enough, so much so that they even have to activate the commerce chambers of the other countries to support them. Foreign countries who do not have as much a stake as Singaporeans in our own country, speak up against us, because their businesses need to survive, at our expanse? Huh?
But we aren’t even at the real problem yet. As mentioned, topmost concern that plagues businesses is rental. You see, the government’s economic approach has always been to earn profits and how do they do that? Rental. Rental weighs heavily on the costs of businesses. And this is one reason why businesses refuse to pay workers fair wages. The pressure on rental is stronger and less controllable. Which that’s why the government is unwilling to institute a minimum wage law. Already, they are putting pressure on companies by way of rent, and if they put further pressure on the other side, by way of the wages, businesses will be up in arms and they will leave Singapore.
What is the real reason why businesses are threatening to leave Singapore? From what we hear, it sounds like it’s because there’s not enough workers and thus businesses will be force to leave. Is that the real reason? No, it’s not. The real reason is because rental is so high that they need to rely on cheap labour to ensure profitability. And cheap labour can only come if they have more workers, so that they can cope with the high rental.
So, is the problem whether the population should grow or not? It’s not. The problem is back to square one – government policy. The government wants to earn from the businesses. The government wants to earn from the people. All policy decisions are made so that the government can earn – so high rental from the businesses, and low wages for the workers, and therefore then, earning high profits from the businesses again.
Now, if you take a step back and imagine, if the government reduces rental, what will happen? It frees up money for businesses so that they have more incentive to pay the workers higher wages, they might continue to keep the same number of workers and at the same time, start exploring and investing in technology to enhance their productivity, so that they are then able to continue to have increased economic output and profits, but at the same time increased productivity and also higher wages for the workers. It all works out, doesn’t it?
So, what’s the real problem? The real problem that is plaguing Singapore now isn’t because we do have enough workers. It’s because the government is also earning off businesses through rental, so much so that it de-incentivises businesses from wanting to increase the wages of workers, and to invest in technology or programmes to boost productivity. So, when we say the government is just paying lip service, what are we saying? We are saying the government knows that at the rate it is making businesses pay high wages, businesses will not want to spend more to improve productivity. So, what is the solution because of these constrictions caused by the government? Cheap labour. And more workers.
But this isn’t yet the whole issue. Over the past two years, the government has twice tightened the flow of foreign labour into Singapore. Now, as we’ve just seen, the problem that the government has created can only be resolved through more and cheap workers. Yet, the government is curbing the numbers, essentially causing the problem not to be possible to resolved.
So, what did the government do? Effectively, they want to force the hands of businesses to force them to invest in technology and other programmes to better enhance their productivity, while businesses are made to rely on less labour. And what are the businesses telling the government now? But you can’t do that, if we have lesser workers, our profit margins will be, well, too marginal! And at this rate, we would rather move out of Singapore. Again, on the surface, it looks like population is the issue. But what is the real issue? The real issue for businesses is this – but wait a minute, you made rental so high and you know the only way out was cheap labour, so you gave us that, so that we will exploit that, while we continue to stay here and profit from as low the wages we can give. But if you stop that even, we don’t find it profitable to invest in technology to enhance productivity. We are just going to move.
Is the problem the population or high rental? Is the problem Singaporeans or the government? Well, look here, if Singapore is even 50% bigger, maybe we can accommodate more people and maybe we can drag this out for longer. Maybe we can drag it out until 2020 or 2025 before companies start being unhappy. But we simply don’t have enough land. And so, in the white paper, the government decided that ok, the reason why people were unhappy with the number of people coming in is because of the lack of infrastructure. So, maybe there’s not enough, let’s build more, and if there is enough infrastructural capacity, maybe the people will be pacified.
But you see, the government asked the wrong question. Instead of going to the root of the problem, the government created more and more problems which they have to keep finding ways to resolve, and so they created more and more layers on top of the existing problem, and confounded everything and everybody. See, what the government did was this – ok, we want more profits, so we need to make sure rents are high. Ok, so businesses are complaining, then ok, we bring in more people and we let them pay people low wages. Ok, so that’s fixed. But you know, we are bringing low quality workers in, we need more of them so that we can continue to get things done. But then, you know what, there might be too many people here, so we need to reduce that. Yes? But no, wait, let’s not think about that. Think out of the box. Ok, let’s assume we actually have enough space. But ah – what if the problem is that the people don’t feel the infrastructure is enough! Great. Let’s expand on the infrastructure. So, problems after problems patched are up with handiplast, but do the problems still exist? Of course, wages are still stagnant, there’s a growing pool of low wage workers, high income inequality and low productivity. You see how the chain of problems just keep coming and never ends? So now, you see where the problems that Singaporeans face actually come from?
But what is the real problem? The problem is because the government wants high rent. Why? Because the government wants to profit. The government wants to make money. And as I’ve explained before, not only does the government squeeze the businesses dry on this front, they’ve also squeezed the Singaporeans dry by making us withdraw lesser and lesser from CPF, by making us pay more and more for Medishield and Medisave, by reducing their proportionate expenditure for our healthcare bills, by increasing housing prices and COE premium and so on.
Woah! Wait a minute! What is the fundamental problem? Oei, PAP, you are the problem! The fundamental problem is a government which wants to keep making money and sucking the businesses and people dry on all fronts. And where does the money all go? Where does the money all go? Nobody knows! We do not know where our money is going. It’s not coming back as social welfare. It’s not coming back. Oei!
Now, if you can piece all this together, you can see that there is a glaring gap in this issue. Erm, so you want all this money, for? So, you want us to pay more and more, you give us lesser and lesser, you squeeze the businesses, and? Blank. We draw a blank because that’s as far as the statistics show. Wow. I know, wow right?
The fundamental problem isn’t population. The fundamental problem is high rent, and this problem arises because of the government, because the government wants to profit, but for who? Well, not Singaporeans. And not the businesses. Well, not the local businesses at least. This white paper shouldn’t even be called the Population White Paper. It should be called the ‘Fundamental Problem of The Singapore Government White Paper’. And we should be discussing about what the principles of governance are, how a government should govern, what the priorities of a government should be and what the priorities of the government to the people should be.
I’m appalled. All this time, they say they are unwilling to provide higher social welfare for the people. Why? Because we have low taxes. Well, of course we need to have low taxes! Otherwise, companies will be squeezed completely dry! And so, since we have low taxes, the government needs to diversify its funding sources from the people – through CPF, through housing prices, through COE premium, and what else? And why won’t the government increase the employer’s contribution to CPF back from 16% to 20%? Because the businesses will then ask, how much more do you want to squeeze us dry? The government knows that thankfully, it has, because of our past leaders, created a strong institutionalised system where the laws and policies allow for an efficient flow of business exchanges, which is why businesses are still interested to come into Singapore.
But our current crop of government leaders are like the offsprings of the rich father, where after the father has set up the business, grow it and make it one of the best in the world, they take over the business and squander the wealth away. Our current batch of leaders know only to take advantage of the institutions that our first batch of leaders have created and because of the comfort and perceived stability that it has offered thus far, continue to find as many ways as they can to earn off the people, and then the businesses, albeit perhaps not as much.
Whither Singapore? Well, at the rate our government is messing Singapore up, you bet.
Our government’s priorities are wrong. A government’s priorities first and foremost should be for the people. But for this government, their first priority is to themselves, then to businesses, and then to the people. A government’s priorities first and foremost should be to ensure that the people are protected and taken care of. But no, this government’s first priority is to take care of themselves first and their power, and then the businesses and then maybe, if they still have any spare cash left, then people.
This government’s priorities are all wrong. This government’s priorities are topsy turvy. What is on their mind, I cannot phantom. But an incessant want to stay in power and accumulate wealth, again, for who? The very institutions and laws that the first generation of our leaders have created have protected the current crop of leaders from wanton behaviour, so much so that they can do anything at their whims and fancies and Singaporeans can nary make a voice and allow the government to steamroll them over. And this government continues to think that they know what’s best because when the people’s voices are curbed and silenced, of course there’s not going to be any voices to speak up against them! And when there’s only 7 out of 80 opposition members, the steam rolling continues in parliament. This government is a government that has grown up in the luxuries and falsehoods of their own creation, for which they are so sheltered from the truth and reality of the people, that they allow the power to rummage through their heads and allow them to believe that wealth is their birthright, and that Singaporeans are the natural workers of that birthright. Wow. Wow, right? Even I am breathless at this point.
Whether or not the first generation of our leaders intended for this to happen, the way they had allowed all the estates of governance to be so intertwined that these estates lack independence from one another means that there’s no one else to check the government, so much so that the government believe that they are good enough to check themselves.
At this point, I don’t even know where to stop. You see, the problem is inherent. It’s not the population. It’s not productivity growth. Look, the problem is the government and terribly wrong priorities, and a sheltered world and reality which those politicians live in, which is much divorced from the rest of Singapore. At this point, they can continue to rest on their laurels because the institutions that hold them, and us, up continue to do so. But once even the businesses cannot take the stress underneath all that pressure, no matter how strong our institutions are, they will pack and go, and they will hollow our economy out. And the root of the of the problem isn’t because Singaporeans are unwilling to work, to make it work, or to work with the government. It’s because the government refuses to work with the people, and the government has allowed what their forefathers have built to languish in their hands, while their minds are filled with childish desires to further their power and wealth.
We need real democracy and real independence. We need a new government with renewed priorities. We need freedom. Otherwise, Singaporeans, we are f***ed if we continue to live in this country, because at the way the government is going and at the rate of delusion they are ruling our country, we are seriously f***ed.
Now, the question is what do you believe in? What will you do?
The 6.9 million population figure – behind all that rhetoric, the government says that we need 6.9 million people in Singapore so that Singaporeans can have a better life. Immediately, any sensible person can tell that this doesn’t quite make sense. How does having more people on this tiny island allow us to have a better life? Even the government is tripping themselves over trying to create logic behind what is essentially illogical.
The real reason? The fundamental reason we need 6.9 million people in Singapore – our government has babied the businesses in Singapore so much that businesses in Singapore expect that to grow in Singapore, the ONLY solution that they have is to get more people in. But hold on a minute! Whose Singapore is this? Does Singapore belong to the businesses or does Singapore belong to Singaporeans?
You see, essentially, the government gave itself two choices – should we pander Singapore to the needs of businesses or should we pander to the needs of Singaporeans? If we pander to businesses, we get more money. If we pander to Singaporeans, we get more love, commitment, passion – huh? OK, let’s get the money in. Let’s make Singapore a business haven. And so, the government has decided.
In a statement that the Singapore Business Federation (SPF) released, they had said that, “The population projections in the Population White Paper are already tough for companies. It is unthinkable if Singaporeans choose to further limit immigration and the number of foreign workers. This will damage our competitiveness and Singapore will lose its shine.” According to the Today newspaper, “THe SBF’s chief executive officer Mr Ho Meng Kit said: “There are many sectors in Singapore which are unattractive to locals for example construction companies.”
And the SBF’s solution? More workers. 7 million in 2030. Even Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office S Iswaran asked Mr Gerald Giam from the Worker’s Party (WP) if, “the WP (would) still advocate zero growth in foreign labour if it means construction and other sectors are unable to hire Singaporeans for the job.” In response, “Mr Giam said he believed Singaporeans could be attracted to various sectors “if wages are raised and if there’s proper retraining (for) workers” and that “one area that is a very important way of increasing the labour force participation rate is to raise wages.”
I think Mr Giam hit the jackpot. With a cost of living that’s increasingly priced beyond the reach of a $1,000 salary, or even a $1,200 or $1,300 salary, many Singaporeans would prospect to find a job that can accord them a standard of living that is at least manageable, or decent. This is something that most of our PAP MPs who earn at least $15,000 monthly would not understand or can even empathise with.
The problem with Singapore is this – we’ve allowed businesses to become so embolden that they think that whatever they want, they get away with. No minimum wage policy. No anti-discrimination laws. The government has pandered so much to them that at this tipping point, the businesses are angry and the government is like toothless nannies trying to put the businesses back into their cots, while asking the Singaporean maid and manservant to work harder and do more so that our businesses can be happy in a country where the people has lost their right to their country. It doesn’t help that, by some estimates, the Singapore government owns possibly 60%, or even more of the Singapore economy, which is the very reason why they are pro-business, in the first place.
A responsible government would tell the businesses to hold their horses, to remember their place in Singapore, and to restructure themselves so that they will continue to grow, even with a stabilising population in Singapore. A responsible government will look out for the people’s needs and welfare, first and foremost, before allowing businesses to trample all over them. By 2030 (chart below), Finland expects to grow their population by 3.9%, from 5.2 million to 5.4 million. Denmark expects their population to grow by 5.6% from 5.4 million to 5.7 million. Even Norway expects their population to grow by only 17.4% from 4.6 million to 5.4 million. Singapore? We want to grow by 30.2%, from 5.3 million to 6.9 million. By our government’s logic and by the SBF’s logic, the Nordic countries will all fail and collapse in 2030. But the Nordic countries have acknowledged what the problem is and how they need to resolve it – they need to reform their labour market.
SPF’s Mr Ho had said that, “If businesses go under, jobs will be lost, Singaporeans will be affected. If businesses cannot raise productivity and sustain profits, they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans higher salaries.” Mr Ho got it right there – “if businesses cannot raise productivity”. I don’t get Mr Ho. So, he believes that the more people Singapore gets, the higher our productivity will be? Mathematically, this doesn’t make sense. The more the people, the lower the productivity. If the company wants to become productive, it will restructure itself, employ the same number or lesser number of people, and find ways to become more efficient in their work processes. Then, they will become more productive.
Increasing the number of people is a lazy way of resolving an issue that businesses in Singapore have come to take for granted in Singapore. The reason why businesses want to come to Singapore? Cheap labour. All your problems are solved by hiring cheap labour. No need to think about new ways of doing things. In the long term? Lower productivity. Because there’s no innovation, no need to think differently, or work differently. More people = lower productivity. The chronic problem of Singapore’s low productivity? An unwillingness to think of new methods but relying on labour, and increasingly relatively cheaper labour to solve all problems.
But what the government doesn’t seemed to have linked is this – businesses are only in any one city for short term interests. There are many cities in this world but there is only one Singapore. Once Singapore becomes irrelevant, businesses can always set up shop in another city. But once Singapore closes shop, Singaporeans have no where else to go but Singapore. Do you want to put businesses first? Or do you want to put Singaporeans first? Who will stay in your country for the long haul? If there isn’t a core citizenry population, who will be your permanent workforce that you need your economy to be rooted in?
Already, at this point, we seem to have come to a breaking point for Singapore’s future. If we do not increase the number of workers in Singapore, businesses are threatening to leave. So, what should we do? 7 million workers in Singapore in 2030. 8 million in 2040? 9 million in 2050? and 10 million in 2060? Is that what businesses want? More and more people, regardless of how the people living here will actually feel? Looks like it. Why, because they think that Singapore is just a city. People come, people go. Who stays here? Well, by 2060, the 20% or so Singaporeans who are still around.
Like Mr Gerald Giam had said at parliament yesterday, “Global cities attract many young migrants from their hinterlands and around the world. Even though their fertility rates are low, their populations continue to increase through immigration. But it is expensive to live in a global city. Many cannot afford to live in such expensive places upon retirement, so they move to other parts of their country with lower costs of living. Will our retirees have such options when they are too old to work, since Singapore does not have any hinterland to speak of?”
Again, Mr Giam has hit the jackpot. How do you want to value your people? How do you want to make Singapore a home, and not just a company? If you look at the countries which have more than 50% of foreigners in their population, you will see that most of them are in the Middle East – Qatar (25%), the United Arab Emirates (30%) and Kuwait (40%). Now, if you truly value your citizens as the core of the country, then you take care of them first before you take care of the businesses. Again, who will be in the country for the long haul? In all these three countries, their measures are almost all the same – free housing, free education, almost free or cheap healthcare and an almost guarantee to a high income in your own country. Indeed, Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had stated that, “We have a firm belief that a leading position for our emirate and nation can only be achieved in association with an appropriate addressing of national issues and aspirations as a basic theme of our development plans. In this regard, our wise leadership will make every effort to provide integrated development and welfare for our future generations in the educational, medical and social fields that reflect favorably on our country’s development.”
Am I saying that we should provide everything for free in Singapore? Perhaps not. Granted that these Middle Eastern countries have their own human rights transgressions, but what they have in common is a focus on the social welfare, at least in terms of very generous financing of their people. You see, if you want to make money off your country, you make sure your people enjoy the wealth with you, so that they will learn to stay in this country with you for the long haul. This is all the more important when they become less than 50% of the population. According to Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of WP, by their estimates, in 2030, there will be less than 50% who will be born in Singapore. What is there for them to want to stay in Singapore if they continue to be treated like workers in an economy where their rights and social welfare rights aren’t observed? What is there for them to want to stay when there are other countries which will treat them better?
Which is why it concerns me when at the parliamentary debate, how the discussion on promoting parenthood is panning out. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu, had “stressed that “encouraging marriage and parenthood is fundamental to ensuring a strong Singaporean core, and this is central to our population policies”.” But what is the Singaporean core? According to Ms Fu, “a strong Singaporean core is one where Singaporeans have a sense of well-being and belonging in a place where we can all call ‘home’ … Well-being comes both from the tangibles — having fulfilling jobs and a good quality living environment — as well as the intangibles — strong supportive families, values that connect us and a collective hope for a brighter future.” It’s very easy to pay lip-service to these ideals but in which of her definitions of well-being does Ms Fu expects Singaporeans to feel as she does? The very definitions of “well-being” that she has fashioned is precisely what Singaporeans are saying they are not currently and would not be able to enjoy by 2030 – “a good quality environment and values that connect us and a collective hope for a brighter future.” I am not sure if Ms Fu actually understands the concerns of Singaporeans or if she has become so detached that she can no longer connect with the rest of us, the real Singaporean core.
I reiterate, as I have in many of my articles, that if the government is truly sincere about increasing the fertility rate in Singapore, it needs to reduce work hours, ensure work-life balance truly, allow Singaporeans to feel that they have an ownership in their own lives and in the country, by allowing for them to express themselves and offer solutions to the country, and by feeling that they are not just workers in the Singapore factory, but people in their own home. Indeed, Ms Lim has also mentioned in her speech in parliament that, “The Korean government then set explicit hard targets to remove institutional obstacles to boosting TFR. These targets centred on providing institutional support for family life and promoting gender equity within the family. The government tracked hard statistics such as reducing parents’ share of childrearing costs, increasing GDP share of family-related spending, promoting arrangements for mothers to continue working, and even encouraging fathers to share housework.” She had also said that, “The commitment and approach of the Korean government is worth study.” In fact, Mr Faisal of WP had also suggested that, “The Government should commit to reducing the number of working hours to 40 hours a week.”
Is it all that hard to imagine that in order to build a Singaporean core who will be committed to the country, that you put their interests first, value and respect them, so that with that, they will have a stake in the long term future of Singapore, and put their hearts and soul into making Singapore work not only for them, but for the sake of one another and for their children?
Look, our government has gotten it wrong. You do not put the interests of businesses first because their long-term interests isn’t tied to any city. Their interests are tied to wherever can give them the highest profits. You do not let businesses dictate the decisions you make as a government because the businesses care only for monetary growth and they do not care about the people’s needs. You do not create only policies for business viability and none for the rights of the people because if the people feel marginalised, they will lose their motivations to work and contribute. They will not be productive. They will not stay. You do not put the people in second or third place, make them work like horses, and expect them to feel loved by Singapore, to love Singapore, to feel that they have a stake in Singapore, and feel that they are so committed to Singapore that they are willing to produce more babies for the country. You simply do not. Is it so hard to understand? This is logical, practical human psychology. This is common sense. If you are human, your basic human needs and wants will tell you this.
But unfortunately, our government is so blinded by their own power and their own rule, that the principles that they have so attached themselves to – in making money, and more money – have created this bubble that they’ve learnt to live with, that they aren’t able to see the reality of what the other real Singaporeans are feeling. They’ve grown up in a fanciful world they’ve created for their own, where life is all smooth-sailing, where their believe that their policies are unfailing and require only tweaks, that they do not realise how disfranchised the large part of Singaporeans are feeling from the effects of their policies. A government which claims to have foresight, but foresight of only 30% or 35% of the devoted PAP supporters who have voted ardently for them, and the other Singaporeans who feel isolated and cheated by policies which set them back in their own country.
We can debate, but where will this debate go, if PAP continues to live in their own padded world, unaware of how the people are feeling and the moods are swinging. How can PAP continue to ask the people to trust them when the very trust that the people are nested in is no longer built in the same nest that PAP has laid all its eggs in? And that’s why the people have started to put their eggs in another basket, or baskets.
Many have said that PAP needs to change its mindset, but some have given up that PAP can. For the sake of Singapore’s future, it should be hoped for that PAP learns and moulds itself with new ideologies. But when power has ruled the head, and the ego has filled the soul, one wonders if a attachment to the riches of power can allow anyone to find a sane way out of the muddles they’ve created.
Key questions addressed in this article:
- PAP’s governing principles of wealth generation and political security
Truth is, the whole fracas about the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 isn’t about the population figure at all. Truth is, the current debate is about the type and of government and government leaders we want.
Frankly, do we really know what the impact of 7 million people in Singapore will bring? We know that Singapore will get more crowded, we know we will feel more stressful and squeezed. But have we done our maths? Do we know what the impact on businesses, on employment and our livelihood will be? Thing is, we don’t really know. And it doesn’t help that the white paper looks more like a brochure for a new condominium more than an executive paper with carefully analysed statistics, as some have pointed out. As Mr Tan Cheng Bock had also pointed out that, “”in 2007 , when Singapore’s population was 4.6 m….URA revised its planning parameters …………based on – to 6.5m , up from a 2001 projection of 5.5m” (yet) How then did our infrastructures of housing, transport ie road and rail, social and health amenities be so woefully short when 2001 forecast was already 5.5m?” Truth is, so what if the white paper has been released? There are another 20 years before we get to 2030. Many things can happen. Yes, by right, the white paper should be able to inform us of what to expect, and how we can be prepared but this white paper is woefully weak in its explanations, or lack thereof. Someone needs to let PAP know that PR speak on The Straits Times cannot just be transplanted onto a white paper and become scientific. I guess they would about know by now, anyway – hopefully!
Andrew, the Editor-in-Chief of publichouse.sg, sums it up nicely, when he had said that, “The main problem the PAP government will face – as it already is facing increasingly – is the erosion of trust and confidence in its ability to carry the country forward, to the benefit of Singaporeans. The way it has thus far communicated the message of the White Paper shows that the Government has much to do in instilling or inspiring trust and confidence in its people.” Truth is, it’s not about the population figure inside the white paper or the white paper at all. People are fed-up with PAP. Why? They are fed-up because they feel that they are not being heard and they know they are not being heard. This is why during the Punggol-East by election, Singaporeans trounced PAP and they gave PAP a hard-pounding. Let’s see how you would like that if others treat you like s***.
But no sooner than we could celebrate the achievement by Singaporeans at the by-election, the PAP announced the white paper. The question on everyone’s minds was this – why the f*** did they even announce the white paper when they Singaporeans had sent them such a clear message at the by-election? Was it because they were sore losers who didn’t like to see Singaporeans celebrating, and they wanted to clamp down on us even before it began? Since I cannot be happy, so can’t you. Was it because it was already in the plans and because they couldn’t be less rigid in their planning, PAP decided to announce the white paper anyway, and then had to salvage themselves by turning around and saying that the ‘6.7’ million’ figure is only a “worst-case scenario”. But most likely, PAP wanted to release the white paper because they had timed it for this session of parliament and they wanted to announce it in time for the sitting. Bad timing, bad planning – all rolled into one and PAP couldn’t have pulled off a worst self-inflicted disaster in their near history.
But no sooner had they turned around to pacify Singaporeans, they went on attack mode again. In the second day of parliament sitting, Dr Amy Khor shot back at the Worker’s Party (WP)’s opposition to the white paper by saying that, “Under this scenario (that WP had proposed for a lower population growth to 5.9 million), many companies are likely to fold or move out of Singapore whilst others will not be attracted to set up shop here resulting in fewer jobs for Singaporeans.” This was also timed together with an avalanche of news in the mainstream news today about how the “tightening rules on foreign manpower could negatively affect Singapore’s economy and reputation as an open economy.” Even “the American Chamber of Commerce, British Chamber of Commerce and EuroCham were amongst the nine national chambers of commerce in Singapore, which had issued the letter,” to threaten that, “There is an increasing number of companies from Europe that are looking for Singapore to establish their own operation, headquarters, or sales offices or head offices. (This) means we are looking to increase our workforce.” The “Singapore Business Federation (SBF) (had also chimed in and) said (that) slower workforce growth in Singapore will have “devastating consequences for many companies”, by saying that, “If businesses go under, jobs will be lost, Singaporeans will be affected. If businesses cannot raise productivity and sustain profits, they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans higher salaries.”
Singapore held ransom by the businesses! By corporate companies who feel that they should have a larger stake in Singapore than Singaporeans! Where are Singaporeans’ place then? Do we not have any stand or say by virtue of people born and lived in this country we call home? Should we pander ourselves to the desires of capitalistic corporations, here to make a living out of us? But this is not the question, my friends.
The question is – why is not government not appeasing these businesses? If the government is so full of certainty that they would be able to create a sustainable Singapore in 2030 with their white paper, why have they allowed the businesses to rampage over mainstream media, and create fear and apprehension among Singaporeans? The question to ask is – is our government responsible? Does our government care? You should know by now, that the government’s aim is to use the voices of the businesses and companies to scare Singaporeans back into our hole. Look, even with 7 million people, the businesses aren’t happy. So, Singaporeans, back off! If that’s the way the government thinks, then we have to be very, very concerned.
When discussing the Nordic population in 2030, the Nordic countries had said that, “The effects of the failure to reform the Nordic labour markets at the beginning of the twenty-first century will thus, by 2030, be extremely painful.” The Nordic countries understood what the problem is – they need to “reform” the labour market. And if you look at the link, the article takes pain to describe “several positive aspects while also highlighting some negative trends.” Now, what should a responsible government do? Back to my point at the start of this article – the furore surrounding the announcement of the white paper isn’t about the content of the white paper itself. It’s about how Singaporeans feel about how the government is (ill-)treating them. The Nordic countries were honest – we need to reform the labour market. The Singapore government says the labour market isn’t the main problem – the number of people is, and so we need to bring in more people. Old methods, old thinking, old power.
Is PAP unwilling to realise that there are other ways to boost the economy in Singapore? Does PAP not realise that if they maintain the population size of Singapore and increase the efficiency of people’s work, the efficiency of work itself, that by doing so, we will have a more productive economy, and possibly higher economic growth? Does PAP not understand the need to grow a committed workforce, where their work-life balance is valued and respected, such that they would be more committed to their work, which would make them more productive in their work? On top of that, several quarters, such as the National Solidarity Party (NSP), have also pointed out an increase in population and the consequent increase in population density has been shown to also reduce the fertility rate, ironically that which the government claims that it’s concerned about increasing. Well, clearly, the government isn’t concerned about increasing the Singaporean core. It’s actions and proposals are clearly contrary towards building a Singapore core.
So, I started thinking to myself – well, perhaps the government wants to maintain Singapore’s position as a financial hub and that is why the government continues to hold such a tight rein to Singapore, and on Singaporeans as well. But then, I looked at the top financial centres in the world – New York, London, Hong Kong and Seoul, ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th respectively. Singapore is ranked 4th. In all these top financial centres, you get freedom of speech and you are allowed to have peaceful demonstrations. There is minimum wage in most of these cities. Look, in these cities which are larger and the top financial centres of the world, you have rights, you are allowed to speak up and you are allowed to be free. And doing so does not at all upset these cities’ financial status. They continue to be financially strong. Which made me wonder, why then, why did our government continue to put restrictions on our rights to free speech and our rights to even have a referendum? Singapore’s last and only referendum was before even our independence in 1965.
Which made me realised that economic growth isn’t the reason why the government continues to not want to do what is needed to protect Singaporeans. In the white paper, the government doesn’t talk about reducing work hours or firm plans on enhancing our work-life balance. Why do people not want to have more babies? Because work hours are long, we feel that even as we have so much money, there is only so much we can do in our lives. What is the point of bringing a child into this world – a child who has to face the stresses, the inequalities of life and on top of that, be restricted in his or her freedom? Well, can the government do something about it so that our fertility rate can increase? They can, but they are not interested to. And as I’ve explained, it’s not because they want to restrict our rights because of economic growth. Even in Hong Kong which in many ways is like Singapore, there is the freedom to demonstrate and there is a minimum wage law. Why not Singapore? And then I realised what it is – it’s about power. Political power. Whatever PAP does or plans to do, it’s always about keeping themselves in power. If you throw out all logic that you use to analyse the white paper out and if you start understanding that PAP wants to keep itself in power, then you will understand why the white paper is the way it is.
And then, I thought to myself. But surely, PAP wants to keep itself in power because it believes that it’s the best government to provide for Singaporeans. Surely, this must be it! But then I remembered how since 2001, we have been withdrawing lesser and lesser from our CPF, even as we contribute more. The Singapore companies owned by the Temasek Holdings, which is owned by the government, continues to earn more and more profits from 2001. In the last few years, our real wages have dropped, even as housing prices and COE premium shot up. If our government believes that it’s doing what is right for Singaporeans, why is it taking away more and more of our money away, why is income inequality increasing in Singapore, and why does it continues to concern itself with GDP growth, even as NSP has pointed out that GDP growth is made up of more than 50% profit, and even as we are the richest country in the world, that Singaporeans aren’t feeling it at all?
And then it hits you. And then it really hits you. No matter how much you beg PAP to think for you, to care for you, to have your interests at heart, you are f***ed. They care only about keeping themselves in power. Your rights? Do you have $10 million? $20 million? Can you buy Sentosa Cove? Then curl up in a corner and keep quiet. Then go work as a cleaner at a food court until you can’t move a finger and make yourself useful, while you continue to grow our pot of gold.
Am I angry? Well, we all are. It’s not whether we are heard or not. We are not. It’s not even a question. It’s about why the government continues to not hear us – because they want to keep themselves in power and listening to you gives you too much credit. So, just shut up and sit down.
When the Economist explained why the Nordic countries have the best governments in the world, it said that, “Nordic governments are subject to rigorous scrutiny: for example, in Sweden everyone has access to all official records.” It also said that, “A Eurobarometer survey of broad social trust (as opposed to trust in immediate family) showed the Nordics in leading positions. Economists say that high levels of trust result in lower transaction costs—there is no need to resort to American-style lawsuits or Italian-style quid-pro-quo deals in order to get things done. But its virtues go beyond that. Trust means that high-quality people join the civil service. Citizens pay their taxes and play by the rules. Government decisions are widely accepted” i.e. no defamation lawsuits. Most importantly, “All the Nordic countries have small populations, which means that members of the ruling elites have to get on with each other,” which means the government works for the people, and not the other way round.
Back to my point earlier on – Singaporeans simply do not trust the government anymore. I read a status update somewhere on Facebook where this person spoke about how Singaporeans shouldn’t just lament about the white paper and look at the merits of the white paper. In a country where the people are respected, they would take the white paper apart, logically analyse it and choose parts to agree on and not, debate about it and propose solutions back to the government, so that the government can then act on the people’s logical understandings and come out with a more well-rounded proposal. But – this is only when the people feel respected. If you are having an argument with your partner, if you feel that your partner does not respect you or if you feel slighted, will what your partner says get into you, however well-intended what your partner says is? Well, no, you will block your partner off. This is what is happening in Singapore now. Does the white paper has its merits? Possibly, and possibly if they had also put in the calculations and analysis that they had done. But when a people are hurt and when a people feel cheated, deceived and bullied through and through, hell hath no fury like a citizens scorned. Of course, it does not help that even as the people propose solutions that the government will ignore anyway. The white paper is being discussed in parliament for just this one week. Will anything change inside the white paper? We all know this is a theatrical side show where the motion will be passed anyway by 80 to 7. Already, PAP has gone on the attack on just the second day of the debate.
Even our neighbours across the causeway know why Singaporeans are angry. When discussing the loss of PAP at the by-election, sakmongkol had said that, “With all the signs of wealth, progress and efficient government machinery, the Punggol Easters showed that other things matter. These include such intangibles like honour, dignity, the right to partake in the progress of the nation without surrendering the right to affirm and assert personal choice. We don’t go around demanding people to show gratitude by giving us unqualified support do we? The material and resources you build up this country do not belonged to you but us collectively, the people. It showed that a government that has lost touch with the basic aspirations of people, can lose elections. And a most crucial element in basic aspirations is the desire to affirm one’s personal freedom and a corresponding refusal to let others run their lives in a paternalistic manner. This is a bitter lesson for the PAP government. Achieving and accomplishing so many things have desensitized the PAP leadership. Success and so much of it, does not confer absolute license to do what it pleases without taking into account the basic and fundamental claim of the individual.”
No, the frustrations and unhappiness surrounding the Singapore Population White Paper 2013 is not about the white paper and it’s not about the 7 million population. Singaporeans are angry because they know that the government has not heard them. And right after the by-election, no less, which got them up in arms and the lid boiled over. All hell broke loose. And now the government is trying to put the lid back and trying to use their business backers to push the people back into their cage. But will the people do?
See, PAP has been in power for too long. They’ve been in power for so long that they are like rulers hanging on to the last strands of cloth. They sit on a shaky throne and even as it shakes, they continue to put stones and rocks under their throne to stablise it, even as bit by bit, the stones, like their power, erode under their weight. The PAP wants to do anything it can to keep itself in power, but its time is up. Like any leader who has too much power, the power has gone into their head and they now live deluded lives, dreaming up stories of how they continue to know the best for Singapore and Singaporeans and conjuring ideas of how Singaporeans can continue to be beckoned like sheep back into their chains.
I am tired. I am tired of having to fight for my rights which are mine. I am tired of having to convince PAP to think for us and to spare just even that little thought of us, when they brush us away as “noises”. I am tired. It feels like I am beating around the bush, as PAP, like the mulberry, sits atop the bush, and not feeling the sway of the leaves that we keep beating at.
Come General Election (GE) 2016, I will vote like I had done in the past two general elections and vote with the 54.52% of Singaporeans at the Punggol East By-Election 2013. I will do what is right for myself, for our nation, for Singapore and for Singaporeans. Come GE 2016, I will use my vote to wake PAP up.
In this article, I hope to give an overview of the PAP’s government planning principles, what the alternatives are and what impediments we will face to try to achieve them.
In the charts below, you can see the overall framework of what this article hopes to cover. These are things that you would already know, and I’m framing them into perspective for discussion and clarity.
PAP’s Current Planning Principles and Model
The PAP’s government planning principles can be summed up as The Holy Trinty. In Chart 1, you can see what I mean.
Basically, PAP’s governing principles is as follows (look at the corresponding numbers in the white circles in the chart for the points):
To achieve economic growth, PAP focuses on three growth pillars: GDP growth, productivity growth and population growth. In the recent population white paper, after learning from its mistakes over the past decade of policy missteps, PAP has also included a sub-pillar of infrastructural growth, to appease the people so that they will accept PAP’s want to increase the growth of the foreigner population.
PAP believes that everything can be resolved with money. For this illustration, you can see that PAP’s plans to increase the total fertility rate (TFR) is by increasing the parenthood financing. There are of course some caveats. When it comes to protecting the low income earners, why does PAP not think that this can be resolved with money – by implementing a minimum wage law or by increasing worker salary?
This is where PAP’s third planning principle come in – profits is always topmost on their minds. I’m going to surmise that PAP doesn’t want to increase the wages of workers directly because doing so means first, instituting a permanent fixture into the worker salary which will eat into company profits permanently. Second, there are fewer babies that will need financial reimbursement but more workers who will need to be financially protected permanently, which again means permanent profit loss at a wider rate. In 2011, there were about 40,000 babies born but more than a million workers earning less than $1,000. Also, when you subsidise child rearing, this money comes out from government revenue, which needs to be spent anyway. But when you increase worker salaries, this eats directly into profits, which what could otherwise be earned and kept. But, before we can conclude on this, we would need to do the calculations for this. Thus the government would rather peg any discussion on wage increase to a variable that is seemingly out of their control, and would not have significant rises – productivity growth, so that any discussion on wage growth, or the difficulty of it, can be framed in terms of another measure that is difficult to improve.
As much as PAP believes that it is forward-planning, PAP actually plans with short term objectives. Why do I say this? PAP would rather bring in foreigners at a higher rate, rather than increase their focus more on efforts to increase the TFR, and this would of course mean a longer time to increase the population. As NSP has pointed out, countries which have high population densities have lower TFR, which means that at the rate the government chooses to bring in foreigners, our TFR will only drop further because of the corresponding increase in population density. This clearly shows that increasing the parenthood financing package is only a token measure. The government knows with their current plans, that the TFR won’t increase and the number of Singaporeans who need to be reimbursed will remain relatively low.
So, you can see that based on the government’s current planning principles, there are several policies that they’ve put in place which are doomed to fail.
First, as mentioned, the TFR is unlikely to increase in spite of how much money the government is willing to give because of their counterintuitive policy of increasing the number of foreigners, which will increase the population density, which has been correlated with low TFR.
The government had also mentioned that in order to increase the wages of Singaporeans, they intend to increase productivity so as to increase wages accordingly. However, this will never happen because as long as the population keeps increasing, productivity growth will always be kept low, which means productivity won’t increase and wages won’t increase.
Thus the following equations are what you can see in Singapore:
Proposed Government Planning Principles and Model
But what can we do? As mentioned, there are alternatives. Let’s look at what the alternatives are in Chart 2.
If the current measures of just throwing money at parents won’t be enough to increase the TFR, what can be done? I’ve previously written about how you can see a correlation between countries where countries with shorter working hours and better work-life balance has higher TFR. So, other than financial reimbursement, it’s also about creating an environment that is less stressful and where families have more free time to raise children. So what the government needs to do is to create a social, political and cultural environment which allows the child to grow and express freely, and fully as a being.
If the policy shouldn’t be to keep increasing the number of foreigners without restraint, we need to educate Singaporeans in new ways and train Singaporeans, so that Singaporeans will have the necessary and adequate skills to fill the jobs, especially since the current lament by the government is that Singaporeans do not have the necessary skills sets. This means that from young, the government needs to give our young a diverse education, which can prepare them with the critical thinking and innovation skills required to adapt to the ever-changing work environment and needs. This also means educating our workers with complex and diverse skill sets. When we are able to ground Singaporeans in a diverse educational background and train them with diverse skill sets, they are more likely to be able to have the flexibility to be employed more easily. This will also mean we can reduce our reliance on foreign workers, which will also mean a reduction in population growth and thus an increase in productivity.
The government cannot await the increase of wages, pending the increase in productivity growth. The government needs to proactively institute a minimum wage law and ensure that the rights and wages of the low wage workers at the lower rungs are protected.
Instead of looking at GDP as a gauge of economic growth, we need to be more creative in identifying relevant measures of company profitability and worker compensation. By now, Singaporeans would realise that the GDP is a useless gauge for them to access their livelihood. Also, as NSP has found, more than 50% of our GDP is corporate profit. So, we need to identify more direct and measurable economic indicators. For companies, can we look at overall revenue and profits? For workers, can we look at the growth of wages, median wages and work-life balance indexes? These economic indicators will be more useful and clear as a gauge of economic performance, rather than the vague representation of GDP.
If we look into the above recommendations, we can achieve the following equations:
So, essentially, what we are saying is that the government needs to relook their planning principles to adopt the following planning principles:
Instead of the holy trinity of GDP growth, productivity growth and population growth, how can we look at other components or indicators which are more direct measures of economic growth, and can allow us to have a more direct understanding of our economic well-being?
Instead of relying on financial and economic initiatives to resolve issues, can we look at enhancing social capital and improving the political and cultural environment?
Instead of the government having such a strong focus on accumulating profits, can the government also look at how some profits can be channelled back to the people to protect the people, for their social needs?
Instead of planning on a short term basis, can the government invest in the long term, by providing holistic incentives and conducive environments for families to want to have children, and to restructure our education to provide our children with more diverse education and critical thinking abilities?
PAP’s Obsession with Political Survival
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are some impediments that we need to overcome to these new principles that the government should adopt. And basically, it’s this – these principles, as much as they are sensible and as much as they’ve been what Singaporeans have been asking for, the government won’t adopt them because it goes against the very grain of their political will. Essentially, if they were to adopt these principles, they feel that their political survival and longevity is at stake.
Here’s why (refer to Chart 3):
If the government offers more diverse education which allows the population to have better critical thinking abilities, the government thinks that this will be a threat to the government’s control. Their current premise is that if the population is educated just sufficiently to perform for the economy, this population can be groomed to be a docile worker population who will learn to work like workers in the Singapore factory. If Singaporeans learn to think critically, they will start to critique the government and this will threaten the government’s longevity and power. If the government needs critical thinkers, they can simply import them from overseas. And that’s the government’s strategy.
If the government allows Singaporeans to have shorter work hours and more time for themselves, they will have more time to think. Right now, they have just enough time after work to become consumers to consume and spend for the economy. If they have more time on their hands, what activities will they take up? Will they start thinking and joining civil societies and challenging the government?
Finally, if the government implements a minimum wage law or give people higher salaries, it will eat into their profits permanently and reduce the stock pool of money to increase their wealth. There is simply no incentive for their capitalistic minds for them to what to do this.
Let PAP Take A Break. They Need to Rest.
So, you see, in this article you can see clearly where the government’s planning principles are. You can also see that Singaporeans know what the solutions are and how the government can modify their governing principles to achieve balance and equality for Singapore. Singaporeans know what needs to be done. Singaporeans can govern this country. Yet, it is clear that the government won’t want to change their ways and the reason is down to this – they do not want to do things that they think will threaten their political survival and longevity. In effect, the government is unwilling to do what is necessary for the people because they have allowed their political needs to overcome that of the country and the people. In their fear of losing their political power, they would rather compromise on the needs of Singaporeans, rather than do what is right and respectful for Singaporeans.
Singaporeans, when it comes down to it all, our government’s main motivation is still to themselves first and foremost, above Singaporeans. It is not for Singaporeans. You can see in this article what needs to be done, yet you can also see for yourself how they won’t do it because it is not in their political favour to do so.
In this is the case, no matter how much we argue over the Singapore Population White Paper, they won’t budge or change a thing. In fact, why do they so urgently want to push the white paper out? They want to scare companies into thinking that our GDP growth and productivity will both drop, and this will enrage companies to take action, and scare Singaporeans into submitting to the government, if they were to think that their wages would drop with lower economic growth. But neither companies nor Singaporeans are buying it. First, there are some bosses who know that Singapore’s productivity isn’t growing because the government is only paying lip service to it. Also, if there is a slower growth in population, productivity will in fact grow. Businesses know what the government is playing, they’ve travelled the world and see how GDP growth will not be an impediment to a company’s growth – case in point, the Nordic countries. As for Singaporeans, the government didn’t count on it that Singaporeans would be up in arms with the near-7 million predicted population figure, and right after they’ve trounced the PAP government at the by-election no less! PAP, are you not listening? And Singaporeans are having none of it this time round.
Now, if the problem of the PAP government and the reason why what Singaporeans want would never be fulfilled is precisely because of PAP, what would you do? The very simple answer is to replace them. How other way can we go about it? There are no two ways to this except to replace PAP. It’s high time we stop scaring ourselves and think that if PAP is replaced that we will all be doomed.
If you look at Obama, he was a one-term senator before he decided to run for President and won. Clearly, he wouldn’t be someone you would call as politically experienced yet he took up the mantle and he ran for it. Why? It’s about responsibility. Obama wanted to do what is right and what he could for his country and he decided to go for it. When you are the leader of the country, you don’t run the country by yourself. No one can. The people don’t expect you to do so. In fact, the people expect you to govern on behalf of them. The people would expect you to listen to them. When you are a leader, you get a group of abled people together and you run the country as a team. This is what a government in Singapore should do. Now, remember, there are more than 100,000 people who are employed in the civil service. If there’s a change of 80 or 90 people in government, there are still more than 100,000 people in the civil service who run the day-to-day operations and unless the people in the civil service are doing such a terrible job, a change of hands will be smooth and things will continue to function. Now some of you work in the civil service and if you are worried about a change in government, then that means you are not doing your job. That means you are the one who needs to buck up. When there’s a change of hands in government, Singaporeans expect you to still continue to run the show. Also, don’t forget, the PAP has employed their own people to run the top Singapore companies and pretty much all the essential services in Singapore – telecommunications, transport and power. So, if there’s a change of hands in government, our essential services will still run as per usual. Now, if the PAP government threatens to cut services off, then all the more you need to vote another government in, so that this government can act to prevent PAP from further entrenching themselves in the system, and further marginalise Singaporeans and potentially crippling Singapore.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point what we need to do. We can debate and argue with the PAP government until the cows come home and the cows will never come home. PAP is not interested to change their planning principles and they will not change how they think. They will not because they feel that it threatens their power. They are scared to lose. And they are willing to do all these when at the same time, they marginalise the rights of Singaporeans and prevent us from attaining our rights for ourselves.
Look, you need to help them. When after being in power for so long, they are so scared that they they are holding on to every strand of their power. Help them, help them exit as gracefully as they can. Give them a chance to lose so that they don’t spend their time day in, day out thinking about how to stay in power and how to fix the ‘opposition’ or prevent Singaporeans from attaining their rights. Help them, help them lose so that they have time to think about how they need to learn humility, contentment and respect. Give them time to rest for at least one election, and if we want to bring them back into power, we will always have the next election to do that. If you truly believe that PAP is the right government, let them sit out for a while, while they reflect on the past 50 years of being in governance, what they have done right and what they have not, and what they need to do to respond to Singaporeans better.
Look, there’s no other way to put it. We know what’s wrong. We know what needs to be done. If we keep waiting for something to be done, and something right to happen, it will never happen because PAP simply isn’t in the right frame of mind to set themselves right. They need a time-out and a breather to let them think about things more thoroughly and clearly and if you don’t give them that chance to, you are not being fair to them and you are not being fair to yourself. We know what needs to be done and we know that we are capable enough to do what needs to be done. I know because I’m amazed by the amount of quality things and deep thoughts that Singaporeans have profound over the last few months since the incident with the SMRT bus drivers, the Aim-AHTC episode, the by-election and now the Singapore Population White Paper, all of which which has shown a deeply engaged and thinking Singaporeans, whom when pushed and moulded, are very capable of providing solutions and in bringing new ideas and hopes into Singapore.
Now, if you know you have what it takes and you know what needs to be done to set things right in Singapore, you need to step up and you need to form the next government. You have to! It means letting your pride go and allowing yourself to become a useful servant to the people, to bring justice and equality back to Singapore once again. So that, once more, Singaporeans can live in happiness and fairness and learn to look at the person next to us, to smile at them, respect them and embrace them with warmth and a kind heart. We need to make Singapore the better place that we’ve been dreaming for some time now.
You would have noticed by now, that in my discussion on the Singapore Population White Paper, I’ve not discussed the details of the paper. However, I’ve been discussing mainly concepts and ideas behind what could have transpired behind the planning of the white paper. I think it’s important to understand the planning principles, so that we know where the starting point for discussion is, and so that we can tackle the discussion better. You need to know what PAP fundamentally thinks so that you can know what you need to debate with them on.
Essentially, we can debate with the government on the details until the cows come home and they wouldn’t budge on the details in the white paper. Why? As I’ve discussed so far and you would know anyway, PAP’s planning principles are aligned to looking at Singapore as a city and as a capitalistic node of economic production. It isn’t an accurate reflection by PAP to call the white paper the ‘Singapore Population’ white paper when what they should really call it is the ‘Singapore Workers’ white paper. Based on their planning principles, they are really looking at creating a conducive environment for workers to continue to work and produce for the city economy, and have just a bit of breathing space in between work. This is essentially what their thinking is.
We could ask for them to give Singaporeans more welfare, minimum wage, anti-discrimination laws, shorter working hours etc and these would never happen because they do not see Singaporeans as citizens living in a country. We are workers living in a city. You will see later how even as we are workers in a city, we can be accorded basic human rights yet these are taken from us. And we will attempt to find out quickly why this is so.
So, what then is a city, and what a country? According to UN-HABITAT, “cities can make countries rich because the high concentration of people enables industry to produce goods more cheaply. High population densities in cities reduce transaction costs, make public spending on infrastructure and services cheaper, and make the generation and diffusion of knowledge easier. In turn, these factors attract the fast growing sectors of an economy into cities.”
In the article, ‘What Makes a City Great‘, Donald Low, who was then Head of the Centre for Public Economies in the Civil Service College in Singapore, had said that much of the reasons that drive urbanisation has, “much … to do with the rise of the knowledge economy. Unlike large-scale manufacturing activities which require physical space and economies of scale, the knowledge economy — which relies on the creation, exchange and spread of ideas — requires dense networks of skilled workers and economies of scope.” He went on say that it is about “the ability to concentrate a large number of knowledge workers from many related disciplines in a relatively small area. Dense, compact cities are best placed to offer and exploit the network externalities and economies of scope that the knowledge economy demands.”
He added that, “From an economic perspective, a denser city confers much larger advantages. For a knowledge economy in particular, urban density is an even more importance source of economic advantage. The ability of highly skilled workers to congregate in a relatively compact area — where commuting times are minimised and the opportunities to trade and exchange ideas are maximised — is the very reason why cities are more innovative and dynamic.”
Donald had also made this comment by saying that, “All this suggests that instead of trying to create ever more space for households, our urban planners should instead focus on increasing urban density. This requires “compensating” our residents for the loss of private space with an increase in public spaces. In Singapore’s context, the most important public spaces the state can create are not necessarily physical ones such as parks and community facilities, but rather intellectual ones: room for the free exchange of ideas, a less fettered media, less government paternalism and the like.”
You can see that clearly that in the white paper, the government has adopted the idea of increasing urban density, whilst focusing on the increased accessibility to public spaces such as parks. The government has also adopted the idea of not creating more spaces for households but yet, ignoring mostly the creation of idea for intellectual spaces.
Donald surmised that, “Cities which are dense, highly connected and have lots of mixed-use areas are not only more vibrant economically; they also hold the promise of sustainable development.” Is this the mindset that the government has adopted as well? Clearly, it seems to be.
What then is a country, or perhaps, a “nation”? Ernest Renan describes this beautifully when he had said in his lecture, ‘What is a Nation?‘, that “A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so called historical right. According to the ideas that I am outlining to you, a nation has no more right than a king does to say to a province: “You belong to me, I am seizing you.” A province, as far as I am concerned, is its inhabitants; if anyone has the right to be consulted in such an affair, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has any real interest in annexing or holding on to a country against its will. The wish of nations is, all in all, the sole legitimate criterion, the one to which one must always return.”
However, we would do well to also remember what nations really are. In an article, ‘What Is a “Nation”?‘ by the Global Policy Forum, it is described that, “A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity – an “imagined community,” a tribe on a grand scale … National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity.” It further added that, “Nations seem so compelling, so “real,” and so much a part of the political and cultural landscape, that people think they have lasted forever (but) in reality, they come into being and dissolve with changing historical circumstances – sometimes over a relatively short period of time, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.” The article further asked, “Why, then, does national identity give rise to such extremely strong feelings? And why would so many be ready to “die for the nation” in time of war?” and suggested that, “the pull of nationalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with – and a glue that binds states together and helps many people (for better and for worse) make sense out of a confusing reality.” So, as much as we continue to believe in the notion of a ‘country’ because of the sense of security that it seems to provide us, we need to acknowledge the temporal nature of countries, as all political entities, and not allow ourselves to grow too attached to the notion.
But let’s back track a bit on our discussion of the city versus the country. I’m going to surmise that you can understand cities as economic nodes of production, whereas countries (or nations) tie to them a sense of cultural identity, and emotional and psychological ties and affects. This is, of course, a very simplistic distinction, but for the purpose of our discussion, will suffice.
So then, if you can understand that when the government plans for Singapore that it looks at Singapore as a city, you will understand that the principles that underline their planning is focused towards economic growth and production. As Donald had also said, the government’s focus should be on increasing the population density to increase economic growth in a knowledge economy, which the government wants to move Singapore into. And as you can see in the white paper, the government has clearly adopted this stance.
However, is this wise? According to the National Solidarity Party (NSP)’s Population Plan for Singapore, the government’s white paper is contrary to Singapore’s efforts to increase our fertility rate. According to NSP, “we can see that when population density increases, fertility decreases. This is supported by independent research in Austria. Increasing our population to 6.9 million by 2030 is therefore likely to further depress our fertility rate, creating a vicious cycle. We need to focus on improving our fertility rate if we want to continue growing our economy with minimal social problems.”
NSP had also created the chart below which shows that, “regions with the highest population density also have the lowest fertility rate. The correlation is even stronger when considering Singapore’s fertility rate from 1995 to 2010.”
So, you can see here that not only does the government plan for Singapore as a city based on economic principles and by increasing the population density, these very principles go against the very grain of building a Singaporean core and increasing the fertility rate. One does wonder how sincere the government truly is when they dispense initiatives and funds to ‘help’ Singaporeans raise children, when on the whole, they aren’t interested in creating an environment and infrastructure that supports the upbringing of a child.
To further explore how the government plans for Singapore as a city, rather than as a country, lets look at the international rankings of Singapore.
One just needs to look at the Economic Development Board (EDB) to understands how the government positions Singapore. In describing “Singapore’s Fundamentals“, EDB had talked about how, “Singapore is attuned to the needs of businesses and the need to protect invention and innovation.” Also, it is explicitly stated that, “The government has always adopted a pro-business policy, regardless of world economic situations or crisis. It has taken tough measures including reducing corporate tax rates, lowering employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates and capping office rental rates. For the quality of its government policies, Singapore has been rated The world’s easiest place to do business (Doing Business 2012 Report, World Bank).” The government isn’t shy about how it limits the rights of workers to enhance Singapore’s attractiveness for businesses.
EDB had also highlighted Singapore’s rankings, and said that, “Singapore has many accolades pegged to its brand, bolstering the Republic’s reputation as a key regional and global hub for companies to do business.”
You can see that the rankings (in the pictures below) are categorized into Economics Performance, Competitiveness and Business Environment, Business Legislation and Efficiency, Government, Labour and Expatriate Living. Laughably, under the ranking of governance, EDM champions Singapore as the most non-corrupt and transparent country in Asia.
Yet, even as the government plans for Singapore as a city based on economic principles and it seems that there cannot be any allowance for the people’s basic rights to be accorded, why then is it that another seeming city-state, such as Hong Kong, is able to account for its people’s rights yet create a conducive business environment? I got the photo below from Occupy Singapore’s Facebook Page.
Even as Singapore and Hong Kong are ranked head-to-head as the most economically competitive cities and the world’s 3rd and 4th largest financial centers, Hong Kong is yet able to cater to the people’s basic and fundamental human rights needs. Why not Singapore?
In fact, according to the UN-HABITAT report report, the report also says that, “Municipal authorities must maintain ‘inclusiveness’ policies if they are to narrow the gross social, economic, political and cultural inequalities that divide residents in many cities of developing nations.” It also says that, “In an inclusive city, residents take part in decision-making that ranges from the political to issues of daily life. Such participation injects a sense of belonging, identity, place into residents, and guarantees them a stake in the benefits of urban development.” This is a process that is clearly lacking in the consultation, or lack thereof of the white paper. The report also describes that even as cities are planned according to economic principles, “Cities wanting to design and implement plans for inclusiveness can only succeed if they fully understand how the social, economic, political and cultural can, together, best be integrated into the daily lives of the public. Indeed, viewing economic opportunities in conjunction with other forms of political, social and cultural rights in societies is what builds capable social capital in developing countries.” Importantly, the report also explains that political inclusion, by having “A politically inclusive city (that) upholds citizens’ rights and liberties, encourages social and political participation so that city officials will make better informed decisions and in a democratic manner.” This again, is sorely lacking in the governance of Singapore.
Why then is our government unconcerned about the social well-being and rights of its people? The answer lies in our governance and the mindset that besets them.
According to the Public Research Associates, “Fascists particularly loathed the social theories of the French Revolution and its slogan: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
- Liberty from oppressive government intervention in the daily lives of its citizens, from illicit searches and seizures, from enforced religious values, from intimidation and arrest for dissenters; and liberty to cast a vote in a system in which the ; majority ruled but the minority retained certain inalienable rights.
- Equality in the sense of civic equality, egalitarianism, the notion that while people differ, they all should stand equal in the eyes of the law.
- Fraternity in the sense of the brotherhood of mankind. That all women and men, the old and the young, the infirm and the healthy, the rich and the poor, share a spark of humanity that must be cherished on a level above that of the law, and that binds us all together in a manner that continuously re-affirms and celebrates life.”
The article also goes on to say that, “Fascism and Nazism as ideologies involve, to varying degrees, some of the following hallmarks:
- Nationalism and super-patriotism with a sense of historic mission.
- Aggressive militarism even to the extent of glorifying war as good for the national or individual spirit.
- Use of violence or threats of violence to impose views on others (fascism and Nazism both employed street violence and state violence at different moments in their development).
- Authoritarian reliance on a leader or elite not constitutionally responsible to an electorate.
- Cult of personality around a charismatic leader.
- Reaction against the values of Modernism, usually with emotional attacks against both liberalism and communism.
- Exhortations for the homogeneous masses of common folk (Volkish in German, Populist in the U.S.) to join voluntarily in a heroic mission–often metaphysical and romanticized in character.
- Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy–seeing the enemy as an inferior or subhuman force, perhaps involved in a conspiracy that justifies eradicating them.
- The self image of being a superior form of social organization beyond socialism, capitalism and democracy.
- Elements of national socialist ideological roots, for example, ostensible support for the industrial working class or farmers; but ultimately, the forging of an alliance with an elite sector of society.
- Abandonment of any consistent ideology in a drive for state power.”
Does all this sound familiar to you?
The reason that the Singapore government doesn’t believe in respecting the basic human right and well-being is because our government has styled themselves along the lines of a fascist government. Our government believes in the same ideology as Hitler did. If Hilter was to be the leader of Singapore now, he would be very glad to hold regular elections and keep the affront of democracy too, because he would be able to control the people and make them willingly vote him in as their leader, no matter how much he takes advantage of them. Singaporeans are very easy to loot and plunder. Our crime rate might be low – the government won’t let others steal from Singaporeans. Why let others steal from Singaporeans when you can steal from Singaporeans yourself?
You know what the problem is? The problem is that we have a government which believes that it is a national central government and it is one which believes in fascist ideals, even as it models itself outwardly, based on democracy. Our government is a wolf in sheep skin, or essentially, a fascist government which appears like a democracy. Also, this government that we now have isn’t a national central government. It’s a municipal local government. The way this government functions and the mindset that it operates on is severely crippling in its ability. It’s only able to think and plan economically, so essentially it’s functioning as a city government on a municipal local level. This government doesn’t have the capability to operate on a national level, where it needs to consider the other non-economic aspects of national governance, to also develop policies and plans for the people’s social, political and cultural well-being.
This is why this PAP government is only able to think and plan for Singapore as a city, because that’s how it sees its role. It cannot envision Singapore other than a city, of a Singapore that is about a shared imagination of the people and one that builds on the people’s intellectual, emotional and psychological needs. When Singaporeans talk about our government as being inept and incompetent, what are we really talking about? We are saying that this government functions on a municipal local level, which plans along only economic principles and which believes in fascist ideals. It is not able to think otherwise, for the people’s well-being, and why it’s a crippled government.
Singaporeans, we need another government. We need a government which understands its role as a truly democratic national central government, which will not only plan based on economic principles, but also along social, political and cultural principles, and one which engages the people’s intellectual, emotional and psychological needs. We need a government which is encompassing and understands its role well beyond the current limitations and rigidity that the current municipal local PAP government has enclosed itself within.
How can we have another government then? We can do so by allowing the current municipal local PAP government to continue to run Singapore, or parts of it, based on economic principles. But we need to create a new national central government which the municipal local PAP government will be subsumed under, and where this national central government will also plan for Singaporeans along the needs of social, political and cultural principles. In fact, we should demarcate the parts of Singapore which are the city core and allow the municipal local PAP government to only handle these areas, while the national central government takes care of the whole of Singapore. This means that the PAP government should only manage Raffles City, Marina Bay, Orchard Road, the Jurong Gateway, Tampines commercial hubs, the Science Parks and the new proposed commercial belts of the North Coast Innovation Corridor and the Southern Waterfront City.
In this way, the national central government will then be able to create policies which will take care of the people’s social needs, such as implementing a minimum wage law, shorter working hours, anti-discrimination policies, fairer revenue and expenditure distribution to provide Singaporeans a more manageable standard and cost of living, and to abolish the Internal Security Act and defamation laws. This national central government will also then be able to ensure equality be accorded to our education system to reduce the stresses and competition, so that our children are able to enjoy learning and growing in a truly embracing environment. This national central government will also be able to oppose the municipal local PAP government if PAP decides to reduce how much Singaporeans can withdraw for their CPF or to prevent unreasonable increment to the Medishield premiums and Medisave Required Amount. This national central government will keep the municipal local PAP government in check and put PAP in its place.
Is such a government feasible? Maybe, maybe not, because will Singapore’s size allow it to have two governments running one country and city? Well, why not? But if you believe otherwise, and if you want a government that will represent your needs and not one which plans only along economic lines, then do something about it. If you are a capable person who knows what you can do for the social, political and cultural needs of Singapore, then join the other political parties and allow the other parties to become more credible in their representation and qualification. Come 2016, we will vote for the government that will truly represent our needs and wants, and one which will not only plan for Singapore as a city and just along economic principles, but one that will be all-encompassing, that will cater to the social, political and cultural needs of Singaporeans, and will accord equality and fair treatment to Singaporeans, and indeed, all of the peoples living in Singapore, so that we will have a just society which respects the rights of each and every individual, and one where we would talk about each other with genuine empathy and compassion.
Is this a Singapore that is foreseeable? Is this a Singapore that you want, and want that you want your children and grandchildren to grow up in? Is this a Singapore that we hope can be, one which has a heart and one where we are able to set aside our struggles and worries, and to reach out to one another to care for one another?
So, what will you do?
You can read more about Fascism on Wikipedia here.