Could the PAP achieve inclusiveness with the National Con-versation?

The video below is a speech by former President Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention and he raised one very important aspect of a leader that President Obama possess and that is the commitment to constructive cooperation and his ability to work with people who disagree with him.

 

“He(Obama) appointed Republican secretary of Defense, the Army and Transportation. He appointed the vice-president who ran against him in 2008. And he trusted that vice-president to oversees the successes to end the war in Iraq and the implementation of the Recovery Act… He appointed several members of his Cabinet even though they supported Hillary in the primary. Heck! He even appointed Hillary!”~Bill Clinton at 11:56 of video

 

In Singapore, we have never once heard from the PAP endorsing or even acknowledging the proposals raised by the Opposition. While some Singaporeans could write the Opposition off the book using the PAP-subscribed scare tactics about them being totally inexperience, readers must be reminded that the present PAP administration does not even acknowledge proposals from within their circle – and these people are no lightweights holding acting ministerial positions. One such heavyweight is Emeritus Professor Lim Chong Yah, who was the former National Wages Council Chairman and hence we can safely consider him a man in white as well. 6 months back, he proposed a shock wage therapy including a Minimum Wage to fix the dangerous widening income gap, the PAP were quick to fire it down dismissing his proposal as “radical”[Source], “unworkable”[Source] and “too risky”[Source]. Other former heavyweight associates of the establishment who contributed to the PAP in the past are today notably ignored like Tan Kin Lian, Tan Jee Say and Yeoh Lam Keong[Source].

 

Could the PAP government achieve inclusiveness and see beyond partisanship to work with truly qualified people who can bring Singapore forward? The National Conversation exercise is supposed to savage them some votes as a facade that the PAP has changed into a consultative government wanting inclusiveness. But we are well into our 3rd month since the national con job started, Singaporeans must ask themselves if any policies did change at all? Being really fair to the PAP, we are not expecting instantaneous results – housing price starts dropping, cost of living becoming cheaper, birth rate starts going up or etc. For discussion purpose we take the White Papers released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry:

Ministry of Trade and Industry: White Paper[Source] released
Conclusion: Singapore needs more foreign labor so wages can go up and economy can grow

But the counter-arguments have always been there and have been raised umpteen times by so many people. Here are some of the fallacies or simply excuses why the PAP doesn’t want to increase wages for you:

1) Wages don’t go up with slower growth
On the contrary despite a slower GDP growth of 4.9% in 2011 as compared to 14.8% GDP growth in 2010, the Ministry of Manpower reports a higher wages [Source]. Economy growth simply doesn’t correlate with growth in wages, because otherwise the salaries of the bottom 20% income earners would not have seen their salaries stagnated for the past decade[Source].
2) Increasing wages drives down Singapore’s competitiveness and result in slower growth
This is a rat race to the bottom, being cheapest as the winner and unless our workers can survive on $3 a day, we can never beat China. In fact, an economist from UOB bank said[Source]:
“Deviation between Unit Labour costs (ULCs) and Unit Business costs (UBCs) of manufacturing since 2009 suggests that the increase in UBCs was not due to a tighter labour market, but higher industrial property prices seen in recent years.”

 

 

We all know it is the PAP who controls the land prices and kept the cost of building a HDB divine secret(they are very tight-lipped over this because there are unrefuted calculations that the price of a 4 room BTO flat merely cost $120,602[Source]). Commercial rentals are largely controlled by land costs, so when you ask why is the cost of living so high today, ask how much rental are the new business owners paying and they will tell you to ask the PAP why the physical building costs so much in the first place.

 

The 2 above arguments about wages is just one example. There are many more on the falling birth rate, the housing prices, the inflation, the CPF, the NS, the public transport, the ERP/COE, the election procedures, the ISA, the judiciary and etc. These constructive alternatives are all widely circulated in public and for the record: they are not findings from the self-proclaimed think-tanks of the PAP machineries like the Institute of Policy Studies or the NUS/NTU/SMU research instituitions.  It is apparent having these “think-tanks” filled with academias do not complement the PAP’s strategy and helps in the overall comprehensiveness of a national policy. Have the PAP been more inclusive and accepting of people who disagree with them, they stand a very good chance to redeem a lot more lost votes than a last minute apology could have done. They could have made the right patches to outdated policies, or simply introduce sweeping changes that could bring policies more helpful and relevant to the challenges Singaporeans are facing today.

We look at the present batch of young ministers coming in, notably the trio newbies: Tan Chuan Jin, Chan Chun Sing and Lawrence Wong. They are just old wine in new bottles and even though their approach are different, their same old authoritarian elitist and the-PAP-knows-it-all style is still the same. They recognize that the delivery of the PAP policies were wrong at least, they believe Singaporeans should be involved in a 2 way communication. But they don’t believe anyone, other than the PAP themselves, have the solutions. But the question is are they better?
No of course, in fact their incompetence sticks out like a sore thumb. The new acting ministers are not abiding by the social contract Singaporeans and the PAP have in the first place. For those of you who do not know the social contract, that is creature comforts for freedom – the older generations of Singaporeans traded their freedom for progress(and we are talking about real progress in take home wages and affordability). Ignorance was bliss and the PAP government can have their ways so long the progress were inclusive, or so the older generations of Singaporeans thought. Not until today when they started seeing exclusive growth that put them out of jobs and have them working into their twilight years. The social contract has somehow expired today, but the new ministers could only understand half of this social contract – the half that the PAP makes all the rules – which they are now seen bulldozing their policies.

 

The other half of the social contract they dont understand, is that people must see real growth. Not GDP numbers, not fancy political sales talk like $1000 paycheck sufficient for HDB or the “capital gain” bullshit pricing out young couples for HDB flats. Simply: these new ministers do not have constructive concrete strategies to improve the peoples’ lives. Singaporeans need a decent house at the right price, a population at the right size, a public transport at the right efficiency, a workforce at the right proportion and most important of all an inclusive growth at the right sacrifices. Singaporeans are willing to work hard, as we have always been, but in the recent years we have seen too many people working too hard for little results. Then again, these bread-and-butter issues did not happen last year or the year before, they were recurring unsolved issues left by their predecessors for nearly a decade today. The new scholar ministers have instead worked from the other end of the problem, taking the falling birth rate and the overcrowding issue for examples:  Instead of working out the concerns of Singaporeans’ parents and improving the purchasing power of Singaporeans, they believe what we need is more Baby Bonus. Instead of reducing the number of foreigners in Singapore, they are asking people not to take public transport at the peak hours and increasing ERP and COE prices sky high to decrease the number of car ownership in Singapore.  What the PAP and Singapore need are not acting ministers who have no audacity and the flame inside to improve the peoples’ lives, we need courageous men who have a good grasp on ground sentiments and have the moral courage to deliver the right action plan even though it disagrees with the Prime Minister’s direction like Tan Kin Lian, Lim Chong Yah, Tan Jee Say and Yeoh Lam Keong did. We need people who are not yes-men, and we need a government who is able to collaborate with the right qualified person who might be seen opposing for the sake of opposing at times.

Tharman is in no position to speak about values and ethos

“What is more difficult is not language, but values. And this is not as tangible and we don’t focus on it as much. But I think there we have lost something in the values and the ethos of the Chinese-medium schools.”

“Language policies can always be refined and if we need to strengthen in one area we can always do it. But values and ethos are not so easily turned on with a switch. They evolve gradually over time and there we have lost something, that attitude to life and society that was very much part of Chinese-medium schools.”

“A certain reverence for standards of conduct, benevolence and contributing to society.”
~PAP Millionaire Minister Tharman

 

Tharman is right, values are indeed diminishing today as compared to the past. Those were the days where employees would work faithfully and their bosses would take care of them ensuring an iron rice bowl with attractive remunerations, those were also the days where leaders of the government led humbly by examples and gave their all without asking.
Fast forward a few decades today, values and ethos upheld by these leaders of societies has been equated to dollars and cents. Publicly, the ruling PAP today has admitted that without the attractive millions, no leaders would answer the call to serve the country. To make things worse, they have also admitted that they couldn’t retain leaders without the bounty. To drive the point aptly, a yes-man MP from the PAP ever linked the dignity of a politician to the salary he is drawing:

 “If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.”
~PAP MP Lim Wee Kiak

The bankruptcy of morals begins when values, ethos and dignity are defined in dollars. The PAP government pays itself good money for such values. While Singaporeans do not know how much self-praised non-corruption, self-praised competency and a typical Asian GDP cost, they do know they are paying through their noses with the world’s highest salaries for their leaders to possess these values. The notion that money buys values have been accepted by at least 60% of the citizens, and these are the people leading the moral rot in society.

Turning to the streets, there have been a rapid increase in the number of tissue paper touts and beggars on the street, what values and ethos are the PAP reflecting by ignoring these peoples’ pleas for help? When income inequality reached record high, what values and ethos are the PAP reflecting when they say it is a common problem and other developed cities have it worse? When the salaries of the bottom 20 percentile earners have stagnanted over the past decade, what values and ethos are the PAP reflecting when they said it is acceptable so long Meritocracy and Social Mobility exists in the system? What values and ethos could the people – young, old and the new citizens – learn from them?

Even the values and ethos of an apology were timed and issued aptly to redeem votes. Here we have a Minister drawing millions and taking the moral high ground preaching philanthropy, values and ethos over the national media. That really makes people wonder if he ever looked at his paycheck and felt remorse. It remains unanswered how shameless some people can get, but at least we have a gauge here demonstrating its extent where one hypocrite thinks he is in the position to preach equality in this very unequal country he as a leader had leaded into. Meritocracy couldn’t be more maligned when it came out from the mouths of the PAP leaders. No one student in Singapore is on equal footing when the education system requires tuition, good schools and even good physique for CCAs in order for one to be successful. When better resources are given to “worthy” students with better results, how could this be Meritocracy? When polytechnic students are discriminated in local universities as they were “prepared primarily for the workforce and not for universities” [Source] even when they are eligible and readily accepted by foreign universities and their diplomas are of a higher standard that of A levels?

In almost every developed country, the disabled and elderly do not worry about their survival in society because their governments takes good care of their healthcare and living expenses. The PAP have no such policies, and in fact, they detest such welfare because they believe people will deliberately get sick and even worse get themselves terminally-ill so they can abuse the welfare system. They believe a social safety net is a cash payout system, and every inadequacies of the social programs could be solved by Workfare and GST bonus package. Inflation is unchecked and food prices are going up? Here’s more cash for you. The government couldn’t even be responsible to take care of the elderly and simply passed the ball to the voluntary welfare organizations. Look no further for ethos and values than at yourself Tharman. The country is under your watch, and you are the incumbent. Don’t blame the people for diminishing of values for the society are what it is today because of you.

Singapore elderly poor

Singapore has been seeing record GDP over the past decade, but that has not translated into a better standard of living for its people. The elderly are particularly one such group who have been left out and forgotten by the progress. While the Singapore PAP government woos the super-rich, the super-poor are left to fend for themselves. Unlike the other countries, there is little social safety net for the island state which prides itself as a Meritocratic country. One such example is Mr Wang, a 50 year old cleaner working in Bugis:

 

Most elderly in Singapore works in low end jobs which faces fierce competition from cheap foreign labor. The PAP government has given Singapore’s businesses an ample supply of cheap foreign labor, which have in turn depressed salaries over the past decade. Singapore’s rich-poor income gap has continued to grow, fast surpassing that of any developed countries like the United States and Russia. This has prompted the former National Wages Council Chairman, Professor Lim Chong Yah, to urge for a wage shock therapy and a first ever hourly Minimum Wage of $5.68 for Singapore’s low income workers. The PAP government however do not believe in a Minimum Wage, and prefer Workfare, an one-off cash payout for the workers.

Population increasing but businesses face manpower crunch

According to the Singapore Contractors Association, the recent government’s move to increase the levies and lower the foreign worker quota have threatened the survival of contractors mainly in the construction field. This complaint about the manpower crunch has been reflected by businesses across all industries which have relied heavily on cheap foreign labor for survival. However the disconnect is that Singapore’s population has actually increased to 5.23 million today, or 25% more than 12 years ago in the year 2000.

 

So why are there less labor when there are more people? One key reason is the increasing cost of living in Singapore. Salaries are largely depressed by the loose labor market, as such, the rise in salaries do not commensurate with inflation hence lowering purchasing powers of employees in Singapore. Inflation in Singapore is also largely brought upon by the high demand propped up by the number of people. Also with the slight tightening of labor market, employers have no choice but to look to Singaporeans and PRs for labor. However Singaporeans and PRs have massive financial obligations, most notably the housing market. Unlike foreign workers, Singaporeans and PRs buy their own flats and hence undertaken a large amount of mortgage loan to serve. Salaries that couldn’t afford paying off the house especially those in the lower end jobs are out of the residents’ considerations. Employers in Singapore will continue to have a hard time finding employees if they do not pay right.

 

Another key reason to the current manpower crunch is the competitive offers by bigger companies. Job seekers are not attracted to puny remunerations offered by contractors, the Multi-National Companies(MNCs) have more to offer – with a pantry full of free drinks and food becoming the norm in MNCs like Microsoft and Facebook Singapore. Even the Civil Service pays better than contractor companies with quarterly bonus, performance bonus and a sure-have annual bonus. Contractor companies in Singapore generally do not pay 13th month bonus and the bosses are usually wealthy businessmen while their employees barely scrap by for a living. Job scopes in bigger companies are well-defined and their employees are often given greater autonomy in their work, but Singapore contractors expect their employees to put on different hats and are often subject to micro-management with all the dos and do-nots. The contrast in employment treatment varies too much for a similar job scope, it is no wonder Singapore contractors couldn’t find the right employees. MNCs usually adopt visionary work philosophies like Kaizen, sending their employees for improvement courses while small contractors do away all these “time-wasting” exercises with myopic business outlooks believing employees are paid to work. Not only the human-resource management differs, profit-distribution also varies greatly. The bosses of Singapore contractors are only interested in getting rich, while the bigger companies believe in growing the business and investing in their people.

 

Singapore contractors has enjoyed a good sail because the PAP government gave them too much leeway during the 2000s. None of them have prospered, innovated and grown into a MNC. Most of them have the crutch mentality always asking for the government for more foreign labor quota, more tax reliefs and other pro-business policies. In the recent control on foreign workers, some contractors threatened “folding up” and refusing to raise productivity according to the media interview by ChannelNewsAsia [Source]. The PAP government is unlikely to give in, given their lowest ever vote counts in the recent election.

Alvin Tan saga: PAP is keeping a 15% efficient policy

OPINION PIECE
Anonymous

Singapore’s ASEAN scholar Alvin Tan Jye Yee has openly declared that he will not return a single cents should he be requested to return the $110,000 in total of the scholarship fund which covered all of his expenses and allowance in his 7 years in Singapore. The Malaysian apparently has no sense of gratitude to Singapore and is neither the slightest apologetic in his interview with the Malaysia media over his porn blog saga. Yes he had made a fool out of Singaporeans but who is to be truly blamed for letting errant foreign scholars take advantage and getting away with it?

The PAP government is sole culprit for not laying down a comprehensive clause for foreign scholars who break their bond during their course of study. It is the system that allowed the exploitation in the first place and there is no use crying of spilled milk as there is no penalties as safeguards to prevent abuse. Ironically for an anti-welfare government stance for citizens, this is in fact a free welfare for foreigners who do not contribute to Singapore’s society. So when some angry Singaporeans are complaining how ungrateful Alvin Tan is, they are slapping themselves in the face for voting in a pro-foreigner party to take liberty of their taxes. Anger is logical but it must be directed at the right source, and Alvin Tan is certainly not one.

 

But what is the rationale behind the PAP policy of giving free scholarships to foreigners? The true reason couldn’t be more naive and unbecoming to the point of outright stupidity of a leadership calling itself “first rate” in the international scene. The PAP government expects their goodwill billed to Singaporeans be returned with gratitude by converting to new citizens and contribute to Singapore’s society, which in their defense, “ease the falling birth rate and brain drain in Singapore”.

 

According to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, 20% of the foreign scholars break their bonds upon graduation and only 15% convert into citizenship within 5 years from graduation. Although Permanent Residency is automatically given to all Singapore’s foreign scholars, only 15% became citizens within 5 years, or, 85% of them do not turn out to be grateful as the PAP expected them to be. So why do we still pay for a broken policy that delivers only 15% result? Despite having the figures, the PAP chose to sit on the issue and continue their relentless import of foreign scholars at the expenses of Singaporeans. If the PAP is still keeping a policy that is 15% efficient, what kind of quality and caliber that Singaporeans are having for leaders? And how much are we paying them for?

CPF cash top-up scheme is a negative sum game

Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who top up their CPF using cash to their’s and dependents’ accounts are able to claim dollar-to-dollar tax relief up to $14,000. However, as the average Singaporeans on a payslip do not have to pay income tax due to the raise in GST, the CPF cash top-up relief hence only benefits the rich.

For CPF cash contributor:
Disadvantage: Topping up the CPF with cash is like throwing your money into a black hole where you will not see any return as the government reserves the rights to manipulate the interest rate, Minimum Sum and Withdrawal Age. CPF returns are not guaranteed as it is dependent on the financial health of the two sovereign wealth-fund companies Temasek Holdings and GIC. If the two companies continue their buy high sell low strategy, nobody will have any retirement money to draw from.

 

For Government/CPF/Singaporeans:
Disadvantage: Up to $14,000  worth of taxes are uncollected and in-turn increased the obligations of the CPF upon the members’ retirement age.

Did Singapore progress or regress over the past 10 years?

10 years ago, things in Singapore were a lot simpler like the MRT map on the right. Singaporeans then did not have to squeeze shoulder to shoulder in public transport during the peak hours, cost of living was a lot manageable, there were hardly any elderly touting tissue paper in public and people can easily pay off their housing debt in 15 to 20 years. That was the kind of Singapore the people had trust in, and rightfully so, the kind of government most could have agreed they are first class.

 

Today, ironically, the kind of future we are looking at is actually what we had from the past. People are asking for comfortable living space and affordability – which are what we had in the past, begging the question did Singapore regress over the years?

 

The social contract between Singaporeans and the ruling PAP government has always been a trade between freedom and economics. Singaporeans puts blind faith in the PAP government and the latter delivers results. However, in the past 10 years, purchasing power of the average Singaporeans did not progress in tandem with the GDP which is why cost of living tops the people’s mind today, costing the PAP significant votes that could put them out of power. A decade ago, the Prime Minister then Mr Goh Chor Tong promised a swiss standard of living for Singaporeans in 10 years’ time today. Singaporeans however have seen more of a Russian standard of living where poverty gets sticky and worse, hereditary as children of poor families couldn’t afford a tertiary degree which is fast becoming the very basic qualification of entry for anyone to break out of the poverty cycle. Singapore’s glaring GINI coefficient have regressed over the years to 2011’s 0.47.

 

The PAP government however do not think much of the growing divide because they compares themselves with leading US cities:

“This has parallels with several other global cities, such as Hong Kong and leading US cities like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, all of which have Gini coefficients above 0.5.” ~Singstats [Source]

 

This is irresponsibly myopic because Hongkongers and US citizens have the vast suburban land of the country to fall back on if the cost of living proves too high. There is no such option in Singapore as people will need to resort to the expensive and painful way of migration in order to find a cheaper place to live in. Singapore’s circumstances for the low income workers have made it a place for survival, not living. A 48 hours and beyond work week is the employment norm in Singapore, where total wages still goes way below comfortable level of at least $2000. Normally, in a logical labor market, salaries which pays too low often see an employment crunch. However the PAP government skewed the labor market through the mass import of foreign labor to keep salaries low for businesses.

 

When it comes to housing, the length of mortgage service period, aka the HDB loan, have doubled from the average 15-20 year period in the 1990s to 30-35 year period today in 2012. This increase in underwriting by the banks and HDB is largely attributed to the government’s low interest strategy in the CPF. As the PAP government does not want to pay more for interest rate in the CPF, mortgage lending rate will be pegged low accordingly. The Ordinary Account of the CPF have been kept at 2.5% since 2000, which is strongly manipulated by a “formula” the PAP devised to keep interest rate low, hence further lowering the obligation it has to the people. HDB loans are pegged to CPF OA, at a 0.1% above the CPF OA interest rate of 2.5%.

 

Retirement has also been in jeopardy as more elderly are working past their retirement age of 55. Cleaners, tissue paper touters and even beggers are common in Bugis and Orchard road where foreigners and the rich shop frequent during leisure. Most elderly Singaporeans are either unemployed or working in low end jobs as their CPF couldn’t give them a decent retirement. Age discrimination is common among Singapore employers who have the luxury of a loose labor market brought upon by the loose immigration policy of the PAP government. In a recent survey by a Singapore media research institution, Mindshare, 65% of the 2000 Singaporeans polled believe they are not able to retire in Singapore.

 

Employment, housing, affordability and retirement are all in jeopardy over the past 10 years. So did Singapore progress or regress?