The Reform Party Raises Questions and Calls for the Replacement of the ISA by Modern Anti-Terrorism Legislation

November 27, 2010

The Reform Party refers to the statement made by Minister Shanmugam in Parliament regarding the Mas Selamat case and wishes to make the following points:

  • There continues to be a complete lack of accountability for the unacceptable security lapses demonstrated by Mas Selamat’s escape to Malaysia. The latest revelations are even more shocking as the government is unable to explain how he was able to spend the night at his brother’s flat undetected. One would have thought that would be the first place to watch if a dangerous suspect escapes from custody. Where did he go from the 27th to the 29th? How was he able to pass through Singapore immigration and customs undetected?
  • Instead of the Minister taking responsibility for the security lapses we have the brother’s family all pleading guilty and being sentenced without a trial. It would have been better if the public could have heard more about how Mas Selamat was able to come to their flat and then leave without surveillance. This also raises questions about whether they were given adequate access to legal advice and ability to engage legal representation before they decided to plead guilty.
  • While the Reform Party in no way condones the crime of providing assistance to a fugitive, we need to bear in mind that Mas Selamat has not yet been charged with any crime. This may have had some bearing on the family’s willingness to provide him with aid.
  • According to Minister Shanmugam, “Mas Selamat is a hardened and dangerous terrorist, who has been involved in various plots by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to mount terrorist attacks in Singapore since the 1990s. He is operationally trained and has undergone training not once but twice in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.” However the lackadaisical response of the security services does not reassure about how they would fare if there was a determined attempt at a terrorist attack. If he is a hardened and dangerous terrorist why were greater efforts not made to recapture him?
  • There appears to be no correlation between the sweeping powers given to the government under our Internal Security Act (ISA) and the effectiveness of our security services in preventing terrorism.
  • The Reform Party takes the threat of terrorism very seriously. That is why we demand accountability for the lapses revealed here. However we also believe in due process and the rule of law. The right to hear the evidence against you and to a fair trial is a fundamental human right and a fundamental legal principle dating back to 1214 and Magna Carta. These rights should only be abrogated in the most extreme circumstances such as a state of war or national emergency.  
  • While being committed to the abolition of ISA the Reform Party would introduce new laws to deal with the threat of terrorism. These could include similar provisions to those in the UK Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. These provide for control orders to be issued which can restrict a person’s movements, contacts, and access to communications technology while being compatible with international conventions on human rights.
  • In addition the Reform Party would examine the introduction of a range of new offences to deal specifically with terrorism. These would include, among others, the giving or receiving of terrorist training whether in Singapore or abroad, preparation of terrorist attacks, being at a place where terrorist training was being conducted, possession of material to be used in a terrorist attack, the possession and dissemination of instructional manuals  and incitement to commit acts of terrorism.  All these offences should carry lengthy prison sentences. Presumably, if Mas Selamat had received terrorist training abroad as he is alleged to have done, he could have been prosecuted for this offence had it existed rather than it being necessary to detain him indefinitely.
  • Instead of the unlimited detention powers of the ISA the Reform Party would strike a balance between a suspect’s habeas corpus rights and the ruthless nature of modern terrorism aiming at mass and indiscriminate killing. We suggest that the police should be able to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days after which they would either have to be charged or released.
  • The Reform Party does not believe the terrorist threat is connected to any particular religious or racial community and deplores any attempt, whether implied or otherwise, to single out any community for blame. The prevention of terrorism and the apprehension of suspects remains the responsibility of all Singaporeans.
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Fresh Challenges and the New Political Playing Field

(The following is an excerpt of Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s speech at Political Dialogue @NUSS)

I do not believe that there are any fresh challenges this election as compared with 2006. The issues remain more or less the same although now they are exacerbated. The most fundamental challenge is still that we have a dysfunctional political system which increasingly thwarts the will of the people.

As a result a large part of the population is disenfranchised and may as well be living in China, Belarus or North Korea.

This time the ruling party is facing new and very real challenges to their hegemony.  This is coming both from the electorate and through changes to the political field which they cannot control.

Make no mistake the field is still grossly uneven. Since 1984 the PAP have been changing the electoral rules not to benefit the electorate but to try and ensure a widening disparity between votes cast for Opposition parties and the number of seats held by them in parliament .

In 2006 34% of the electorate in areas where there was a contest voted for the Opposition and were rewarded with just over 2% of the seats in Parliament.  A side-effect of this tinkering is that an increasing proportion of seats in Parliament have gone uncontested.  This proportion has risen from only 14% in 1988 to just below 50% in 2006.

But at the next election a third of the voters will be under 35 and 100,000 will be voting for the first time. For them the old mantras just won’t do anymore.  Better educated and more world wise they are not so easily fooled.

A student recently asked SM Goh if he could tell him what he was defending.  SM Goh seemed taken aback and ended by saying that if this was the sentiment on the ground it was very serious indeed. Well, that is the sentiments on the ground. I know because I am out there with Team RP on the ground meeting the people, listening to their concerns and responding as best we can.

Recently Burma has been in the headlines globally and much mention was made by the press of the fact that the people there hadn’t been able to cast a vote for two decades.

Two decades! I have met people on walkabout who haven’t voted for 40 years. As one woman told me, “I just want a chance to vote once before I die.”

In the beginning Singaporeans were fed the line by the ruling Party that it is necessary to surrender liberty to have security.  They were frightened by the prospect of the enemy at our gate. And along the way we have surrendered not just liberty but many other fundamental rights including the right to choose our own government!

Sadly for Singapore not much has changed. But surely we have achieved prosperity in return for losing our liberty? The sad truth is that we have not.

Our economic growth and high GDP so touted by our leaders is in many ways a sleight of hand fuelled by inputs of ever cheaper labour.

In fact for the median Singaporean real incomes have barely risen over the last twelve years and for the bottom 20%, they may have fallen as much as 20%.  That’s before modernizing the way our CPI index is calculated to take better account of the rise in housing costs and depreciation.

A more relevant measure of economic well-being is productivity and this is captured crudely by looking at GDP per hour worked.

Singapore looks good when we look at GDP per capita but when we correct for our higher employment-population ratio and much higher hours worked, our achievement is more modest.

In fact the latest figures for 2009 from the US BLS show that Singapore came near the bottom of the countries surveyed, only just above South Korea and the Czech Republic and about 60% of the US level.

Since 1995 Singapore’s GDP per hour worked has grown more slowly than the US and Singapore’s growth rate fell to less than 50% of the US figure over the period 2000-2009. Over the same period South Korea’s GDP per hour grew by 3.8%.

And there’s more. There has been a deafening silence from the government and the state-controlled media about the latest UN Human Development Index published on November 4th. In that, Singapore plummets from 23 to 27. South Korea and Hong Kong both move well above Singapore.

Furthermore Singapore’s data is not adjusted for income inequality. Singapore has one of the highest rates of income inequality and if this was taken into account our ranking would be much lower. However Singapore failed to supply the data so this measure could be calculated.

So we have not achieved prosperity for the majority of Singaporeans – just empty growth. And prosperity isn’t achievable without freedom in any case. Any liberal economist will tell you the same thing. In my very first public speech I told Singaporeans not to fall for the Faustian pact that you needed to give up freedom in order to have prosperity. It simply doesn’t work that way.

And David Cameron backed me up recently.

The UK PM in China said “…I am convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together.”

Increasingly the voters of Singapore are daring to have aspirations again. They are not taken in by threats to withhold estate upgrading (with the residents’ own sinking funds!) or that Singapore’s economy will collapse if more Opposition MPs are elected to Parliament.

They can look around and see other Asian economies such as Taiwan and South Korea but also Indonesia and India, which have embraced democracy at the same time as their economic growth has accelerated.

They want a government that is centred on making them better off rather than one whose pay and bonuses are tied to growing the absolute size of the economy. They see little or no benefits flowing to them from the increased revenues while the negative externalities of such growth (in the form of crowded amenities and public transport) are plain to see.

Of course this GE there will be hot button issues. But these buttons like immigration and the foreign labour policy would not be hot enough to burn if the electorate felt that the government cared about its needs.

A student said to me recently, that this is a government that does not care very much about Singaporeans. This is a country run like a corporation.

Well, if Singapore is really run like a corporation, then it is a very bad type of corporation. Singapore Inc is run like the worst sort of short-termist corporate cost-cutter that has lost sight of who its shareholders are. Furthermore it has been engineered without accountability for poor performance whilst paying out enormous pay cheques to the board.

We the citizens have simply lost our rights as shareholders in this country.  The government has been able to allow massive inflows of foreign workers and depress our wages without regard for our economic interests. As a hedge fund manager I used to see an analogous phenomenon frequently in companies in countries where corporate governance was poor. Shareholders were unable to enforce their rights.

An arrogant or self-serving management, faced with shareholder demands that they run the company in a way designed to deliver value would just dilute the existing shareholders. It would do so by issuing massive amounts of new shares to factions aligned with the management.

A similar subterfuge is happening in Singapore. The Singapore growth model is now so dependent on a growing population that I do not see it stabilising any time soon.  We are told that 6.5 million people is the objective but I fear after that we will be told 8 million and then 10 million will be the next objectives.  After all how do you keep the housing bubble going unless you have continual inflows?

As SM Goh said this is likely to be a “watershed” election. It may be your last chance to act before dilution of existing Singaporeans becomes so pronounced that there is no possibility of ever re-asserting control over our management.

Whilst the ruling party has proven incapable of meeting the challenge of a disenfranchised electorate the political playing field has moved on.

Previously you were told that there were no fit players on the other teams. Well, RP disproved that when it announced its first slate of candidates. Before anyone else, we have put out our 19 policy pledges and our manifesto for the coming GE for the public to judge. Our pledges are concrete, intelligent and viable proposals for a better Singapore. RP has been innovative in promoting the mantra of policies not personalities.  We campaign as a team and as a party. Not a collection of individuals. Our party is our policy and vice versa.

This is the way it should be with the electorate. The credibility of the candidates is important but the policies are more important.  Policies should be given as much public airing as possible. They should be examined, tested and held up to rigorous scrutiny. For it is only by being challenged in public that we can be sure the policies are robust and that they represent the will of the people.

Just as RP believes that it is impossible to have prosperity without liberty, we believe in a political system that makes government accountable to the people. Its economic record should also be held up to scrutiny and judged by how much richer it has made the ordinary Singaporean.

Competition is as essential in politics as in business. Without a free marketplace in ideas there can be no real economic progress.

Competition makes us stronger despite the government’s tired line that Singapore is too small and fragile, too racially divided, to allow pluralistic democracy and freedom of expression.

The Reform Party wants to be just as radical about economic reform and genuine privatization as it is about political reform. Unfortunately the PAP seems as incapable of embracing competition in business as in politics. This is demonstrated by the dominance of GLCs in the domestic economy.

RP would reduce the overwhelming role of the state in the economy by privatizing the GLCs. We would strengthen our own SMEs. When the Reform Party talks about privatization we don’t mean the pseudo-privatization of existing state monopolies or cartels. How many Singaporeans are aware that all the mobile phone companies are ultimately controlled by Temasek?

Just as in ideas, we believe competition in business is essential to lower prices and improve quality and ultimately build stronger more productive Singaporean companies. And where competition is impossible because of the limited size of the market we would strengthen regulation.

We are not so much concerned with the absolute size of the economy.  Rather we would measure progress by the rise in living standards of the median Singaporean.

The RP is a liberal free market party but we also want to foster genuine equality of opportunity as well as provide a safety net for those genuinely in need of help.

We would rather invest in our people and cut taxes than generate huge external savings. Through Temasek and GIC the government has used these savings to accumulate enormous holdings of relatively low-yielding assets held in depreciating currencies that can be held political hostage as in Shin Corp debacle. We want to give Singaporeans a direct stake through the market listing of our Sovereign Wealth Funds.

While believing in a strong national defence we would reduce the burden of NS on the Singapore male, which is so inequitable as compared with foreign workers and students welcomed on taxpayer-funded scholarships.

For our 19 specific election pledges please go to our blog www.votingrp.wordpress.com. But this is only the beginning. We want to transform Singapore into a modern advanced democracy and unleash the creativity of Singaporeans. But primarily we want to give you your country back and reform the system so that you have a government that is accountable to you once more.

Come join us people of Singapore.

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Government Curtails Question Time

In a sign of just how disingenuous the government is when it says it says it wants to answer the public’s desire for more non-government voices in Parliament, the Standing Order Committee of Parliament has proposed that the time given to MPs to make their speeches or ask questions is to be cut from 30 minutes to 20 (see link below):

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_601460.html

Parliament meets infrequently enough as it is. Not content with perfecting a system where more than half the electorate is deprived of the chance to vote and 34% of those able to vote largely unrepresented in Parliament, the PAP want to ensure that there is less scrutiny and accountability of their Ministers and policies by limiting Question Time. Despite introducing innovations to a deeply flawed and undemocratic system to allow for more NCMPs, who are unable to vote on any issue of substance, the government appears to want to severely curtail their one useful function, which is to be able to ask questions and compel Ministers to answer.

The Reform Party urges Singaporeans not to be taken in by the charade of the NCMP scheme and to remember that without electing sufficient numbers of RP MPs there is no chance of seeing any changes to the disastrous PAP policies of the last ten years.

We would like to take this opportunity to remind you of our five immediate pledges if we are elected to government:

1. Implement a stricter immigration and foreign worker policy
2. Introduce a minimum wage
3. Ensure housing affordability and quality
4. Reform CPF and return control of savings decisions to individuals
5. Give Singaporeans a direct stake in Temasek and GIC

The remaining 19 other policy pledges can be found at www.votingrp.wordpress.com, including proposals to improve town council management.

Vote RP! It’s time to take your country back!

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My Condolence Letter To PM Lee

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Minimum Wage

Since I became leader of the Reform Party in April 2009 I have made the introduction of a minimum wage in Singapore one of our main policy pledges (see the link below for RP’s 19 main policy pledges): https://votingrp.wordpress.com/about/

Why?
Since 1998 the average incomes of the poorest 20% of households have fallen by around 20% after inflation. However this is undoubtedly a substantial underestimate of how far real incomes have fallen for poorer households.

The government measures inflation by the change in the consumer price index (CPI). This measures the change in the prices of a basket of goods consumed by the average household. This basket represents the items that the average family buys in the course of a week. However the basket of goods consumed by the poorest 20% is very different from that consumed by the average household. Food, transport, housing and other basic necessities represent a much bigger percentage of household income for poorer households. These items have risen in price much more than the average over the last ten years.

Also the CPI fails to capture the rise in housing costs because in Singapore our statistics department uses a notional equivalent rent for owner-occupied housing. The UK and other countries have moved away from this to a method measuring the change in the costs of an average mortgage and also incorporating a measure of depreciation costs. Since all HDB flats are on 99 year leaseholds and the life of an HDB block may be no more than forty years this needs to be reflected in the CPI. If we take an average HDB property then it loses one year of the remaining lease with each year that passes or 1/x where x is the number of years remaining on the lease. As the prices of HDB flats rise and the average lease gets shorter depreciation costs rise as well.

Taking these factors into account, average incomes of the poorest 20% of households may have fallen by up to 30% since 1998.

Why has this been so? Here the blame must be laid on the PAP’s open-door policy towards the employment of foreign labour. What should have been a way of attracting workers with special skills that Singaporeans lacked instead turned into a means of preventing wages from rising as rapid economic growth used up the pool of available workers. As a deliberate result of PAP policy, Singapore’s potential labour supply increased from our population to include most of Asia’s unemployed and underemployed masses. Far from rising, real wages of the lowest 20% were significantly depressed. Price signals were prevented from working as they should have in a market economy and there was no incentive for employers to invest in raising the productivity of the workforce. As a result our productivity performance over this period was one of the worst in the developed world. Real GDP per hour worked grew by only 1.1% p.a. over the period 2000-2008 while US GDP per hour worked grew by 2% and South Korea grew by 4.2% over the same period.

By adopting a minimum wage the Reform Party is ensuring that there is a floor below which real wages cannot fall and that employers focus on boosting productivity rather than relying on ever cheaper labour. Asia has a huge pool of underemployed and unemployed workers and without this protection real wages of unskilled labour in Singapore could continue to fall for years, if not decades. As leader of the Reform Party, I also want to couple a minimum wage with caps on the number of foreign workers, who compete directly with Singaporeans for jobs. Exceptions will be made for those with special skills that Singapore lacks. My own philosophy is pro-market and pro-business, as is the Reform Party, and we are certainly not opposed to economic growth. The Reform Party just wants to ensure that we are focused on the right measures, e.g. growth in real median incomes or in output per hour worked, rather than just on a crude GDP measure which has no relationship to the welfare of ordinary Singaporeans.

What sections of the population would it cover?
The Reform Party intends that the minimum wage should cover everyone, with the exception of foreign domestic workers. We may have a lower minimum for students and young workers and for those over the age of 55. The incomes of the latter can then be topped up through our proposed Guaranteed Minimum Income, just as they are now by Workfare.

What level would it be set at?
The Reform Party would want to conduct further research and consultation before it set the level. A possible initial level is around $5-$6 per hour though this could be raised over time in line with the CPI and the growth in average wage rates and taking account of broader measures of unemployment among the resident labour force.

Arguments against the Minimum Wage
Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the Main Stream Media of the arguments for and against a minimum wage. Again this follows a pattern that has been established since the PAP government’s Productivity Budget of 2010. Since 2009 as leader of the Reform Party I had been pointing out the productivity problem and stating that it was to a large extent due to the PAP’s cheap foreign labour policy. When the Budget came out it ignored what we had been saying and presented it as the government being aware of the problem all along and now moving swiftly to correct it. As usual there was no credit given to the Reform Party or acknowledgement that without political competition or an Opposition mistakes by the government would never get corrected.

Thus it is no surprise to see discussion of the merits of a minimum wage in the MSM given that I have made it one of the Reform Party’s main pledges since last year. It is also not surprising to see Minister of State Lee in his blog on the Ministry of Manpower website rejecting a minimum wage on the grounds that it may hamper the employment of low-skilled workers. However I find his arguments misleading given the fact that the labour market in Singapore is not restricted to Singaporeans but in fact encompasses much of low-wage Asia. On our house to house visits we meet many older workers who are unable to find jobs anymore because of competition from younger cheaper foreign workers and reduced to driving taxis. These people may not be directly helped by our minimum wage proposal though they would be by our proposed curbs on foreign workers where their skill set is already readily available in Singapore. Many Singaporeans who have been discouraged from looking for work may come back into the labour force once wages stop being artificially depressed by the foreign labour influx. And employers will have a greater incentive to use labour-saving machinery and automation, thus raising productivity.

The Minister says that low-skilled workers are better helped through Workfare. However the Workfare scheme is not only costly for the taxpayer. It is not related to need as it increases directly with earnings from employment in an effort to preserve the incentive to work. Most of it goes into CPF so it does nothing to help lower-income workers immediately who may be struggling to get by. The Reform Party prefers a minimum wage which preserves the incentive to work and puts a floor under wage costs for employers rather than perversely providing an incentive for employers to cut wages further. The Minister also mentions the Workfare Training Scheme. The Reform Party has put increasing spending on education and training at the forefront of its policies and we would continue to expand schemes for the retraining of low-skilled workers provided they could be shown to be of real benefit.

Conclusion
Without a minimum wage the real incomes of the bottom 20% of households could continue to decline. In addition the effects of the PAP’s liberal foreign labour policy are being felt only by this group but by all those below the top 20-40% of households.

The Reform Party is committed to the introduction of a minimum wage. We also want restrictions on the entry of foreign labour where Singaporeans already have the necessary skills.

The coming election will probably be a watershed. Which vision of Singapore do you prefer?

    • The PAP vision which increasingly seems to be of Singapore as a low-cost low-wage economy run as a company where the population of foreign workers outnumbers substantially the Singaporean element. Though the government talks about a limit on total population size of 6.5 million, it is clear that the dynamic of the PAP model requires that our population continue to expand indefinitely; or

    • The Reform Party vision which is of a high-wage high productivity economy where less emphasis is put on GDP growth and more on increasing GDP per hour worked. A country not a company where the welfare of Singaporeans comes first. It‘s up to you to decide. Vote wisely.

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RP wants to give Singaporean option to choose

1. What are the reasons for Reform Party’s interest in Hong Kah GRC as a battleground at the next general election?
2. How many walkabouts has Reform Party held in Hong Kah GRC? How would you describe the residents’ response, and why?
3. What are the local and national issues that Reform Party will focus on if it does contest in Hong Kah GRC?

The above questions were posed to the Reform Party by Straits Times. Here is Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s responses:

The Reform Party has announced its intention to stand in at least Hong Kah and West Coast GRCs on its own and in Toa Payoh-Bishan in alliance with the SPP. In addition we will be contesting Choa Chu Kang and at least one other SMC. This does not rule the Reform Party out from contesting more GRCs should more suitable candidates come forward.

The Reform Party has stated its opposition repeatedly to the GRC system which it views as anti-democratic and and primarily as a tool to deny the people of Singapore choice and accountability from their government. It is telling that it is currently in use only in three African countries, Chad, Cameroon and Djibouti, none of which are, to put it mildly, models of democracy. By raising the barriers to political participation dramatically, it has resulted in 65% of Parliamentary seats being uncontested in 2001 and 47% in 2006 ensuring that the people of Singapore might as well be living in North Korea or China for all the right they have to choose their representatives. On top of this the accentuation of the winner-takes-all feature of the Westminster system that is the end-result of the GRC model, resulted in only 2% of the seats in Parliament (and most importantly no GRCs) going to non-PAP candidates despite a national vote for the Opposition of 34%. It is astonishing that the PAP regards this system as a cause for pride rather than a reason for shame, as evidenced by SM Goh’s comments in 2006 where he is reported to have said that the GRC system was necessary in order to give new would-be PAP MPs a practically guaranteed route into Parliament.

Despite its opposition to GRCs the Reform Party wants to see that the people of Singapore should have a chance to judge for themselves as to who has the better policies, the PAP or the Reform Party. The voters in Hong Kah, West Coast and Toa Payoh-Bishan have not had a chance to choose their representatives for some time. Many people approach us on walkabouts and say they have never voted in their lives despite now being middle-aged. They often express the hope that they will get to vote before they die.

We have been holding regular walkabouts, on our own in Hong Kah and West Coast and in TP-Bishan in conjunction with SPP, since last year and are now stepping up the pace to three walkabouts a week. The Reform Party has held at least five walkabouts in Hong Kah. The response has been extremely encouraging as it has in all the areas we have walked in and at least fifty percent of Singaporean residents buy a newsletter from us or greet us warmly.

National issues tend to predominate in Singapore due to the fact that in a city-state, local issues are of necessity national issues and vice versa. Predominant in voters’ minds are issues such as stagnant or declining real incomes and unemployment and lack of higher-paying jobs for older workers, particularly men, where competition from foreign workers as a result of the PAP’s very liberal foreign labour and immigration laws. Secondary issues are the high cost of housing and medical care as well as lack of provision for old age. The Reform Party is not xenophobic and views the rise of anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore as being the end-result of the government’s failure to tackle economic insecurity (indeed it could be viewed as a deliberate attempt to foster insecurity because of MM Lee’s oft-stated fondness for Darwinian principles). While continuing to welcome foreigners with scarce skills, the Reform Party would address this insecurity by adopting tighter controls on unskilled or semi-skilled foreign labour and introducing a minimum wage However all our 19 policy pledges resonate with the electorate. They demonstrate the Reform Party’s intention to change current economic policies. These may be effective in growing GDP through the extravagant use of labour and capital inputs but do not benefit the majority of Singaporeans. The Reform Party’s policy pledges may be found on our website at http://www.thereformparty.net and on our candidates’ blog at www.votingrp.wordpress.com.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Secretary General
The Reform Party

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RP’s Response to PM’s National Day Message

The Reform Party was disappointed with the PM’s speech. This was an opportunity for the PM to address some of the pressing issues facing this country and his failure to do so has demonstrated once again that our government is out of touch with the people.  Here is the Party’s view on some of these issues and our proposed solutions.

Economic performance

The PM praised Singapore’s economic performance this year. However this has been built on the back of a vigorous US recovery, which is now fading fast. Singapore’s performance is just a leveraged version of what most of the other Asian economies have experienced. Given that imports subtracted 2.4% from US GDP growth in the last quarter it is clear that we are fast approaching the limits of what can be achieved by reliance on US demand. There are few signs that Asia has replaced the US as a source of final demand. So we can expect a dramatic slowdown in growth for the second half of this year and perhaps even a technical recession where growth is negative over two quarters. And let’s remember that while unemployment may have been contained, Singapore workers have suffered real wage cuts that are a long way from being restored. The wage guidelines for next year of a 3% pay rise would still be lower than expected inflation of 3-4%. In other words real wages will continue to fall.

The Reform Party is of the view that our level of net saving is unnecessarily high and we would do more to stimulate domestic consumption by reducing taxes or increasing transfer payments to the less well-off.

Foreign worker/Immigration policies

Buried in the PM’s speech was the eye-opening detail that 400,000 Singaporeans (or about 20% of the domestic labor force) are receiving workfare of an average $1,000 each (most of which goes into CPF). This is the segment of the population which has suffered most from the PAP’s open-door foreign worker policy, yet there were no policy measures announced to help them.

The PM relied on isolated anecdotes to downplay the level of anti- foreign worker sentiment that threatens to spill over into xenophobia. He provided no reassurances on immigration policy  and no evidence of how the PAP policies have benefited the ordinary Singaporean or older retrenched workers. The folksy stories of aunties do however concur with our experience that Singaporeans are not xenophobic by nature but have been pushed that way by PAP policy.

The Reform Party supports the policy of allowing easy access to foreign workers with special skills, but we should ultimately be looking to provide Singaporeans with the skill sets to take their place over the longer term. We do not agree that this country needs foreign workers to compete directly with Singaporeans on all levels of the workforce.

It is difficult to see how Microsoft’s need for skilled software engineers translates into the necessity of having foreign chambermaids or shop assistants. Nor indeed why any MNC (such as Microsoft) if it lacks skilled engineers should not reciprocate for the benefits of being based in Singapore, by running training courses to bring our local engineers up to the specification that they require. It is difficult to see why we should fight so hard to retain industries that employ 80-90% foreign workers as it just increases the competition for domestic inputs whose supply is inelastic, such as land.

The Reform Party is pleased that the PM has responded to our call for the need to raise productivity. Unfortunately PAP policies such as the current excessively liberal foreign worker policy are antithetical to productivity growth  as they only serves  to keep cost of labour low. The government has yet to show any real commitment or clear cut long term strategy to increasing productivity.

National Service

The only concrete initiative was to reward NS men with a grant of $9,000. Few details were provided other than to say that it could be used to pay for further education (which the Reform Party would make free for NS men) and for housing (where sky-high prices are the result of deliberate government policy in restricting the supply of land and growing the population at an unsustainable rate).

The Reform Party believes that $9,000 in a restricted account does not come close to reflecting the economic cost Singaporean NS men face with two years of lost earnings. Furthermore, the PM said that future education fees will have to rise, presumably to cover this additional expense.

The Reform Party continues to propose, in this regard:

  • Lower taxes for NS men
  • Obligation on  foreign students on Singapore scholarships wishing to work here  to serve NS
  • Cutting the NS period down to a year at maximum within 5 years
  • A target for zero death in training

Education

On education, the Reform Party has repeatedly called for a reduction in the weighting given to PSLE in order to provide a more holistic education. We have also called for an abolishment of streaming at the early stages of education, between N levels and O levels as we want to offer opportunities for late bloomers who do poorly at PSLE to move up if they do well.

The party is disappointed with the PM’s 30% target for enrollment and his excuses for not expanding further. Again the PAP demonstrate their inability to formulate any long term innovative strategy for increased enrollment in institution where learning is targeted at the skills required in the workforce. The Reform Party has also called for the need to increase the percentage of university enrolment up to advanced nation standards.

The PM failed to touch on any measures that would ensure all of Singapore’s children receive an equal right to an education, including the physically challenged, those with learning difficulties, or other issues such as familial economic hardship.

Conclusion

It is interesting to see yet again how much Reform Party thinking is now reflected in Government policy but this begs the question of why we need a PAP government in the first place. In response, I reproduce below the Reform Party’s 19 policy pledges so the electorate can judge who has the welfare of ordinary Singaporeans at the heart of their policies. It is all very well to talk of the Singapore spirit but this is a government which continues to insist on running Singapore as a business and has downgraded Singapore from Sovereign Nation status to International city status.

Our Pledges

  • Providing Cheaper and Better Lower-Income Housing by releasing more land for house-building and allowing the private sector a greater role
  • Universal health insurance to be funded through current CPF contributions replacing current Medisave and Medishield schemes
  • Basic Old Age Pension payable to all provided they have worked and paid into CPF for a sufficient number of years
  • Reform of CPF to make contributions above those necessary to fund health and unemployment insurance and basic pension voluntary
  • Universal child benefit scheme (as part of Guaranteed Minimum Income) to replace current tax breaks that heavily favour women on higher incomes
  • Guaranteed Minimum Income for those in work to replace current Workfare system and to be integrated with child benefit and tax system
  • A Minimum Wage to encourage businesses to raise productivity
  • Reforms to Foreign Worker Policy to ensure that business gets the skilled labour it needs but that our own citizens come first
  • Reductions in or exemptions from GST for certain categories of goods like food that form a higher proportion of total expenditure for those on median incomes and below
  • Universal free and compulsory education from pre-school through to secondary level
  • Expanded university enrolment and increased investment in improving quality of education for everyone
  • Increased assistance for older workers and women re-entering the labour market to retrain and acquire new educational qualifications
  • Reduction in NS to 18 months initially with aim to reduce it to one year as soon as feasible
  • Requirement for new citizens and PRs to do NS or to pay lump sum tax instead
  • Privatization of Temasek and GIC and distribution of equity to Singaporean citizens of more than five years standing
  • Continuing Business and Foreign Investment Friendly Environment coupled with low tax rates
  • Greater help and support for local SMEs to grow world-class companies
  • Abolish restrictions on freedom of expression to encourage creativity and innovation necessary for a 21st century knowledge-based economy
  • Reduce waste and inefficiency in government starting with slashing ministerial salaries and replacing it with performance-linked earnings tied to indicators directly related to your welfare

Released by Kenneth Jeyaretnam on behalf of the Reform Party, August 30th 2010

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