This is the speech I made at the launch of the Workers’ Party’s 2011 Manifesto on Saturday 9 April 2011. My speech covered the chapters on Economic Policy, Population and Immigration, and Public Housing. It starts at 4:23. The full text of the speech is below.
Despite record economic growth in 2010, the situation is not all that rosy for many middle and lower income Singaporeans.
The PAP government’s preoccupation with economic growth has led to the opening of the floodgates to foreign workers, to boost growth through low-wage labour inputs. This has suppressed the wages of many Singaporeans.
The Workers’ Party is committed to economic growth where the fruits of growth are equitably distributed; where each citizen is provided opportunities to contribute to the best of their abilities, and live a dignified life.
We need to lessen our reliance on GLCs and MNCs to drive our economy. These entities have a tendency to crowd out local entrepreneurs. Instead we should focus more on nurturing home grown enterprises.
We should encourage our best talents to start companies or work in local enterprises. One way would be to reduce the number of government scholarships with service bonds. Recipients of some of these scholarships could be required to work in Singapore – but not necessarily the civil service – for a number of years. This could include setting up their own companies. This will better spread local talent to the private sector and get more top students to think beyond working in the public sector.
To grow local enterprises, the government – as one of the largest buyers of services – should strive to give local SMEs a fair chance at contracts, rather than choosing GLCs or MNCs because they are perceived to be the “safe” option.
The government should seek to attract more venture capital firms to Singapore. VCs not only provide funding for promising start-ups. They also provide important managerial expertise and mentorship to guide our entrepreneurs.
High rentals and land costs impact the cost of doing business. Effective measures to curb property and land speculation must be implemented and continually reviewed.
Population and Immigration
Strong population controls were put in place in the 1970s. These caused the birth rate to plummet to replacement level by as early as 1975. Yet, it was not until the mid-1980s that the government made an about turn in its birth control programmes. This has contributed to our current low birth rate and ageing population problems.
To mitigate this, the government liberalised immigration and foreign worker policies, growing the population by more than 1 million in just 10 years. This huge influx of new arrivals has contributed to overcrowding on our public transport system and in our hospitals, just to name a few.
The Workers’ Party is not an anti-immigrant party. We welcome immigrants who contribute to the economic vibrancy and diversity of our nation. However, we believe that the rate of immigration should not exceed the capacity of the country’s infrastructure and the comfort level of the local population.
The overall rate of immigration should be moderated to allow for the nation’s infrastructure improvements to catch up with the huge population increase of the past decade.
To increase our local fertility rate, we need to lower workplace and career impediments to childbearing and childrearing.
Material incentives alone are not enough to encourage Singaporeans to have more children. A sense of nationhood and belonging, a vision and hope of a better future, and a less stressful schooling and working environment are essential to encouraging procreation. This might also stem the flow of Singaporeans emigrating.
There should be increased support and stronger incentives for employers to implement better work-life balance practices and flexi-work arrangements. The civil service should set the example for the private sector to follow.
To recognise the important role of fathers in sharing the responsibilities of infant care, paternity leave of at least 6 days, half of which will be funded by the government, should be introduced and legislated.
All overseas Singaporeans should be allowed to vote in elections by postal votes, as is done in many other advanced democracies. This will save them the effort of travelling to the designated Singapore overseas missions, which could be thousands of kilometres away from where they reside. Facilitating their involvement in the electoral process will help them to remain more engaged and feel a greater stake in Singapore, even while they are abroad.
The rapid increases in the cost of public housing in the past 10 years have far exceeded inflation and wage growth. This has placed a heavy strain on many Singaporeans who are in need of housing. It could lead to some couples deferring childbearing, which could have a knock on effect on our already low birth rates.
The PAP continues to insist that HDB flats are “affordable” because the majority of lessees use less than 30% of their income to pay their mortgage. However, this argument is flawed as it does not take into account the length of the loan. Most Singaporeans now spend practically their entire working lives paying off their 30-year housing loans. This high investment in property leaves less disposable income for consumption and other investments.
The Workers’ Party believes that the prices of new HDB flats should not be pegged to the resale market price and then discounted.
Instead, the prices of new flats should be pegged to median incomes of Singaporean households who qualify to buy HDB flats. This will ensure that new flats are always affordable for the majority of Singaporeans.
The price of new HDB flats should be affordable enough to enable most lessees to pay off their loans in 20 years rather than 30 years.
The development cost of HDB flats should be made fully transparent, so the public knows whether HDB is profiting or making a loss on the construction of each flat.
Many Singaporeans who sell their flats and cannot afford to buy another flat are left stranded for long periods of time because of strict HDB rules on rental housing. The criteria to qualify for public rental housing should be more flexible to cater to families who are financially strapped.
The number of flats available under the Public Rental Scheme should be increased significantly to cope with increasing demand.
The HDB’s Lease Buyback Scheme has seen a very low take-up rate since its inception. The eligibility criteria for the Scheme should be reviewed to extend it to more households who may be in financial need. It should be extended to lessees of 4-room or larger flats so that more elderly people will benefit from the scheme.
In addition, HDB should provide better public education on this complex scheme so that there will be a higher take up rate among the elderly.