Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cheap foreign workers in F&B sector must end

28th February 2013

TungLok Group executive chairman said doing business in Singapore is a waste of time says TungLok Group executive chairman, Andrew Tjioe.

The Strait Times reported a news through Asiaone highlighting how restricting foreign manpower into Singapore is killing businesses (No more new TungLok restaurants, 26 Feb).

It reported that to cope with the manpower shortage, the TungLok Group closed its casual restaurant Lao Beijing at Tiong Bahru Plaza last December. In fact, the restaurant even put up a sign on the shutters: We regret to inform that Lao Beijing at Tiong Bahru Plaza will cease operations with effect from Dec 26 due to severe manpower shortage.

Mr Andrew Tjioe, executive chairman of TungLok Group of 25 restaurants islandwide, said that he and his team did the calculations and decided that it made more sense to close the Tiong Bahru restaurant and re-deploy the 16 staff to his other restaurants. He said one factor is due to lack of manpower. Other factors include rising rentals. He did not breakdown the weightage but one can assume that lack of manpower matters more since the group bothers to put up the sign at the Tiong Bahru restaurant, saying they are ceasing operations due to severe manpower shortage. He said, It was better to pull the staff over so that we would be able to operate our new restaurants TungLok Xihe and Modern Asian Diner at The Grandstand than to continue at Tiong Bahru Plaza. So I decided to close.

The average spending at Lao Beijing was about $20 to $25 a person, but at the two new mid- to upper-mid-tiered restaurants, the average spending is about $30 to $35 for lunch, and $50 to $55 for dinner.

He said even with a workforce of 700-strong, the group is still 20% short of staff. And with the MOM revised new dependency ratio kicking in next year, the group may find itself with about 30 foreigners too many if it does not increase the hiring of Singaporeans.

Mr Tjioe said that he doesn't have problems hiring staff for his restaurants in Jakarta and Beijing but hiring Singaporeans for the group's restaurants in Singapore is a problem. He said that he offered $1,800 for service staff in his restaurants in Singapore but only 1 took up from 20 applications from Singaporeans. It is not known how many hours the staff need to work for a salary of $1,800 or perhaps overtime pay is included in the $1,800 package. He said perhaps he shouldn't be wasting his time doing business in Singapore. He said, "We have been doing business overseas anyway but perhaps now, that is the way to go to spend more time exploring overseas markets than wasting time here. I will not be opening any more restaurants for a while. I have to stop, not because there are no opportunities but primarily because of the labour shortage. The market can definitely afford to have more restaurants.

So, perhaps restricting the growth of cheap foreign labour in Singapore is not killing businesses but rather slowing business expansion. What is the point of expanding businesses based on cheap labour? Is this sustainable in a first world country? If slavery was enacted like in America in the 17th century, these towkays would be most happy since no pay was needed just enough food to sustain the person to ensure he or she had the energy to work. What is then the point of building a humongous business empire based on slaves? Would the owner be proud of this or perhaps he only cared about his dollars and cents?

Perhaps it's time for business owners to remember that running a business is not just about making money alone. It is also about carrying a corporate social responsibility to ensure that workers earn a descent salary to live a descent life in our society.

Workers should not be seen merely as digits. They are our fellow humans living together in our society.

Ex-PAP MPs and Ministers on the Board of Directors of TungLok Group Interestingly, the following ex-PAP MPs and Ministers are Directors on the Board of TungLok Group:

DR TAN ENG LIANG was appointed as an Independent Director on 1 March 2001 and was last reappointed on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Audit Committee and also a Member of the Nominating Committee and Remuneration Committee. Dr Tan was a Member of Parliament from 1972 to 1980, the Senior Minister of State for National Development from 1975 to 1978 and Senior Minister of State for Finance from 1978 to 1979. He also served as the Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Quality & Reliability Association and the Singapore Sports Council. Dr Tan has a Doctorate from Oxford University, England. Dr Tan was awarded the Public Service Star (BBM), Public Service Star (BAR) and the Meritorious Service Medal by the Singapore Government.

DR KER SIN TZE was appointed as an Independent Director on 1 March 2001 and was last re-elected on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Nominating Committee, and also a Member of the Audit Committee and Remuneration Committee. Dr Ker is currently the Consul-General of Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong. In August 1991, Dr Ker was elected to Parliament. He resigned from Liang Court Pte Ltd and Superior Multi-Packaging Limited at the end of 1991 to take up his appointment as Minister of State for Information and the Arts and Minister of State for Education in January 1992. He served as a Member of Parliament during the period 1991 to 2001.

CHNG JIT KOON was appointed as an Independent Director on 20 December 2002 and was last re-appointed on 29 July 2011. He is the Chairman of the Remuneration Committee and is also a Member of the Audit Committee and the Nominating Committee. Mr Chng was a Member of Parliament from 1968 to 1996. He was holding the post of Senior Minister of State when he retired in January 1997. An appointed Justice of the Peace, Mr Chng currently serves in several community organizations.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Voice of a young mother in Singapore: NO to 6.9 million people

26th February 2013

"Just hope that our government will realize our desperate pleas before we descend into a state of national chaos. that wouldn't benefit anybody..

Sometimes I don't even bother keeping up with the parliament as I feel that our PAP speakers, especially the new ones, seem to not make sense when they speak. I understand that they're a bunch of elite scholars who have studied so high up, greatly educated. Yet what we need are leaders who listen to us, who understand where we are coming from."

Like the minister who said that it is possible to survive on a wage of $1000 a month and afford a HDB. If you want to prove a point, show it in action. Don't just talk only. Why wouldn't he give up his luxurious lifestyle and show us how he survives on $1000 for maybe a timeframe of just half a year?

I was at Hong Lim with my 5month old daughter on Saturday. I really wanted to voice out my opinions but the rain took a toll on my little girl and I had to leave.

I feel that it is an injustice done to us when the media and the government try to paint a picture whereby we are xenophobics or racists. But honestly, we have been welcoming our foreign friends for decades; working hand in hand with them, forging friendships. However the problem that has arisen is that we are afraid of OVERPOPULATING. Not that we want to close our doors to foreign talent. I understand that foreign talents are necessary in the growth of our economy, but shouldn't there be a line drawn so as not to upset the balance?

In a previous comment, I had made a few examples; I have a personal friend who has just given birth a few months ago, and as the government had stated, we are ENTITLED to a 3month maternity leave. However, my friend had to place her baby in the care of a stranger and head back to work after just one month. Why? Because her boss had told her that if she had no intention of working, he could replace her easily with a CHINA worker who would cost much lower than the salary she was wielding. What has caused such a precarious situation? It seems that foreign labour is so cheap that it is damaging our own rice bowls. Isn't this a problem?

Another example was an article I read recently which exposed of a top educational institution in Singapore who rejected our own SINGAPOREAN children and accepted PRC STUDENTS because their parents were able to contribute greatly to the school funds. Is there no cause of fear for my children's future?! Will my children be deprived of a proper education just because I cannot afford to bribe the school?

The government keeps talking about helping young couples. Well, here is coming from ground zero. I'm sure we do appreciate the extra increment in the baby bonus, but how significant would that be? With the cost of living going up, when we can barely afford a HDB flat, when child care and preschool fees are shooting sky high, how much can the extra $2k help us? Somebody posted a retort on Facebook saying that our foreign expat friends can afford one or two private houses while Singaporeans are struggling with one HDB flat. And yet, so much land is invested in building condominiums and private houses. Who are they for?!

Maternity and paternity leave encouraged by the government yet young parents are afraid that if they take longer leave, they will be replaced by foreigners.

And also, the whole scheme that has been proposed to help young couples seems to be targeted at the middle income group. How about the lower income group? I know of a few fathers who, instead of having a full time job, work several part time jobs just to earn a higher salary. Yet these benefits do not apply to them? Not to mention the f&b nightlife industry, the maritime industry, the technical industry and all other special jobs are not entitled to all these extra help! And these are the people who require it most.

I had a suggestion that I wrote into my MP before but I never got a reply. Why not try having an infant/child care at all the major corporations like in the USA? Or at least a childcare centre for every area in Singapore and not just the HDB hubs with higher children population? I have several friends who are young mothers who all appreciated the idea of having their children nearer to them when they work. They can even pop by and check on their children during their office lunch hours. Wouldn't that be a better investment to look at rather to spend our people's money on FIREWORKS? And having childcare available even in the quieter areas might boost baby births as the couples might just realize the convenience and not have to worry about finding a babysitter or a childcare centre which is far away from their home!

Another question that has been on my mind is that politics be politics, but shouldn't the PAP work hand in hand with our opposition parties to provide the best for our people?! What I see is bitterness and sarcasm and sour grapes from the PAP especially in the recent Punggol event. Why should our citizens suffer for the governmental competition?

Another article I came across that surprised me was the comment made by the minister saying that our men; our brothers, fathers, husbands who serve NS should make our foreign friends feel safe and create a sense of security for them? Our brave men give up TWO years of their lives to learn to protect their families, not strangers.

Sometimes I don't even bother keeping up with the parliament as I feel that our PAP speakers, especially the new ones, seem to not make sense when they speak. I understand that they're a bunch of elite scholars who have studied so high up, greatly educated. Yet what we need are leaders who listen to us, who understand where we are coming from.

Like the minister who said that it is possible to survive on a wage of $1000 a month and afford a HDB. If you want to prove a point, show it in action. Don't just talk only. Why wouldn't he give up his luxurious lifestyle and show us how he survives on $1000 for maybe a timeframe of just half a year?

We don't need the PAP to tell us "oh the statistics say it is possible" or "research and analysis shows that this can be done". We are humans, not robots.

I have a friend who has 7 children. Her husband had left her, and she has to look after her aging mother. She works two jobs and takes home a salary of $1000 plus. Yet she has been surviving all this while without help from the government. THESE are the people who have the right to say "hey look, it is possible!" Not a minister who has been living comfortably all his life.

I do not know how to run a government, neither do I know how to run a country. But I know how to run my family. And Singaporeans are one big family. And we are just protecting our family."

--Camille Chew,

Monday, 25 February 2013

MAS: Reintroduce financing restrictions on motor vehicle loans

25th February 2013

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will re-introduce financing restrictions on motor vehicle loans granted by financial institutions.

The maximum motor vehicle loan amount will depend on the open market value (OMV) of the motor vehicle purchased:

(i) For a motor vehicle with OMV that does not exceed $20,000, the maximum loan-to-value (LTV) is 60% of the purchase price, including relevant taxes and the price of the Certificate of Entitlement, where applicable; and

(ii) For a motor vehicle with OMV of more than $20,000, the maximum LTV is 50%. 

In addition, the tenure of a motor vehicle loan will be capped at 5 years.


The financing restrictions are necessary to encourage financial prudence among buyers of motor vehicles. In this prolonged environment of very low interest rates, there is greater risk of buyers over-extending themselves on motor vehicles. 

The financing restrictions will not apply to loans for the purchase of commercial vehicles. They will also not apply to loans for the purchase of motorcycles.

The rules will take effect from 26 February 2013.

Source: Singapore Automobile

Singapore Budget 2013: Comments from Leong Sze Hian

25th February 2013

Budget 2013: Real wages will increase? Disposable income drop for some?

I refer to the Budget 2013 speech.

Employers will share productivity gains?

The core strategy to increase the real wages of lower-income Singaporeans may be fundamentally flawed, because of the assumption that employers will share most of their productivity gains (even if they are achieved) with workers by increasing their wages.

With rising costs from higher foreign worker levies in some sectors and jobs announced in the Budget, rentals, Certificates of Entitlement (COE), etc, will most employers share most of their productivity gains with workers?

How many times and years have we heard the same story in the Budget, that we will do this and do that and productivity will rise, but it never happen?

Increase foreign worker levies?

With regard to the remarks that since 2010, all the increase in foreign worker levies have been channeled back to help employers and workers, why only channel back the increased portion of the levies, why not some of the rest of the levies too?
By the way, how much do we collect in foreign workers’ levies in a year?

Wage Credit Scheme?

As to “The government will provide more help to businesses to enable them to pay their employees more, with a new Wage Credit Scheme (WCS).

The scheme is part of a three-year Transition Support Package to help companies restructure.
The government will co-fund 40 per cent of wage increases for Singaporean employees over the next three years.

This will also apply to wage increases of those earning up to S$4,000 in gross monthly wage.
The wage credits will automatically be paid out to employers annually.
The scheme will cost the government about S$3.6 billion over three years.

Mr Tharman said the scheme will serve as an incentive for companies to share their productivity gains with workers” (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 25), if you are say an employer who intends to pay a $50 increase to your worker, will you increase the quantum just because of the 40 per cent subsidy, or are you likely to just take it as a bonus from the Government?

And what happens after the three years when the subsidy expires?
So, will most employers increase the quantum of their lower-wage workers’ pay much more because of the WCS?

Increase CPF – less disposable income?

The full restoration of the employee CPF contribution rate to 20 per cent for lower-income workers, may mean a lower disposable income for some workers, and make their lives even harder.

The increase in Medisave contribution for the lower-income self-employed (SEPs) may also have the same adverse impact – those earning an annual net trade income (NTI) of >$6,000 to $12,000 will be raised to half of the full Medisave contribution rate relevant to their age group. The contribution rate for SEPs earning a NTI of >$12,000 to $18,000 will be gradually phased-in until it reaches the full Medisave contribution rate at NTI of $18,000..

Singaporean workers even less competitive now?

The full restoration of the employer CPF contribution rate to 20 per cent, may also make some lower-income Singaporean workers, even more expensive now to hire relative to some foreign workers.

Huge budget surplus again?

With regard to “Instead of the expected balance of S$1.3b (0.4% of GDP), “we now expect higher surplus of S$3.9b (1.1% of GDP),” says Mr Tharman” and an estimated overall budget surplus of 2.4 billion for the next year, why is there a need to raise taxes, like property and vehicle taxes?

This seems to be the same repeat story that budget surpluses invariably always end up to be much higher than estimates, such that we have huge surpluses in about nine out of every 10 years.

If we count the $5.6 billion top-ups to endowment funds, which other countries would not count as expenditure, then the surplus may be even higher at $8 billion.
More progressive tax structure?

With such huge surpluses, a more progressive tax structure need not necessarily mean higher taxes for the higher income or those who stay in higher value homes, as it can also be maintaining the status quo for them, whilst reducing for the less well off.
Also, as the annual value of properties rise in the future, even the middle class may end up paying more taxes in the future.

$600,000 lifetime benefits?

In respect of the $600,000 lifetime benefits in real terms that a lower-income family with two children gets, can we be given the breakdown?

Source: Leong Sze Hian

Leong Sze Hian is the Past President of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, an alumnus of Harvard University, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow and an author of 4 books. He is frequently quoted in the media. He has also been invited to speak more than 100 times in 25 countries on 5 continents. He has served as Honorary Consul of Jamaica, Chairman of the Institute of Administrative Management, and founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Brunei and Indonesia. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional qualifications. He blogs at

Singapore Budget 2013: Govt to co-fund wage increases for SG workers

25th February 2013

DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced a new Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) in Parliament today (25 Feb). The scheme is part of a three-year Transition Support Package to help Singapore businesses restructure. The scheme will provide more help to companies to enable them to pay their employees more.

Essentially, the scheme co-fund 40% of wage increases for those Singaporean employees who earn up to $4,000 in gross monthly wage.

The wage credits will automatically be paid out to employers annually.

The scheme is said to cost the government about $3.6 billion over the next three years.
Mr Tharman said the scheme will serve as an incentive for companies to share their productivity gains with workers.

He also indicated that training for Singaporean workers will be boosted at all levels of the workforce.

The Workfare Training Support scheme will be enhanced for lower-wage workers.

An SME Talent Programme will be launched to encourage students of polytechnics and institutes of technical education to work for small and medium enterprises.

Companies will also have easier access to government support schemes.

Mr Tharman said these enhancements will cost the government about $500 million over three years.

Source: TRE website

DPM Tharman announces Singapore Budget 2013

25th February 2013

DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam
DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announces the Singapore Budget 2013 in Parliament today (25 Feb). He said that the aim of the budget this fiscal year is to ensure Singapore could achieve quality yet inclusive growth.

In his nearly 2-hour speech, he talked about plans to make the tax system more progressive and further increase subsidies for lower-income and elderly workers in order to help improve social mobility. He also disclosed measures to mitigate the tightening of foreign labour and to improve productivity.

  • Personal income tax rebate – Government will extend a rebate of 30% subject to a cap of $1,500 to those below 60. Those aged 60 or above will receive a rebate of 50%.
  • Government will provide an extra GST voucher on top of the permanent GST voucher for this year to help cope with cost of living.
  • Health subsidies – Medifund will be increased by $1 billion to $4 billion and Eldercare to go up by a quarter million to $3 billion. Government will expand senior mobility fund to cover a much wider range of devices such as hearing aids.
  • Cars with an open market value of above $50,000 will have an ARF of 180 per cent. Currently, for cars registered with COEs obtained from Mar 2008 tender exercises and onwards, ARF is 100% of OMV.
  • More progressive property tax – Band for zero property tax will be widened. Property tax for high-end investment residential properties will be raised.
  • Changes to CPF – Employer contribution rate will be restored fully
  • Enhancements to Workfare scheme – WIS payments will be raised. Workers will receive 40% of WIS in cash as compared to 29%. Workfare will now cover workers earning up to $1,900 from $1,700 ceiling. This will benefit 480,000 workers or 30 per cent of the workforce.
  • Increase in Opportunity Fund for students from less advantaged backgrounds – additional $72 million infusion. It is extended to polytechnics also.
  • $300 million top-up to Edusave fund
  • Spending in pre-school sector to double to $3 billion over next 5 years. More pre-schools to be set up.
  • Tobacco excise duties to be raised.
  • EDB will set aside $500 million for next five years to develop new frontiers in manufacturing.
  • Government will introduce a land productivity grant, which will be provided to companies that intensify land use or relocate some operations to immediate region.
  • Productivity incentives will be provided to further boost training. Government will also launch an SME talent programme.
  • On road tax, commercial vehicles will get a 30 per cent rebate.
  • Wage Credit Scheme for 3 years – The government will co-fund 40 per cent of wage increases to Singaporeans with gross monthly wage up to S$4,000. WCS payouts will be paid out to employers automatically and annually over three years. No application needed. The scheme will cost government $3.6 billion over 3 years.
  • Foreign Workers -
    • MOM will continue to tighten eligibility for Q1 pass holders.
    • Minimum S Pass qualifying monthly salary will be increased from $2k to $2.2k from 1 July 2013.
    • Dependency ratio ceilings will be cut. DRC in services will be cut from 45 per cent to 40 per cent.
    • In construction, levy rates for less skilled Work Permit Holders in Construction Sector will increase by $150 between Jul 2013 and Jul 2015
    • All foreign worker levies will be increased 2014 and 2015.
  • Government will invest 30 per cent more in sports programmes over the next five years. The government will also create a fund to match investments for cultural programmes.

DPM Tharman talked extensively on the need to raise productivity. He said, “If we do not do better in raising productivity… businesses and workers will be worse off. We must help SMEs revitalize themselves.”

He said the government can and will actively support all SMEs that are willing to upgrade. The restructuring of our economy must result in a dynamic and re-engergised SME sector, he said.
He says dependency ratio ceiling cuts will be made in sectors which are behind global productivity leaders. Levies will also be increased on industries most dependent on foreign workers.

He noted that in construction and retail, Singapore’s productivity is one-fifth below HK’s.
“We will not increase levies for skilled workers. Most companies will not need to pay higher levies if they rely on skilled workers,” he said.

DPM Tharman also talked about the need to address income inequality. He notes that older Singaporeans make up 40 per cent of Singapore workers in the lower income ladder.
He said that society is facing widening income disparity. “We must take further steps to temper inequality,” he said.

More must be done to help seniors enter their retirement, he added.
He also revealed that Singapore has a huge budget surplus for fiscal year 2012, “We expected $1.3 billion but we now expect the higher surplus of $3.9 billion due to higher revenues from stamp duties.”

Also, for fiscal year 2013, he projected that government would post another surplus of $2.4 billion equivalent to 0.7 per cent of GDP. Singapore’s economic growth will likely range between 1 per cent to 3 per cent this year.

Source: TRE website

Bosses, pay less to the landlords instead and not to your workers

25th February 2013


Bosses complain about the tightening of foreign labour intake and threaten that SMEs will close shop and go overseas.

In response to TRE article (‘If can’t find workers, pay more money, STUPID!‘, 24 Feb), @Ahto responded:
If you want boss to pay more money then pay more for your food!”
This kind of response suggests that:
1) Bosses should be allowed to import more and more foreign labour
2) By allowing bosses to import more and more labour, then we can hope that we won’t have to pay more for our food.

Obviously, little thought had gone into the above response by @Ahto. In actual fact, even before the recent government tightening of the foreign labour tap, we were already paying more and more for our food. There are two outcomes of this:
1) Firstly, the bosses pay out less (in salaries) and earn more (charging more for food) and so pocket big profits and contribute to the increase of the Gini coefficient – the rich (bosses) get richer while the poor (the majority Singaporeans being squeezed) get poorer.
2) Secondly, the landlords see opportunity to raise their rent to squeeze the small bosses (the retailers) and so the small bosses will clamour for more loosening of government foreign labour policy and they thirst after cheaper and cheaper foreign workers. If foreign worker inflow is uncontrolled, the opportunity for the landlords will increase. This does not assure Singaporeans that food prices will not rise despite more and more cheap foreign worker availability. What this will guarantee is that the Gini coefficient will keep rising!

The bosses who threaten to close shop and move their businesses overseas are very juvenile in their attempt to frighten Singaporeans into allowing more foreign worker “invasion”. These bosses have only their profit interest in mind and without a bit of concern over the tremendous social consequences of foreigners overwhelming Singaporeans on this small island.

1) Firstly, the bosses are very selfish.

2) Secondly, they are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of shouting their voice hoarse to the government (to relent on the foreign labour policy) and to Singaporeans (better don’t complain too much or else …), why are they not shouting against the landlords and campaigning for lowering of other business cost factors?

Here is my rejoinder to @Ahto’s comment “if you want boss to pay more money then pay more for your food!”:

I don’t want bosses to pay more money. I want bosses to pay less money to the landlords. Why must they allow themselves to be held to ransom by landlords by allowing the landlords to monitor their (the bosses) business sales by way of them (the bosses) agreeing to pay part of their rent as a percentage of revenue? If all bosses unite and do not sign unfair rental contracts, and unite not to bid sky high prices for space, they will be doing a favour to Singaporeans.

Landlords will have to drop their rent levels and so the bosses don’t have to pay more money and we don’t have to pay more for our food, unless the bosses start cooking up new dishes of excuses (higher government charges, higher petrol prices, ad infinitum) to raise prices to fatten their own pockets!

If @Ahto is a boss himself, he should be thankful to Singaporeans who clamour for reducing dependency on foreign workers. We are helping them to pay less by encouraging some lousy SMEs relocate or close their businesses. The remaining bosses should thank us for supporting the government in tightening the foreign labour tap. By law of demand and supply, the staying SMEs face less tender competition for space and rental rates will fall. The higher pay that goes towards encouraging more Singaporean workers will come from the pockets of the landlords (as the landlords’ greed is tamed and their pockets shrink). Can the landlords threaten us that they will move their rental space overseas?

1) Firstly, Singaporeans want to prove the bosses wrong that there are not enough Singaporeans to take up the jobs.

2) Secondly, Singaporeans want a win-win for the bosses and the consumers by letting both have decent shares of the economic pie with a lowering of the Gini coefficient.

@Ahto is terribly simplistic to assume that asking bosses to depend less on foreign workers means that we want bosses to pay more. We ask that economic planners go to the primary source of cost inflation:

1) With more and more foreigners “imported” and therefore a higher population to feed, the demand on food will rise in tandem and this rise in demand will raise food prices more as the bosses greed for profit grow and they want to set up more shops and so they want more foreign workers and so …

2) Bosses need to pay Singaporean workers commensurate with Singaporean cost of living; otherwise Singaporean workers will all be paupers unable to meet their living cost obligations. Do the SME bosses have the conscience to agree that this fact is incontrovertible? If bosses want Singaporeans to compete with foreign workers on pay, it means that they want the presently small percentage of Singaporeans in the population to compete with the vast reservoir of foreigners available in the whole world and as more foreign workers land on the island, the Singaporean percentage will shrink and shrink until extinction.

Bosses, please note. You have to detox yourself from the drug of cheap foreign labour and find alternative solutions to your business cost problems. If you do relocate and succeed elsewhere, I congratulate you. If you close shop and have to become employees yourself and become members of the unemployed-Singaporeans club, then you will appreciate the present Singaporean angst against the government’s lax foreign labour policy.

Jo Li
Source: TRE website

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Workers’ Party’s Population Policy Paper: “A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore”

24th February 2013

The Population White Paper released by the Government recently is by far the most widely debated White Paper in Singapore politics — not only in Parliament, but also by the people of Singapore. This is understandably so as it has wide ranging implications for our nations’s future.

For five days, Parliament debated a Motion to endorse the White Paper. It was then passed following an amendment by an MP from the Government backbench.

After careful consideration of the proposal, the Workers’ Party (WP) opposed the White Paper and presented our alternative proposals in Parliament during the debate on the Motion.
The population issue is a major challenge confronting our nation and it affects each and every one of us and our future generations. It is not only a ‘numbers’ issue but also one that lies at the heart of our nation and our children. The debate continues in public even after the debate in Parliament has ended.

We would probably not be experiencing the current degree of angst over overcrowding if the Government had presented the White Paper to the people much earlier, instead of allowing population growth to surpass their planning target and failing to ensure that infrastructural development kept in tandem with population growth.

In view of the importance and complexity of the subject, as well as the fundamental differences between WP and the Government on the approach to tackle the population challenges ahead, we have decided to publish our Population Policy Paper. We hope this will enable Singaporeans to better understand the rationale and computations behind WP’s proposals. WP believes it is important to encourage further debate so that Singaporeans can make informed judgments on the population issue.

I would like to thank all the WP members and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make the publication of this WP Population Policy Paper possible. I would also like to thank all Singaporeans who have given us their support; your encouragement and engagement continues to spur WP on to serve the nation.


Download the WP Population Policy Paper

Singaporeans Are Emboldened, Not Beholden

24th February 2013

Since posting up "Majulah Singapura" [Link], I have taken the effort to take a break to seek for 'bahagia" or "joy".

I'm now in a kampong where there are chickens and roosters everywhere (the kampong type). I am away from the maddening crowd of 5.3million. I am in a place where passengers greet their bus driver with "Good Morning/Afternoon" or "Hello" when they board the bus. They say "Goodbye" or "Have a nice day" to the driver when they alight. I am at a place where the bus driver (and passengers of the bus) gives me a smile when I hold back everybody by asking the driver if I boarded the correct bus (because I'm a 'suaku' in this place). When I get a seat, the person beside me would ask me where do I come from, chat me up and make me feel at home.

They do not give me the dirty look (or quietly curse me) for delaying them from where they want to go.  If I were in Singapore, many may go: "Delay no more" sounding like "Tiu leh lo mo" (say that in Cantonese) and wish that I had never boarded the bus.

No Sir, I'm not blaming Singaporeans for being impatient. I believe that the chase for money; for being number one, for not wanting to lose out to our neighbours (next door, our country-wise, north and south) has make us what we are. We, not all, but the majority of us are chasing our own tails, following the style of our leader to leech as many people as possible (even our fellow citizens) to get rich quick! Making a mockery of NS by paying themselves millions! In so doing, we may have lost our humanity to be decent and be kind to each other. Instead of win-win situation, many of us has become like PAP to win at all cost at the expense of all others - by means of 'fixing and buying' regardless of how much harm we may cause others!

Looking back to the wet Saturday of 16 Feb 2013 at Hong Lim Park, I do feel that about 4,000 (or whatever you figure from the pic) Singaporeans ( including foreigners) care enough to do right for Singapore. To be in this "happy place" now with lovely strangers who treat you dearer than friends is to be in Singapore between 4pm to 7pm in Hong Lim Park, Saturday of 16 Feb 2013! If I may, the desire of each of the participant there was to tell PM Lee Hsien Loong and his very rich ministers and well connected MPs that :

Since my last blog, I know not what is happening in Singapore because I'm in a kampong without news from Singapore. I managed to get hold of some internet time and I'm glad to write to let my dear readers know that I'm doing good.
As much as PAP keeps threatening Singaporeans of "SILVER TSUNAMI" and that more taxes are required to support the "old fogeys", hence more immigrant workers are needed, I wish PAP to know that that's crap! Seniors in Singapore do not take advantage of the system to selfishly enrich themselves. They are not like the ministers who took advantage of the power to pay themselves millions at the expense of the taxpayers!
The PAP government does nothing much for the seniors in Singapore. The dignity that old fogeys have is beyond the imagination of PAP hotshots in ivory towers! We seniors neither beg nor sell our souls to PAP for a few dollars more! The way that we were brought up, the culture that we have do not permit us to beg from arrogant pricks to make our lives better. If we cannot take care of ourselves through our own hard effort and savings, our children will take care of us. And if there are no children, friends and relatives will help us. We do not want to lose our dignity, our sleep, to beg from PAP's MPs for which we are expected to be beholden to them.

It is so sickening to read in the msm of PAP's ministers and MPs distributing 'ang pows' to residents. Are these "publicity whores" fishing for loyalty with future potential votes or are they truly appearing in the limelight doing good with their heart of gold?

If they know not,
I'd like them to know
Emboldened we are.
Beholden we are not

Let not the PAP's arrogance and contempt of Singaporeans destroy the peace and unity that we have for almost 5 decades!

Do you hear the people sing?


Dear PM Lee and PAP, it is already tough for us average Singaporeans to achieve "BAHAGIA". Please do not take it away from us by importing another 100,000 aliens every year till 2030 to reach 6.9M!

Why lead us to such misery?

 Source: feedmetothefish

Friday, 22 February 2013

White Paper propaganda on national TV forum programe

22nd February 2013

If you have been away for 2 months and have not kept up with what has happened in Singapore and you get back to watch this show on Channel 8 yesterday , you will get the impression that most people in Singapore support the White Paper. The programme started by saying that the White Paper by the govt has created plenty of "interest" among Singaporeans. It does not say anything about the anger it has caused and not a word about the biggest protest in Singapore for several decades against the White Paper.  They showed a segment in which every man and woman they interviewed on the street before the show supported the White Paper. The panel consisted of members who generally supported the White Paper with some  concerns such as transport and housing that the govt has already admitted are problems.
Good old fashion propaganda.
The one thing they cannot control unless they cheated was the live online poll that asked the question:
"If there is a reduction in the number of imported workers, will you accept a slowdown in the economy?"  : Vote Yes or No.
92.5% voted "yes" and 7.5% voted "no".
After the results of the poll was announced, Grace Fu did an incredible thing. She reinterpreted the question to mean : |"If there is a reduction in the growth in number of imported workers, will you accept a slowdown in the economy?" and concluded the poll showed that most people agree with the White Paper which proposes a growth in foreign workforce smaller than that of recent years.
Amazing. If most people had voted "no" you can retain the original question and say the people agree to growth in the foreign workforce as proposed by the White Paper in exchange for economic growth. So whether they answered "Yes" or "No", by reinterpreting the question you can choose to conclude that most people agree with the White Paper.
I guess being a minister is not easy because it takes a lot of effort to block out genuine feedback and reinterpret opposing opinions. Of course with an elitist system that build Ivory Towers higher than the Empire State Building, understanding what is happening on the ground is difficult. Pain and frustration is just an abstraction one person away - you may not be able to understand it even if you sit next to the person or talk to him everyday.  Empathy is not so easy...and especially difficult if your mind is cluttered with ideology.
A few days ago, it was report that our income inequality has risen to the highest level (GINI, OECD scale) ever
"For the lowest 20th percentile of employed residents, their real gross monthlyincome rose 0.1 per cent each year from 2002 to 2012 and 2.2 per cent a year from 1996 to 2002." - Incomes at bottom continue to rise, says Chan Chun Sing 
It is incredible denial when a minister says "incomes at the bottom continue to rise" when it has risen an imperceptible 0.1% a year for a decade - if a worker earns $800 a month we are talking about an increase of $0.80 per year. Anyone one else looking at the same numbers will be shocked and asking why the income of 1 in 5 Singaporean workers has been stagnant for 1 decade and what can be done about it - most normal people will say this is not an acceptable outcome and drastic action must be taken. But the minister who is the highest paid minister in the world among his peers doing the same job looks at the same data and has a completely different interpretation.
Singapore is now the 6th most expensive city in the world. It is a really bad place to be earning a low income but we have 450,000 workers with income below $1500 a month and 300,000 earning less than $1000 a month based on data from the CPF Board. How did things get so bad? Year after year they deny there is a real problem and refuse to make fundamental changes to the system. ..that is why we are in such bad state today. 
Source: Lucky Tan on his blog Diary of a Singaporean Mind.

Singaporeans do not benefit from CEC Agreements

22nd February 2013

Indian IT
Singapore’s move to placate its locals is seen as a stumbling block to Indian workers who are looking for jobs in the republic.
INDIA may soon put a little international dimension into the growing rift over immigration between Singaporeans and their government.
It has complained that recent laws in Singapore – aimed at placating Singaporeans – were imposing restrictions on Indian professionals who intend to work in the city.
This, it says, is a violation of a bilateral free trade pact, the service portion of which grants special preferential treatment to Indian workers. The two countries signed the pact, called Comprehensive Econo­mic Partnership Agreement (CECA), in 2005.
India is unhappy with the changes in Singapore’s employment pass law which it says is tantamount to impe­ding special preferential treatment for Indians.
The pact has opened the doors to many of the 200,000 Indian nationals who take up jobs as middle-level managers, executives and technicians; positions that the locals are losing out on.
News that their government had granted the right to India to send its professionals en masse here under a free trade pact has shocked Singa­po­reans. People are already furious with the government over the rapid intake of foreigners.
This new controversy, which could lead to a complaint by the Indians to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is bound to add fuel to an already bad domestic situation.
Last weekend, thousands of emotional Singaporeans staged their biggest public protest in modern times to denounce a government plan to increase the population by 30%.
Many of the Indian nationals who surged into this city have taken up high-end professional jobs.
According to India’s Business Stan­dard, the new laws may impact those already working in the various sectors. Discussions that started in 2010 to review CECA have gone no­where.
Indian officials said the new measures might make it harder to reach an agreement.
A request for Singapore to resolve the matter has not received a formal reply, the Standard said.
Singapore has explained that the tightening was imperative and in the interest of its people since the foreign workforce had grown very rapidly, said the publication.
It quoted a senior Singapore government official as saying: “The one-third is a long term target and we have not imposed quotas as such for any country. But in doing so, I do not think we have contravened our commitments in the WTO or the CECA. Moreover, this is not specifically targeted to any one country.”
This new bilateral conflict is happening at a time when the Singapore Government is besieged by angry citizens.
Under a Population White Paper, this tiny overcrowded city of 5.3 million people may see the population jump to 6.9 million, with 55% of the population foreigners, in 17 years’ time.
Singaporeans are reacting strongly, as evident during the peaceful demonstration last Saturday at Speakers Corner. Between 3,000 and 4,000 demonstrators gathered in Singa­po­re’s largest public protest in years.
Emotions ran high in the peaceful Hong Lim demonstration on 16 Feb. A number of people were seen teary-eyed as they sang the national anthem and recited the National Pledge.
Although peaceful, emotions ran high. A number of people were seen teary-eyed as they sang the national anthem and recited the National Pledge.
The conflict is not just about numbers and whether to have six million or 6.9 million in 2030, although it ranks as an important issue.
Many citizens are worried about the extent of foreign control over local careers, since many have assu­med positions with power to hire and fire.
For the first time in a generation, politics in Singapore, traditionally a desert, is becoming uncertain with a growing question-mark about the future. The Government is facing intense criticism and is said to be more concerned with looking after foreigners than its own people.
In recent years, there has been increasing reports of Filipino and Indian managers, who upon taking charge, had started to employ – or promote – their own kind of people at the expense of Singaporeans.
It is potentially an explosive issue that is more threatening than social conflicts which occasionally break out between Singaporeans and foreigners.
Although the authorities have redu­­ced the number of professionals coming in, widespread foreign rec­ruit­ment is continuing.
Every week, online recruitment agencies are active in nearby countries, recruiting non-Singaporeans.
Last week, one agency advertised vacancies for 462 positions available to Filipinos, including managers, engineers, doctors and nurses, cooks, waitresses and receptionists.
This is just one of many.
Many Singaporeans are despondent about their career prospects or their children’s future.
The government is besieged and appears to be helpless.
It is amid this mood that some Singa­poreans are welcoming the plan­ned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (90 min­utes) as well as joint investment plans to develop large development projects in each other’s territories.
It will have tremendous two-way benefits. Malaysia gets to connect its capital to Singapore’s rising wealth and development – and vice versa.
In addition, Singapore can find some relief in Malaysia for its manpower shortage.
According to Channel News Asia (CNA), some small and medium companies predict an increase in the number of workers hired from Mal­aysia. A business representative was quoted as saying that Singapore should be able to attract more Mal­aysian professionals without adding to the over-population problem.
The reason is that the fast train could reduce the high accommodation costs faced by Malaysians working in this city.
This means less dependency on China, India or the Philippines.

Seah Chiang Nee
Chiang Nee has been a journalist for 40 years. He is a true-blooded Singaporean, born, bred and says that he hopes to die in Singapore. He worked as a Reuters corespondent between 1960-70, based in Singapore but with various assignments in Southeast Asia, including a total of about 40 months in (then South) Vietnam between 1966-1970. In 1970, he left to work for Singapore Herald, first as Malaysia Bureau Chief and later as News Editor before it was forced to close after a run-in with the Singapore Government. He then left Singapore to work for The Asian, the world’s first regional weekly newspaper, based in Bangkok to cover Thailand and Indochina for two years between 1972-73. Other jobs: News Editor of Hong Kong Standard (1973-74),  Foreign Editor of Straits Times with reporting assignments to Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and The United States (1974-82) and Editor of Singapore Monitor (1982-85). Since 1986, he has been a columnist for the Malaysia’s The Star newspaper. Article first appeared in his blog,

PAP is desperate to hang on to Power!

22nd February 2013

A government that has been in power for the last 5 decades has to take FULL responsibility for the social construct of this nation.

The flood-gates of immigration were open 2 decades ago to enable the PAP to remain in power through a stock-pile of new citizens as their traditional support base started to dwindle through age and natural attrition.

And, now the flood-gates remain wide open with the White Paper hurriedly ushered into effect without proper grassroots consultation. PAP MPs who swore an oath to protect their constituents had ALL failed their respective constituents by failing to consult the ground before they each voted. This is a blatant dereliction of DUTY.

Renown economists and sociologists have argued against the White Paper but even such esteemed opinion had been dismissed without discussion of any kind. In so doing, the PAP leadership has revealed its own Achilles heel - the PAP is DESPERATE to hang on to power. They have forgotten the basic truth about power, however, and it is this : Power is given to leaders by the PEOPLE in exchange for social benefits and the promise of a better life. That is the universal social compact that exists even in so-called communist regimes. When that contract is breached by the leadership, the PEOPLE can and will exercise its right to terminate the arrangement.

Source: Lawrence Oei

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Singapore ranks 149th - World Press Freedom Index

21st February 2013

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF) has just released its annual press freedom ranking – “World Press Freedom Index 2013″ last month [Link].
Singapore’s ranking dropped 14 positions from 135th last year to current 149th. It appears that Singapore’s ranking has been getting worse over the years:
  • 2009 – 133rd
  • 2010 – 136th
  • 2011/12 – 135th
  • 2013 – 149th
At 149th, Singapore’s ranking is even worse than countries like Cambodia (143rd), Congo (142nd), Ethiopia (137th), Zimbabwe (133rd), Libya (131st), Angola (130th), Algeria (125th).
Singapore is only slightly better than Myanmar (151st). And of course, compare to China (173rd) Singapore is a lot better.

The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by RSF based upon the organization’s assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and citizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom. The index only deals with press freedom and does not measure the quality of journalism nor does it look at human rights violations in general.

RSF is a French-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press and freedom of information. This organization, which has consultant status at the United Nations was founded in 1985.
RSF’s Missions:
  • To continuously monitor attacks on freedom of information worldwide;
  • To denounce any such attacks in the media;
  • To act in cooperation with governments to fight censorship and laws aimed at restricting freedom of information;
  • To morally and financially assist persecuted journalists, as well as their families.
  • To offer material assistance to war correspondents in order to enhance their safety.
In another press freedom ranking by another international organization, Freedom House, Singapore was ranked 150th (‘Singapore ranks 150th in 2012 Freedom of the Press World Ranking‘). 

The report classified Singapore’s level of press freedom as “Not Free”.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


20th February 2013

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

To put it simply, in terms of the management of the economy, the role of the government should be two-fold:
1) Enact minimal laws and regulations to create an environment for businesses which is conducive for the ease of business exchanges, so that this will attract businesses to Singapore, and to also encourage them to invest and innovate, whilst earning profits.

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

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

The Problem of the Singapore Government’s Business Interests

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

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

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

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

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

How Does the Government’s Practices Affect Businesses

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

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

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

Low Rental Causes Productivity And Wages to Remain Low

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

Bringing In More Workers to Resolve Low Productivity Growth

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

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

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

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

Positive Effects of Reducing Rental for Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Solution?

Actually, this whole episode which began all the way from late last year shows that PAP needs to open up. They need to, because it’s for their own good as well. As much as they want political survival, the situation that they’ve created is also what has messed up for them. They simply do not know how to handle their control anymore. So, they need to open up so that they can have a more accurate understanding of Singaporeans, and be able to read them properly, and anticipate their reactions better. This will then mean that they would be better able to predict responses to the release of white papers, and also gain more support, if need be.
The current problems are self-inflicted and can be resolved, all if PAP is willing to be truly honest, non-corrupt and open. A quick note that as much as PAP believes that it’s non-corrupt, the very structures that they’ve created and tie themselves to means that they are inadvertently allowing their own people to benefit, and whether this is intended or not, has created unfair practices.

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

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

Article by Roy on his blog The Heart Truths.