Economic concerns such as the issue of foreign workers, income inequality and falling productivity took centre stage today at the public forum organised by the SDP. A panel of five speakers comprising of Messrs John Tan, Jufrie Mahmood, Sylvester Lim and Gandhi Ambalam were on hand to present the SDP’s proposals in the various areas of our economy.
The audience repeatedly brought up these subjects during the discussion period and highlighted that the influx of foreign workers were causing wages to be depressed and that this had an adverse effect on productivity.
The forum was organised to discuss the Democrats’ alternative economic programme. The full programme can be read here.
Facts, figures and solutions
Mr John Tan spoke of the problem of the non-transparency and the non-accountability of the GIC and Temasek. To remedy the problem, he proposed the prohibition of government leaders and their relatives from assuming positions of control at the two corporations.
Mr Tan also presented the Norwegian model of managing a sovereign wealth fund which is well-managed, transparent and democratic. Most of all the fund is competitive, earning high returns. The GIC and Temasek should model their operations on the Norwegian example.
The second speaker, Mr Jufrie Mahmood, dealt with the causes of low labour productivity in Singapore. He cited the continuing exodus of Singaporeans as one such cause. The PAP’s solution of replacing these Singaporeans with foreigners has led to a decline in productivity because these foreigners have been brought in as cheap labout rather than for their talent.
He also made several proposals to deal with the question of productivity one of which was to develop an entrepreneurial society by emphasizing on pluralism and respecting the rights of the people. Mr Jufrie also reiterated the SDP’s policy of employing Singaporeans first.
CEC member Mr Sylvester Lim took the floor next and presented facts and figures on the income divide in Singapore. He then proceeded to spell out the SDP’s proposals to level up society and reduce income inequality.
He introduced several ideas including the SDP’s hallmark proposal of minimun wage and retrenchment entitlements. A minimum wage of $6.80 per hour should be legislated and a programme of providing retrenched workers temporary income for up to 18 months should be introduced.
Mr Lim also called for the raising of taxes for the most wealthy to pay for social programmes for the poor and needy. He also pointed out that the Government needed to increase its national expenditure on the poor, especially the elderly.
Party chairman Gandhi Ambalam presented the Party’s platform of reducing flat prices by calling for the HDB to be a zero-profit venture in the long-run. He also wanted to see the contribution of CPF be reduced so that workers could have a larger take home pay.
Dr Chee Soon Juan rounded up the Democrats’ case by citing that the plan was, among other things, comprehensive, workable and realistic.
He reminded the audience that the SDP’s plan was not a populist one where everything is provided for free by the state. Citizens had to shoulder their share of finicial responsibility in order that the system is not unduly burdened by debt.
At the moment, however, the balance is heavily tiltered in favour of the Government which controls hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars. The Democrats’ alternative aims to level this imbalance and make the system more egalitarian.
A meaningful discussion
During question time a member of the audience, Mr Andrew Teo, supported the SDP’s employ Singaporeans first idea. He cited that a relative of his, who lived and owned a business in the US, had to justify to the authorities that no local talent could be found for a position before she was allowed to employ a foreigner.
Mr Leong Sze Hian questioned SDP’s proposal of a reduction in the CPF contribution rate to 20 percent (to be divided evenly between employer and employee). He wondered if the policy was a good idea given that many Singaporeans depended on the contributions to finance their HDB loans.
Dr Chee replied that the cut in CPF contributions needed to be taken together with the proposal to lower HDB prices. With cheaper HDB prices there would be no need to spend so much of one’s CPF savings to service HDB mortgages.
Coupled with increased wages through the minimum wage scheme, Singaporeans would end up paying less for their flats while at the same increase their take home pay. This would make high CPF contributions unnecessary, even undesirable.
Former ISA detainee Mr Michael Fernandez rubbished the idea that the traditional media would carry any news on the SDP’s alternative for obvious reasons.
Dr Chee had expressed hope that the SPH would do the right thing by reporting and publicising the SDP’s alternative plan instead of just giving Singaporeans the impression that only the PAP had answers.
The SDP secretary-general called on the Internet community to help publicise the programme so that Singaporeans can become aware that there is an alternative to the PAP.