Speakers call for transparency and more help for poor

Singapore Democrats

The need for transparency and accountability in PAP government’s economic policy was highlighted at the Reform Party’s (RP) forum, Singapore Budget 2009: Alternative Policies, to address the recent budget unveiled by the Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Speaker after speaker questioned the efficacy of the economic measures of the government outlined in the budget to salvage the economy from its deep recession never experienced in the history of independent Singapore.

The chairman of RP, Mr Ng Teck Siong, said the PAP Government has ignored the plight of the middle class, the workers, the poor and the aged.

Mr Ng asked:”In five decades of nationhood, what has the PAP Government really done to safeguard your livelihood apart from extolling that you have to upgrade yourselves in order to survive?

“What it has really achieved through its overly liberal immigration policies is to encourage the massive inflow of ‘foreign talent’, which in reality comprise largely of cheap foreign labour.” Mr Ng noted.

Mr Leong Sze Hian,a certified Investment Fiduciary Auditor, hazarded a guess on the losses suffered by both Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) in the recent banking and financial turmoil.

He said based on incomplete information thus far available, the losses incurred by ill timed investments by the two public entities could easily range from $108 billion to more than $200 billion.

Mr Seelan Palay, a socio/political activist questioned the need to spend huge amounts in defence spending in this time of economic crisis.

He said in the 2009 Budget, defence takes up 14 times more than what is allocated to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA).

Mr Seelan said:”Defence gets $11.45 billion which is six percent more compared to last year. This pales in comparison to the $769 million set aside for MICA to provide ‘public diplomacy’ “.

He said “public diplomacy” refers to government sponsored programmes intended to inform or influence public opinion in other countries by utilising instruments such as publications, motion pictures, and cultural exchanges.

Mr Tan Kin Lian, the former Chief Executive of NTUC Income shared his views on why local entrepreneurs are sidelined by the PAP government. He said it was because Mr Lee Kuan Yew believes that only foreign MNCs and foreign direct investments are the engines to propel Singapore’s economy.  Mr Tan noted that this is a wrong policy and it had led to the neglect of small and medium enterprises.

He also touched on the idea of Unemployment Insurance (UI) where laid-off workers continued to draw income to tide over the difficult period.

Mr Ravi Philemon, a community worker, echoed Mr Tan’s call for an UI scheme for workers facing increased retrenchment in this time of uncertainty. Mr Ravi also spoke at length on the importance of keeping our environment clean and green.

Mr Ng E-Jay, a socio/political activist and blogger, questioned whether the budget is “resilient” as claimed by the finance minister. He also talked about the need for transparency and accountability in the Government.

Dr Chee Soon Juan told the audience that the idea of UI, or more commonly known as unemployment benefits, was canvassed. together with Minimum Wage by the Singapore Democrats in the 2001 elections.

But because the political playing field is not level, these economic ideas cannot become reality. Dr Chee reminded the audience that politics and economics cannot be separated.

He also said that while the lower-income groups in Singapore continued to suffer, the PAP government takes our billions of dollars and invest them with corrupt and greedy bankers in Wall Street.

The forum was the first organised by RP that was founded by the late veteran politician Mr J B Jeyaretnam.  Before the start of the forum there was a short video clip on JBJ followed by a minute’s silence by the audience.

The forum was moderated by RP’s vice-chairman Mr Gopal Prabaharan, who was with the Workers’ Party when it was headed by Mr Jeyaretnam.

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