ESC recommendations: Here we go again

February 3, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

If an economy is in trouble and the government wants to look like it is doing something about it, the best thing to do is to set up a body, give it an authoritative name, and then issue a report.

The report need not say or recommend anything new. It just needs to look and sound officious, and it needs to occupy front and centre of the newspaper – with computer-generated graphics thrown in. That’s exactly what the report by the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC), headed by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is about.

The ESC report recommended, amongst other things:

a. raising the foreign workers’ levy to manage the inflow of guest workers,
b. investing more in R&D,
c. facilitating the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),
d. pushing local companies to expand abroad, and
e. developing nuclear energy.

Save for the development of nuclear power, haven’t we heard all this before?

In 1991 the Government came up with the National Technology Plan which would propel us into the “major league of a world-class innovation-driven economy by 1995.”

Five years later, then trade and industry minister George Yeo launched the SME21 plan “to strengthen the SME sector in Singapore” and “to promote SMEs is to help them tap into global networks.”

This was followed by a 2001 report from Economic Review Committee led by then prime minister Lee Hsien Loong which promised to “…carefully manage the inflow [of foreign workers] to benefit our economy and our people. An appropriate levy will regulate the demand for foreign workers, and ensure that they complement rather than displace Singaporean workers…” (emphasis added)

This “careful” management of foreign worker inflow through “an appropriate levy” has lead to our population being made up of 38 percent of non-Singaporeans.

Now the ESC is again proposing to use the foreign worker levy to manage the influx of foreign workers. Old wine, new skin.

The 2001 ERC report also pledged to “strengthen R&D efforts.”

Yet if all these initiatives had been effective why the persistent problem of declining productivity and the need for another report?

In truth, these recommendations are a rehash of old ideas, repackaged to make it look as if the PAP has a workable plan. It doesn’t.

What the Government needs to do is to cease its dominance, and micro-management, of the economy that has been grossly and grotesquely distorted, both in structure as well as performance. This, alas, the PAP will not do because it will mean the end of its control of the country.

The reality is that we cannot continue to separate the country’s politics from its economics. As long as the PAP insists on the kind of authoritarian control, the full potential of the Singaporean people cannot be realised, and no amount of reports generated by authoritative-sounding committees will help Singapore move ahead economically.

The Singapore Democrats will tackle – in depth – the difficulties presently faced by our economy and, more importantly, we will make alternative proposals in the days and weeks ahead as promised (see here).