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In the last week or so, the SDP highlighted the contradictions and about-turns of the PAP’s economic policies vis-a-vis foreign workers (see here, here, here, and here). The tormented backflips it has done on this issue is nothing short of amazing.
Now read the reasoning that former Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong (now Minister for Health) gave when he made the case for reducing — and subsequently increasing — the intake of foreign workers.
Let’s start with 2010. Mr Gan had said then:
We also have to bear in mind that we have to take into account business cycles, so when the economy is doing very well, you need to allow it to expand a little bit within some limits. As the economy comes down, you have to allow the foreign worker population to come down.
In a recession, we have to monitor the situation and allow the foreign worker population to come down, but when the economy recovers, we have to be very careful, (and) calibrate our response carefully, otherwise you may stifle the economic recovery. (See here)
Whether or not one agrees with the Minister’s reasoning is a matter that can be debated another time. For the moment, let us stick with his explanation: In a weak and weakening economy, the number of foreign workers must be reduced.
Then in 2011, Mr Gan said:
The outlook for this year remains positive and so we have decided to take this opportunity to step up our efforts in raising our foreign worker levy and encouraging our employers to focus on productivity improvement rather than continue to rely on low-cost, low-skilled workers. Now that the economy is firmly on the recovery track and will grow strongly this year, it is a good time for us to do that. (See here)
The same Minister now says that it is during the recovery stage of the economy that we have to reduce the number of foreign workers into Singapore.
In a matter of months, Mr Gan had taken two positions that are diametrically opposite.
This year, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in his Budget presentation that the Government is again trying to reduce our reliance on foreigners in our workforce.
He better tell that to his boss because just three months ago, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that our economy was weak and therefore we needed “more workers, more skills, more talent. The more you tighten the inflow, the slower growth is going to be.” (See here)
What is going on? Who, exactly, is in charge of our foreign-worker policy? The Prime Minister says one thing, the Finance Minister funds another, and the Manpower Minster carries out both. (And we haven’t even heard from the Minister for Trade and Industry yet.)
Talk about tikam-tikam economics.
With the recession looming ominously over our economy, it is worrying that the Government cannot get its act together on this issue. Looks like we’re in for a wild ride. Fasten your seat-belts, everyone.