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The Straits Times contacted Dr Chee Soon Juan this week and wanted the SDP’s views on PM Lee Hsien Loong’s address to PAP cadres at the party’s conference. The report appeared in the newspaper’s print edition on 30 Nov 10. Below are the SDP’s responses. The paragraph in bold is the only part that appeared in the report:
Straits Times: Now that there is a clear possibility of the election happening after the Budget, how will it affect your party’s election preparation in any way – for example, will you gear up election preparation?
Chee Soon Juan: The SDP has been, in the last year or so, building up on our preparations for the next GE. We have held 2 pre-election rallies, gone on weekly walkabouts, done house visits and engaged the PAP on several issues both online and off eg. meeting with Dr Teo Ho Pin over the Sheng Siong-wet market matter.
We also published our alternative economic programme It’s About You. All this is recorded on our website. The Straits Times should give its readers at least a sense of the scope of the SDP’s activity. Thus far, it has blacked out almost all of the SDP’s news and activities.
ST: What do you think of PM’s promise that the next Budget will see a lot of goodies being distributed to Singaporeans? Do you think this is a political move?
Chee: The fact that the PAP has to resort to such a political move is an indication of how unconfident it is of its policies. The high cost of living and the foreign workers policy are causing much frustration and anger among the people. It will take a lot more than just budget sweeteners to persuade the people to accept polices that are hurting them.
ST: What kind of measures or goodies do you think the Govt would likely introduce in the next Budget?
Chee: We will not speculate on them. Suffice it to say that if Mr Lee Hsien Loong is confident that his policies are accepted by the people and that they benefit voters, then dispense with the budget gimmick and call the elections now.
ST: Given that the SDP’s Alternative Economic Plan champions the implementation of minimum wage, what do you think of the PM saying that Workfare is better than minimum wage?
Chee: Workfare is an incentive for low-wage workers, many of whom are our elderly, to continue to work. The Government’s stated objective is to ensure that these people “find work a clearly superior alternative to social assistance” and to provide incentives so that “remaining in work is worthwhile.” If they fulfill a certain criteria grants may be given.
Clearly the scheme is aimed at getting a certain section of the population, the elderly poor, to continue to work. The “assistance” that is given is on a needs basis.
This is very different from Minimum Wage which legislates that employers must not pay workers below a stipulated amount.
Under Workfare low-wage workers are still underpaid. They may get assistance but let’s be clear here: They are still undperpaid. The obvious question is why must workers, young or old, not be paid sufficiently so that they do not have to depend on grants and handouts?
It is really a simple principle: All workers working on a full-time basis must, at the very minimum, be able to meet the basic cost of living in Singapore. No one putting in a honest day’s work should have to go to the Government and prove that they have met some criteria in order to get monetary assistance just so that they can make ends meet.
Self-worth is an important concept, not just in social terms but economic ones as well. A poorly paid worker is an insecure worker is an unproductive worker.
Workfare reinforces the master-servant arrangement, economically and psychologically, which the PAP clearly wants. Minimum wage ensures that workers are paid what they are entitled wthout having to feel that they are receiving the charity of their employers.
ST: What about PM saying that they are able to attract quality candidates for their next core group of leaders: do you think the opposition would be able to capture quality candidates too?
Chee: If by “quality” you mean that PAP candidates are able to huddle together to do groupthink, then yes the PAP has the finest. But that’s not what we need in Parliament. We need representatives who represent Singaporeans, not yes-persons who toe the PAP ministers’ line.
We need independent thinkers, MPs who are unafraid to speak up and who really care about the people and their interests. Such a quality, unfortunately, is lacking among PAP candidates.
ST: PM and Mr Lim Boon Heng have noted that there will be a tougher fight against the opposition in the next election. Mr Lim also said that the opposition has greater chances of entering Parliament because of the changes to the NCMP scheme – implying that the opposition will rely more on getting NCMP seats than actually being able to capture wards. What do you think of this impression? And how many wards do you think the opposition can capture at the next election?
Chee: The opposition does not need political handouts. Just make the election system free and fair (make the elections department an independent body, abolish the GRC system and free up the media) and we will beat the PAP fair and square.