Why are they so afraid of an open debate? Part 2

April 2, 2011
Singapore Democrats

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Vincent Wijeyshingha

The producers of the CNA programme which will be aired tonight threw in arrangements that disadvantaged the opposition. Half the allotted time was given to the PAP: for a one-hour show that meant that the four opposition parties represented each had 7.5 minutes while the PAP had 30.

On behalf of the SDP, I stated our position clearly: Singapore is at a crossroads. The domestic scene is also one of flux with the huge impact of our immigration policy on the community as a whole, the low level of job creation, the driving down of wages together with the rapid rise in inflation, and the constant increases in fees, licenses and costs of living.

 

 
The PAP dominated as it is by the thinking of one man – former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – who through succession by patronage and sidelining of his old guard colleagues, has ensured that no one of any sufficient calibre is at its leadership.

I pointed out that the people of Singapore are clear that the PAP is no longer up to the task. The people of Singapore need a government that is competent, able to look confidently into the future and propose constructive policies, but also one that is mindful that no everyone will be able to take advantage of the climate and will therefore need the passionate support of his or her fellow citizens.

The PAP’s Budget in March, I reminded viewers, was a good example of a lacklustre government, no longer in command of its brief or even aware of the situation for ordinary people on the ground.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has called for Singaporeans to think carefully when they vote in the general elections.

We in the SDP think so too: with wages at significantly low levels and in fact having fallen, hundreds of billions of our money lost in bad investments, the cost of living making it impossible for ordinary people to afford even basic necessities, the immigration policy throwing up many social problems in addition to significantly depressing local wages, and ministers paying themselves the highest wages in the world and bonuses that even the private sector cannot compete with, the Singaporean voter must ask himself whether the party responsible for these outcomes can and should be trusted to govern our country anymore.

I cited a UBS study which showed our standard of living to be on a par with Russia, with all its social and economic problems (despite Goh Chok Tong’s much vaunted Swiss standard of living). The report also showed our wages to be lower than all the Asian tigers. Minister Tharman suggested that the study was, in his words, flawed. Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate. I challenge him to do so.

In part two of the programme we discussed the cost of living and the immigration policy. Or rather, the opposition participants discussed them, while the PAP participants simply repeated its timeworn and – we now know inaccurate – views, that the government is trying its best to alleviate costa.

Its only solution is to give the people some subsidies which, when calculated carefully, leave the Singaporean rather more in debt that the subsidies can pay for) and that Singapore needs foreign workers.

While not disputing that any economy should be inviting of skilled foreigners, the opposition parties reminded the PAP that they have shown themselves singularly unable to resolve the driving down of wages and the social challenges that are the outcomes of the policy.

Both Minister Tharman and Ms Teo were unable to respond to those assessments although he did at one stage remind us that 85% of Singaporeans own their own home. Unfortunately, no one has told him that in paying for their own homes, they have depleted their old age savings to such an extent that we see countless elderly people working as cleaners, selling tissue paper, or collecting tin cans and cardboard to make ends meet.

I argued that the SDP has a policy programme specifically designed to answer these challenges by way of zero-rating GST on basic goods and services, introducing a no-profit approach in public services, bringing in a Singaporeans First policy that many other labour receiving countries now have, and lowering the exorbitant cost of government itself.

At the end of the show, Ms Teo said, in her summing up, that she saw Singapore as a book that we are all writing together. While no one would challenge the feel-good nature of such an image, I reminded her that not everyone is entitled to contribute: those honest, decent and loyal people who have tried to posit different policies and approaches have been fined, jailed, bankrupted and jailed for their efforts. For example, the debacle of Operation Spectrum which has never brought any evidence against the 22 who were imprisoned for their so-called Marxist attempt to overthrow the state by force, a now laughable proposition.

Following the programme’s recording, all participants’ were interviewed on their thoughts on the forum. Minister Tharman said the show evidenced a deep concern about wanting to have a sense of fairness in our society, which everyone shares.

According to him, “That’s foremost in our minds in the PAP.” He was only half right: The opposition parties showed this clearly in our statements and contributions.

He and Ms Teo, on the other hand, distinguished themselves by repeating the now-outdated view ignoring the struggles that ordinary people face on the ground, and disregarding the terrible injustice that is caused by paying themselves such high wages while people are forced to take jobs that pay them in a year what cabinet ministers earn in a day.

We in the SDP don’t want “a sense of fairness”, we want real fairness.

The PAP emerged wanting in the debate. Even wheeling out one of their big guns, the man who wrote its budget for this next year, was not sufficient to show that it is competent to still run our nation.

And whether the people of Singapore are able to express their views in the coming general elections is dependent upon whether all the information about the political parties and their policies is made available to them. Judging by the continuing stranglehold that the men and women of SPH and Media Corp are comfortable to continue working under, this will be a struggle.

Read also: Why are they so afraid of an open debate? Part 1