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MOM minister’s words do not give me any comfort or reassurance, says Gangasudhan.

Flip-flop on government’s position?

Gangasudhan

I read with relative interest today of Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong’s comments that was reported in the Straits Times (Job market on students' minds[1], 16th July 2009).

The minister was reported to have said  that ‘jobs could still be lost in the coming months’ and that ‘initiatives, like the Jobs Credit scheme, are fairly new and their impact not yet clear, “if necessary we will introduce new programmes”.

This seems to be an uncharacteristic shift away from the constant beating of the drums that the Jobs Credit Scheme (JBS) is the way forward and a huge success – the most recent example of this ‘orchestration’ being the CNA report on 14th July 2009 (CDCs see fewer people asking for employment, social assistance[2]), where a huge leap of judgement equated the drop in numbers of people seeking job assistance at CDCs around the island to ‘companies benefiting from various government programmes such as SPUR and the Jobs Credit Scheme’.

I thus wonder if the revelation in the ST report (it does seems that the point might have come out during a sideline interview by journalists) was a case of the good minister momentarily losing the plot or if the time has finally come for the government to slowly rescind its exaggeration regarding the success – potential or otherwise – of the JBS.

However, as the transcript of the minister’s speech[3] does not signal any allusion to changing the tune towards the JBS, it might possibly be an unintended slip of the tongue.

The speech on its own does highlight other matters of concern such as the reference to the people of Singapore as ‘they’ and the government as ‘we’. For example, whilst addressing our ‘good leadership’ the minister makes no implicit distinction between leaders and followers, but when highlighting the ‘strong people’, he implies that the government has done much for the people as follows (emphasis mine):

We provided world-class education to our people. We gave each of them an equal opportunity to develop and realise their potential. Recognising that not everyone learns the same way or has the same ability, we provided different education avenues and pathways. We created the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics, and schools which specialise in Sports and Fine Arts as well as design and technology. We are now building our fourth university as well as the Singapore Institute of Applied Technology.”

- Gan Kim Yong, 15th July 2009

Another point of contention is in his selective championing of some enterprises – namely, Singapore Airlines, Singtel and Keppel, all of which fall under the Temasek Holdings group of companies (Temasek is an ‘independent’ entity whose sole ‘shareholder is the Singapore Ministry of Finance’[4]) - 54%, 55%, 21% investment respectively[5] (Note: DBS Nominees which is part of a major investment of Temasek Holdings has a further[6] 26% stake in Keppel).

In addition to these enterprises, Hyflux was highlighted as an example of an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise) but it is to be noted that its CEO is a former NMP (Nominated Member of Parliament) and the current director of Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory who holds 23% ownership, with DBS Holdings (which itself is a major investment of Temasek Holdings) having a further 11% stake[1].

Finally, Minister Gan also appealed in his speech to the youth he was addressing that ‘we should welcome foreigners in Singapore, just as how our own grandparents were welcomed when they came as immigrants into Singapore in search of a better life.’ However, he has failed to recognise the fact that our forefathers came with (more or less) equitable opportunity and potential to succeed generations ago and, in stark contrast, those who seek a life or living here today are either the highly-specialised experts in some field who, incidentally, take away the impetus for our local ‘best and the brightest’ to strive for new heights in their chosen fields, or the unskilled labourers who artificially depress wages for the rest of the general citizenry.

In all, the MOM minister’s words do not give me any comfort or reassurance as to where our economy – or the nation, for that matter – is heading and leaves much to be desired of our government.

Footnote:

Interestingly, on Temasek Holding’s website, there is absolutely no reference to its sole investor being the Ministry of Finance other than a single line in the FAQ.

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The writer also blogs at: http://gangasudhan.com/blog/

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[1] http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_403584.html

[1] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/442359/1/.html

[1] http://www.mom.gov.sg/publish/momportal/en/press_room/mom_speeches/2009/20090715-speech_by.html

[1] Temasek Holdings FAQ (Q3) - http://www.temasekholdings.com.sg/media_centre_faq.htm

[1] http://www.temasekholdings.com.sg/our_portfolio_portfolio_highlights_major_investments.htm

[1] Keppel Corporation Summary Financial Report 2008 (page 21) - http://www.kepcorp.com/investorrelations/pdfs/2008_sfr.pdf

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