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New NMP urges govt to loosen grip on society.

NMP Viswa Sadasivan: “Let us take a chance on our people, on ourselves.”

Nominated Member of Parliament, Mr Viswa Sadasivan, made his maiden Parliamentary speech in yesterday’s sitting of the House. He moved a Parliamentary motion in which he urged: "

"That this House reaffirms its commitment to the nation building tenets as enshrined in the National Pledge when debating national policies, especially economic policies."

You can read the full text of his speech here. Here are some excerpts:

Read our earlier write-up on Mr Viswa's talk on politics in Singapore: Crisis of leadership in S'pore.

Politics

Accountability requires the government to go beyond lip-service in addressing the call for greater democracy, civil liberties and choices. In the Political arena – a more level playing field especially in the management of elections and media coverage. What is increasingly demanded is fairness and justice, not just in form but substance. Yes, it is ridiculous to expect the incumbent party in government to facilitate the opposition parties to win more seats in Parliament.

But what is asked for is that the government desist from making it difficult in an unfair and undemocratic manner for the opposition to gain success – through last minute changes in electoral boundaries, or a lack of media coverage or what can sometimes be seen as biased coverage. In my view, it is the duty of a responsible government to help evolve a political climate that encourages greater interest and participation from the people. If not, people are likely to feel increasingly alienated and disenfranchised resulting in apathy and, worse, cynicism. I fear this is already happening.

New Media

But thanks to the advent of the internet and new media, there appears to be a resurgence of interest in the people to engage in debate in issues. I sense there is a growing sense of restlessness and even helplessness with what is viewed as a media that is aligned with the government.

Many in this group are now vacillating towards cyberspace, seeking out and contributing contrary viewpoints, often explicitly anti-establishment. This is gaining momentum, given the ubiquitous nature of the internet, and the growing number of net savvy Singaporeans and PRs. While some illuminating and thought provoking ideas are raised in the cyber sites, it is not uncommon to find misinformation and at times, I suspect, even disinformation circulating. The tone can be angry and sometimes downright caustic seasoned with a good doze of vulgarities!

What is giving this new ‘movement’ life and momentum is essentially the perception that the mainstream media tows the government’s line because it is required to. We can sit here and debate whether or not this is true. But for me that is not what is critical. What is important is for us to acknowledge that there is a challenge here – the mainstream media needs to gain greater credibility in the eyes of the people, and must not be seen as functioning to serve the interest of the establishment. The current situation is certainly not healthy for the government or the country as it nurtures a “them versus us” climate that could become unnecessarily adversarial.

Happiness and GDP

[L]et us now evaluate whether our economic policies have resulted in or at least contributed to happiness. GDP has always been a key indicator of economic performance. Our per capita GDP has risen exponentionally over the past 44 years. According to figures from the department of statistics, in Sing dollar and nominal terms, Singapore’s per capita GDP grew from $1, 567 in 1965 to $53, 192 in 2008, certainly one of the highest in the world. Without doubt, this is something we should be proud of and thank the PAP government for.

But when we look closer at what constitutes the GDP, there is cause for concern. According to data, profits take about 46% of Singapore’s GDP, which according to economists I spoke to, is extremely high compared to other developed economies. And from what I understand, half of this high profit share goes to the coffers of foreign-owned companies with operations here. What is left in the GDP pie to directly benefit Singaporeans is therefore a relatively small amount. According to a recent article in the Edge by economist Manu Bhaskaran, and I quote: “…This could be why even though Singapore’s per capita GDP is roughly 11% higher than Hong Kong’s, our per capita consumption is about 21% lower that Hong Kong’s. If we take per capita consumption as a better indicator of welfare, then simply going for high growth per se does not guarantee that we will achieve the best possible welfare outcome for Singaporeans….” Unquote.

Government’s responsibility to the less well-off

Yes, we don’t want to become a welfare state. But what has that got to do with an elected government’s responsibility to provide the basic needs of a small group of citizens who, it has been established, cannot fend for themselves because of illness or disability. The government’s response to calls for increasing Public Assistance grants has been that we should avoid creating a dependency on handouts which in turn could become a disincentive for working for a living. As such, the government’s view has been to provide a very basic level of assistance which will be supplemented by what the community and grassroots organisations can provide. Yes, this is possible, but why should it be an expectation imposed on them, when government does appear to be in a strong enough financial position to provide the necessary assistance directly.

Even if we talk about doubling the Public Assistance for a 4 member family from $950 per month by $1,000 – it would amount to $36 million to benefit 3,000 families or 12,000 needy Singaporeans for a whole year! Our GDP for 2008 was $257 billion and Foreign Reserves officially estimated to be in excess of $250 billion. It is not just about providing for their welfare per se, it is about allowing them a measure of dignity as they struggle with poverty. It is about ensuring their children get good, nutritious meals and a decent level of comfort and security at home to have a decent chance at doing well in school and making it in life. It is a small investment in happiness and dignity for our citizens. I do hope the government will relent on this issue. I am confident that this is something most Singaporeans desire.

Political participation

From the late 1960s there were stringent rules that discouraged active political activism, even participation. Detention of political activists under the ISA and media controls, whether real or perceived, rightful or not, created a climate of fear that inhibited political participation. Over years, in my view, this crystalised into a political culture of apathy and disinterest. This in turn exacerbated an already fragile sense of rootedness and a lack of patriotism. Our senior political leaders have been highlighting the challenges they have been facing in persuading the best and brightest to serve in political leadership, and why salaries had to be significantly high to help them make the decision to come on board. This situation does not augur well for Singapore on many fronts – it poses problems in succession planning, retards socio-political resilience and could result in a brain drain the moment we face a serious enough crisis.

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Picture from Channel NewsAsia.

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