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Reform Party leader pledges to fulfil father’s vision

by Deborah Choo and Joshua Chiang

photos by Terry Xu, Joshua Chiang and Chong Woon Hian

The Reform Party does not want to be a mere ‘voice’ in parliament but to form the next government of Singapore even if it takes 'a hundred years'.  Party leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam articulated this vision at a rally at Hong Lim Park on a wet and soggy Saturday afternoon.

Despite the pouring rain, some 300 Singaporeans turned up at the event, although most preferred to stand under a shelter some fifty metres away from the stage.

Invoking the name of his father and party founder Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, Jeyaretnam told the crowd, “He [JBJ] defined the mission of Reform Party as being nothing less than the total transformation of Singapore’s political system.”

Pledging Change

Jeyaretnam pledged that the first thing Reform Party would do should they form the government is to lower ministers’ salary to “levels in line with those paid leaders in other advanced countries”.

Other measures include cutting taxes, hiking spending to improve education and healthcare systems, ensuring greater job opportunities and reviewing the use of state-sovereign wealth funds.

Foreign Labour Policy

The influx of foreign labour was also hot topic at the rally. Jeyaratnam questioned Singapore’s open door policy, calling it an “easy” way to boost economic growth. He said the policy and the lack of a minimum wage is disadvantageous to the bottom 20 percent of our workforce.

He also raised doubts about the quality of our economic growth. Jeyaratnam said last year’s GDP growth of 14 percent was generated by a “very narrow range” of industries such as the biomedical industry.

Housing Issues

Jeyaratnam also questioned why leases on HDB flats only run for 99 years. “Why are we treated as tenants of the state rather than owners?” He asked.

Party member Alec Tok picked up on the theme a little later, saying that between 1990 and 2010, property prices in Singapore rose by 342 percent. He suggested that HDB build fewer condos and focus instead on ensuring that Singaporeans have access to more affordable housing.

Growth Strategies

Central Executive Council member Jeisilan Sivalingam said more Singaporeans are coping with higher living costs, and the solution lies in building a “sustainable knowledge-based economy”. He also criticized a slew of economic measures enforced by the government that “on close hindsight, only affect 12 industries that comprise about 40 percent of the Singapore’s economy and only for the next two years.”

Sivalingam proposed six strategies to spur productivity: (1) Phasing out inefficient factories in the manufacturing sector, (2) Encouraging more competitive plants to invest in better technology, (3) Moving towards higher value-added services and more profitable, niche sectors, (4) Introducing more automation in processes e.g. in the construction industry, (5) Carrying out more R&D, and (6) Restructuring bloated companies and state-protected companies.

Blame it on the rain

The crowd at the rally was generally appreciative. “It’s good they are reaching out,” insurance consultant
James Teo told TOC. “A lot of Singaporeans don’t know about the opposition’s message. They only hear
things from one side and when goodies are given out [by the government], they think very good.”
JBJ is a tough act to follow. If attendees were expecting to see some of his fiery brand of rhetoric, they were sorely disappointed.  The junior Jeyaratnam is more measured, less excitable. On Saturday, he, and other party members attempted to show they meant business by beefing up their speeches with research and statistics. Substance is good. But equally important, and perhaps lacking that day was a sense of excitement. JBJ could fire up a crowd and bring in the votes because of his passion and charisma. Perhaps the current crop of RP leaders just need a bit more practice. Or maybe the mood was simply dampened by the rain.