By Philip Ang
I fully agree with Law Minister Shanmugam who recently said “one of the biggest risks for Singapore is a populist government that spends increasing amounts of money to succeed”. CNA news
Could there have been some referrence to the HDB which has been spending an inordinate amount of time on increasing the number of grants to cater to the demands of 83 per cent of Singaporeans?
Populist policies catering to almost the entire population require all sorts of grants with an endless number of attached conditions.
An increasing and inexhaustive list of grants i.e. additional CPF Housing Grant, Special CPF Housing Grant, CPF Housing Grant for Family, CPF Housing Grant for Singles/ CPF Housing Grant for Singles (living with parents) and CPF Top-Up Grant. HDB grants What next?
(Within all these grants, there is a sub list of conditions which the HDB requires to spend even more time to formulate. Just one example – Additonal CPF Housing Grant which includes ‘Amount of Grant’, ‘Disbursement of Grant’, ‘Use of Grant’, ‘How to Apply for AHG’ etc. Additional CPF Housing Grant. This allows one to better understand why the HDB will continue with major screw-ups. As if it has not wasted enough time, its role now includes Promoting Citizenship in HDB Households)
Dispensing more words of wisdom, the minister continues: “Whenever we put down a programme today to spend money, I think the biggest risk for Singapore is a populist government that decides that the way to succeed is to spend more and more money. Every programme that you put down money (for), today, would just mushroom in 10, 15 years.”
In 10, 15 years time as our population nears the targetted 6.9 million, it will need to spend more money on more grants to benefit more Singaporeans as well as an increasing number of new citizens.
Our populist policies could have been avoided if the government had not failed to address the issue of affordability.
Because the country has been run as a mega corporation, the largest in the world, the PAP’s populist policies extend to businesses as well. So when businesses screamed ‘lower cost’, the government came up with the FT policy last century in double quick time without any consultation. When the government belatedly tried to reverse course after huge losses at the 2011 GE, nine national chambers of commerce, which had remained silent on the issues created by FTs, wrote to Acting MOM minister to express their concern should such populist measures be removed. Link
There are more insidious costs in extending populist policies to businesses and one example is the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme which is borne by taxpayers. The WIS monthly income limit has been increased by $200 (almost half a million potential applicants) with the maximum payout increased by $700 this year. Link
From about $270 million total payout in 2007, it ballooned to more than $450 million in 2012 (Link) and with more recipients this year, the amount will surpass half a billion dollars.
If populist policies had not been extended to businesses, a perpetually increasing WIS payout would not have been necessary. (argument is not for the removal of WIS as the problems created by businesses makes this presently impossible)
CNA’s article (Link) could have been an acknowledgement of the PAP having assumed the biggest risk for our country, with populist policies extended to not only citizens but businesses as well.
The government would do well to heed the minister’s advice and address the fundamental issues with the eventual removal of such policies in mind.