Full speech by Mrs Lina Chiam, NCMP in Parliament in response to the President’s Address 2014 (26th May 2014)
I rise in support of the motion in thanking the President for his Address, which was delivered on behalf of the Government, in the opening of the Second Session of this Parliament.
We agree with the President that empathy should be one of the core values of Singapore. However, we face an uphill task in achieving this. How do we help youths develop empathy in the face of tougher job competition, internationally and in their homeland? This is in a context of a world that is more protectionist.
The President addressed the need for more opportunities for Singaporeans to realise their dreams and aspirations. Currently, many Singaporeans feel that they are priced out of their aspirations for cars, houses and higher education.
In order to help and enable young Singaporeans to fulfill their potential, and pursue their dreams and aspirations, we must have a happy and healthy environment at home, in school and in the workplace.
In order to build a healthy, caring society and, there must be mental wellness among Singaporeans.
We need to do more for mental wellness of each and every of our citizens. Only then can we speak meaningfully of higher productivity among our workforce. Life long learning for retirees and the elderly should be encouraged to keep their minds active.
We must not forget about the welfare of any Singaporean, even the detainees held under the Internal Security Act – the cases of those who have been detained for more than ten years must be reviewed.
We urge the government to re-prioritise the needs of Singaporeans over and above that of medical tourism, for instance.
CPF – there are alternatives to raising minimum sum
While the government has tried to ensure affordable and quality health care, it has recently raised the CPF minimum sum to $155,000. This makes retirement tougher. Many Singaporeans are also deeply unhappy about the compulsory annuity CPF scheme.
We need alternative retirement schemes to build an inclusive society. Singapore needs a complex mix of policies, such as alternative investment options to ensure a sufficient pool of funds in CPF. A non-mandatory CPF annuity scheme and private annuity schemes should also be considered.
A stronger social safety net?
It is important to provide more opportunities for those who fail in school, business or in life. We need to think carefully how to embrace failure and provide second chances for Singaporeans. This may include providing a stronger and less complex system of a social safety net for Singaporeans.
Tougher questions regarding the localisation of our workforce need to be addressed soon. We understand that more than 50% of jobs in Singapore are not held by Singaporeans.
Economic growth alone not enough for Singapore
Economic growth alone is incapable of satisfying the democratic and meritocratic hopes of the people. Specific institutions must be created for that purpose of redistributing the fruits of Singapore’s growth, rather than relying on market forces to ensure a meritocratic society.
So far the government has chosen a purely capitalist system to grow our nation. Our national wealth increased. Companies located in Singapore prospered and business leaders were also able to make profits out of Singaporeans. Many of our local businesses rely on cheap labour to survive. Without them, managers complain that they will fold up. I believe them because they are simply unable to compete technologically anymore, after more than 20 years of cheap quotas. Innovation is no longer in their blood. Theoretically, some of them should be allowed to fail. Restructuring must take place, in order to recreate a competitive environment that can pay good wages.
Meritocracy will not happen otherwise. Businesses will push wages down because the opportunity cost of not innovating is low. The Singaporean worker will always be too expensive to hire. To help one business survive, we will need limitless low wage foreign labour. I think this story is quite clear.
We are not interested in asking which industries should stay or which should go. But we want to be part of a new governmental apparatus to help formulate polices that favour Singaporeans, not an absolute growth model.
The President also talked about a stronger Singaporean core. At this stage, I also want to stress that capital stuck with the wealthy will almost always transform into rent as it accumulates. The poorer will never be able to catch up unless capital is forced to be more dynamic. On this ground, I question the validity of the current government’s strategy of attracting top billionaires and how overrated the concept of trickle-down economics is in creating jobs.
The incentives we throw to attract top businesses could have been better spent allowing students to get their hands wet on entrepreneurship. We disagree with what the government prescribes in the growth model – only in setting up agencies, creating schemes, and buying projects. We prefer that this model be abandoned, and that we work directly with tertiary institutions to build businesses. After all, Silicon Valley, Hong Kong and London did not become competitive because of aggressive incentives.
Singapore owns a lot of capital. But Singaporeans lack easy access to this capital for basic uses such as retirement and education. We still cling onto the nanny state mentality that disallows a man to fail in life. We say that the ordinary man is incapable of planning his retirement, so we lock up his cash and force him to purchase an annuity.
As if it is not bad enough to have a nanny state government that grows at all cost, our government refuses to install a minimum wage for low wage workers. Yet, there is in effect a minimum wage for senior civil servants and political leaders – we are referring to the pay benchmarks of our leaders.
In the French monarchy period, they were not able to revamp their tax structure. Nobles were not paying taxes and this caused a lot of pain for the government. In Singapore’s case today, we treat our businesses like nobles. Instead of increasing the tax and eliminating their access to cheap foreign labour, we decide to tax Singaporeans through systems such as the COE for cars.
If the President is serious unifying Singapore, the path ahead is long.
Different voices in Singapore
The President shared that we must add substance to voices. After Our Singapore Conversation (OSC), the SPP urges the government to continue launching more nation-wide conversations – regardless their political inclination. After all, we are all working for a better Singapore.
The OSC should be held with ordinary people, of all political inclination, in all places like coffee shops, hawker centers or shopping malls, and also on the internet – anywhere that is conducive for people to speak their mind freely. We will get better and more accurate feedback at the end of the day.
Controlling the discourse online, such as through the new MDA internet regulations last year, is counter-productive and self-defeating.
If the government is sincere about hearing people’s voices, we urge them to take an even-handed approach in reviewing the Broadcasting Act in the remaining term of Parliament before the next General Election, as they have slated.
If being a constructive opposition means speaking up for the real needs of the people, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality – then yes, we are a constructive opposition. We have no interest at all in destroying the fabric of Singapore.
But when we see policies that are detrimental to the well being of our people and our nation, make no mistake – we the Opposition will speak up fearlessly.
The role of the SPP in Parliament
The Singapore People’s Party shall be a loyal Opposition – loyal to the Constitution, loyal to the nation, but not to the ruling Party.  We will stand together with the government in times of national difficulties and emergency. But our role in Parliament is to keep the government in check, ensuring that its promises to the people and its policies are carried out. We will also continue put out our alternative solutions and policy proposals.
As Singapore approaches a new chapter with its 50th anniversary next year, the Opposition’s role and responsibility is becoming a more integral part of the governance of our nation. In fact, the whole nation must also be responsible for that.We all have a role to play.
 Quotation adapted from Chiam See Tong, maiden speech in Parliament, 4 March 1985.