By SY Lee and Leong Sze Hian
We refer to the articles “Low Thia Khiang and Indranee Rajah lock horns over “constructive politics”” (Straits Times online, May 26), “Parties clash over what ‘constructive politics’ means” and “Fiery debate puts focus on ‘constructive politics’” (Straits Times, May 27).
The former states that “Worker’s Party chief Low Thia Khiang’s speech criticising what he saw as the Government’s approach to “constructive politics” drew swift rebuttals from Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah and Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair.
Mr Low fired the first salvo, devoting his entire speech to the section of President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s speech where he said politics must be constructive, put people and the nation first and eschew populism that could lead to gridlock and weaken Singapore.
Mr Low said this “does not happen by the order of the Government. Nor does it happen through a national conversation or public consultation”.
Instead, he said, it would require inculcating political values in youth, building a political culture that is free from bullying, abuse of power or fear, and establishing institutions that are impartial and hence, trusted by the people.
To this end, the veteran opposition MP called for a review of the National Education syllabus so that young people will learn to understand their rights, obligations and values as citizens in a democratic society.
Noting that President Tan’s exhortation was “unprecedented”, Mr Low, who entered Parliament in 1991, also expressed cynicism over what the Government meant by “constructive politics”. The recent actions of political leaders extending media licensing rules to online news sites, smacks of “compliant politics” instead, he said.
“Policies” not “Politics”?
Mr Nair was the first to respond, observing that Mr Low had opened the WP slate by speaking almost entirely on one topic.
“It’s actually a little bit tragic if the focus is going to be on politics and not on the policies that will help the people,” Mr Nair said.
What we do in Parliament makes a difference?
Next to take aim was Ms Rajah, who said the call for constructive politics was not just rhetoric.
“It is real because what we say and we do in this Parliament makes a difference to Singaporeans,” she said.
To achieve constructive politics, political parties would have to put Singaporeans first, and offer practical alternatives that would “ultimately results in better lives”. They would also have to be act responsibly, by admitting the “trade-offs” of their policies, instead of pandering to public opinion and saying what is popular.
It was not constructive for political parties to flip flop when convenient, she said, citing an example of the WP’s stance on foreign workers.
“You don’t ask for more foreign workers to be allowed in Singapore in 2012, and then in 2013, after the White Paper (on Population), say that there should be a complete freeze. And then a few months later, ask for more foreign workers again,” she said.
Ms Indranee also spoke about the importance of integrity and said that was in short supply in a political party that would give out contracts worth millions of dollars a year to his own supporters, without first going through a tender.
Mr Low said in reply that the WP had not flipped flopped on the issue of foreign workers and challenged Ms Rajah to table a motion to debate the issue.
He also said that the WP town council had called a tender to award its contract for managing agent.
Ms Rajah also criticised Mr Low for focusing entirely on politics in his speech, saying:
“Perhaps Mr Low feels that our politics are not working or Mr Low has no constructive alternatives into the challenges that we face, or with the recent woes of his town council, he wishes to create an impression that nothing is wrong and that the Government is out to fix them.””
From the grapevine?
Overheard at a hawker centre – some patrons talking along the following lines:
“Parliament is a bloody waste of time”
“Some of these – hypocrites – talking that should talk about policies instead of “constructive politics””
“Got such thing as “constructive” or “non-constructive” politics meh!”
“Wayang in Parliament year after year – the outcomes keep getting worse or never change!”
The above struck a chord in our minds.
Outcomes and statistics?
Like we always say – let the numbers do the talking. Let’s look at the outcomes and statistics that affect the lives of Singaporeans.
Historically, we may have the lowest real rate of return of all national pension funds in the world.
An estimated only 1 in 8 Singaporeans who reach age 55, were able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum and Medisave Minimum Sum, entirely in cash from their CPF accounts.
CPF – From a cashflow perspective – does the Government spend any money at all in our CPF system?
All these despite MPs calling for higher rates, improvements to our CPF system practically every year (“Govt urged to do more to improve CPF returns” (Straits Times, May 27).
Healthcare – probably the lowest public healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP, at 1.4% for FY2012 in the world, and the lowest public to private healthcare spending at about one-third of total healthcare spending.
From a cashflow perspective – does the Government spend any money at all on healthcare?
Education – we spend an estimated $400 plus to half a trillion dollars a year on foreign students’ scholarships, tuition grants, etc for secondary, undergraduate and graduate non-Singaporean students – when fees for Singaporeans keep rising above the rate of inflation.
It has been estimated that all these funding for non-Singaporean students may instead be utilised to have free education for all Singaporeans.
HDB – We probably have the most expensive public housing in the world.
From a cashflow perspective, does the Government spend any money at all on public housing, given that profits are made in the sale of HDB flats?
Welfare – We have probably the lowest welfare spending in the world. For example, ComCare only spent $102.4 million in a year.
Jobs – The percentage of non “Singapore born – true blue” workers in the workers may be close to or already over half the total workforce. There may be severe consequences to Singaporeans by way of unemployment, under-employment, depression of wages (only about 1% and near to 0% real growth per annum for the median and 20th percentile wages excluding employer CPF contribution, in the last decade or so), widespread age discrimination in jobs and real wages, etc.
What really matters?
Like what the Singaporeans at the hawker centre said – to the man on the street – what matters in Parliament may not be “nice” words and debates about the type of politics – but at the end of the day – its the outcomes as evidenced in the statistics that really matters!