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Reliance on major infrastructure projects for economic growth unsustainable: Chee Soon Juan

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Secretary-General Dr Chee Soon Juan has criticised statements made by the Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong. Likening Mr Wong's plans to "pouring more concrete on the island to grow the economy", Dr Chee warned against continued reliance on capital input and foreign labour to drive economic growth. Such measures are unsustainable, he said, arguing that even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee recognise this.

Wong had said in a speech on August 15: "Singapore may be a little red dot, very small. Some of you may have the impression that we are already very built up. But in fact, we are not done building Singapore yet. We have not reached our physical limits."

Some of the major infrastructure projects Mr Wong spoke of include Terminal 5 for Changi Airport and a new Tuas mega-port. According to him, both projects will double existing capacity. In addition to this, efforts will be made to improve rail connectivity to Malaysia.

Dr Chee, however, considers the government's strategy of using major infrastructure projects to generate economic growth indicative "that the PAP is bankrupt of ideas". Quoting Mr Wong's assertion that Singapore has "never failed in restructuring our economy before," Dr Chee says, "But the[n] again, we have never faced a situation where we've maxed out on easy ways of growing our economy before."

Dr Chee's comments in full:

Lawrence Wong's announcement yesterday that the govt's major infrastructure projects to be implemented over the 10 years “will put the national economy on an even stronger footing” continues the depressing narrative that the PAP is bankrupt of ideas.

Already, economists have warned – and continue to warn – that our economic growth has largely been driven by capital input. The other factor that has fueled this growth is the massive influx of foreign labour. But these measures, by themselves, are unsustainable and have caused the dangerous malformation of our economy and society. LHL acknowledged as much when he said that we have basically plucked all the low hanging fruit as far as growing our economy is concerned with little idea of how to reach the ones higher up.

Now, the National Development Minister wants to do more of what has led us to this predicament in the first place, ie, to rely on pouring more concrete on the island to grow the economy. (Mr Wong's subordinate, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee, came closer to the truth when he said: “The reality is that there is only so much we can build in Singapore.”)

This is especially troubling when the Committee for the Future Economy has not proposed anything – beyond what has already been tried and failed – that resembles a plan to generate growth based on innovation and productivity.

In his statement yesterday, Lawrence Wong added: “There is a lot of work for us to do, but we must have confidence that we can make it happen. If you look at our history in Singapore, we have never failed in restructuring our economy before.

But the again, we have never faced a situation where we've maxed out on easy ways of growing our economy before.