I suppose it is not really surprising that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (PM Lee) National Day speech was light on detail but heavy with general statements of optimism. Given that the National Day address is pegged at the whole nation, I can understand that it has to be engaging and accessible. A lack of in depth data is therefore expected. That said, there are several glaring omissions in his speech.
While PM Lee touched on certain issues that have plagued the national debate thus far, he failed to mention the issue of ministerial salaries or the fact that a successor has not yet been named. Instead, it has been Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (ESM Goh) who has been publicly addressing these issues.
Why is there a semblance of dividing the issues between ESM Goh and PM Lee? Is ESM Goh taking one for the team to spare PM Lee the burden of having to deal with these dicey hot button concerns?
PM Lee acknowledged the worries of the common man with regards to the rising costs of living in Singapore. In particular, he mentioned the prices of milk formulas and the price of electricity. As most readers would be aware, the government recently permitted price increments in both water and electricity. Unsurprisingly, this move generated widespread criticism.
In dealing with it, PM Lee made a comparison with the price of electricity in 2008 which was apparently higher than what it is now. What he has neglected to mention however is that this year, Singaporeans have had the double whammy of hikes in both water and electricity – a factual matrix that was not present in 2008. It isn’t a case of people forgetting price drops and only remembering increases. It is a case of people feeling the pinch in 2018 because of an amalgamation of many factors which may not have been present in 2008!
As for milk formula prices, PM Lee tried to make the issue about the aggressive advertising of sellers. The issue however is why there is GST levied on baby products in the first place! If there was no GST levied on baby products, the prices wouldn’t be so high to begin with! Surely this would be a simple way of reducing prices.
He also said that while the Government would ensure that housing, healthcare and education were kept affordable, Singaporeans would also have to do their part to watch their expenditure by saving water and electricity, and making smart consumer choices.
While I agree with the sentiments behind this statement, I cannot help but wonder if this general statement is a bit of a cop out. Singaporeans who are finding things tough are no doubt tightening their purse strings. The last thing they need is some kind of implied accusation that they are not able to afford the high costs of living because they have been wasting water or electricity? I rather wished he kept it to just what the government would do, leaving it to the people to decide for themselves how they can save money.
Besides, what is PM Lee’s definition of affordable? Does he mean affordable to him and the other members of his high paid team? You can’t keep prices affordable until you define what affordable actually means.