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Former GIC Chief Economist: If top leaders are so keen on creating more equality, why is basic income policy still so pathetic?

Former Chief Economist at GIC and former adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Yeoh Lam Keong lambasted a statement made by the Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing recently, questioning the lack of "concrete and effective policy action" by the upper echelons of Singapore's leadership.

Speaking at a public policy conference last week, Mr Chan -- who is rumoured to be the top candidate to succeed Lee Hsien Loong as the next Prime Minister of Singapore -- urged Singaporeans to not "make all-encompassing generalizations about each other."

Mr Chan also reminded Singaporeans to "make a clear distinction between “elites” who use their success and wealth to give back to society, and those with an “elitist attitude” who do not reach out to help their fellow man."

Mr Yeoh, in his Facebook post on Wednesday (31 Oct), raised a pertinent question: "If our top leadership are really so keen for elites to help the underprivileged in society and create more equality of opportunity, why is it [that] our basic income policy support for the absolute poor is still so pathetic?"

He suggested the implementation of economic measures, such as raising the Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme "by $600 a month to meet most of the basic needs" of low-wage earners, which "will cost us less than 1% of GDP and require no rise in taxes," adding that "studies show that extending these schemes will not reduce work effort or motivation and would greatly increase the ability of the poor to help themselves."

"Yet policy makers stubbornly refuse to adequately fund these two schemes that between them automatically reach most of these working and elderly absolute poor," lamented Mr Yeoh.

Mr Yeoh also cited Singapore's "misguided policy of excessive immigration over the 1990s and between 2000-2010," which he explained resulted in "depressed wages," and as a consequence, "created a huge class of working poor who form the bulk of our 300-400,000 absolute poor in Singapore."

The former economist further questioned: "Rather than all this sophisticated talk on how elites should give back to the less privileged or be less conscious of socioeconomic status, how about some concrete and effective policy action to put our money where our mouth is, and to largely eradicate the scourge and shame of absolute poverty in Singapore?"

Mr Yeoh also criticised Mr Chan, who he suggested "is a smart, personable and generally well-meaning leader," for not having done "anything substantial enough to sufficiently help the poorest of the poor in all those years of relevant high office that had the most responsibility and say in such matters," being in charge of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) as well as heading the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) "for nearly 3 years."

"For our governing elites, true intelligent charity and compassion should should begin with a deep policy mindset change and social policy reform at home. Otherwise, all this kind of talk is just empty sophistry," concluded Mr Yeoh.