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Ex-GIC Chief Economist to Chan on elites helping the underprivileged: Don’t talk with “sophistry”

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke at an IPS conference last Friday (26 Oct) telling Singaporeans not to be anti-excellence, but anti-elitism.

He said that Singaporeans should look past a person's income or status, and that the successful ones in society have a responsibility to give back to society as well as be volunteers to help the underprivileged.

At one point, he asked a rhetorical question, "So, since I am now a minister, I presume that qualifies me as a member of the elite?"

"There is a difference between anti-elitism and anti-excellence," he said.

"I would not hold it against somebody, regardless of his background, if he does well and makes a contribution to society. But if someone has done well, not through his own effort but maybe through his connections... and doesn't reach out to people, then that is different."

Pathetic Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme

In response to what Chan said, Ex-GIC Chief Economist Yeoh Lam Keong wrote on his Facebook page yesterday (1 Nov) criticising Chan for talking with "sophistry".

"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 our basic income policy support for the absolute poor is still so pathetic?" Mr Yeoh pointed out.

"We can well afford to raise the Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme by $600 a month to meet most of the basic needs of the bulk of those that do not earn enough to do so, yet policy makers stubbornly refuse to adequately fund these two schemes that between them automatically reach most of these working and elderly absolute poor."

Indeed, the Silver Support Scheme which targets the bottom 20% of Singaporeans aged 65 and above, only dishes out several hundreds of dollars to the elderly poor every quarter. For example, those who live in HDB 3-room flats and are able to meet the criteria of Silver Support Scheme, they would receive only $600 per quarter or $200 per month.

Mr Yeoh calculated that even raising Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme by $600 a month, it would only cost the government less than 1% of GDP and require no rise in taxes. Also, most studies also show that extending these schemes will not reduce work effort or motivation and, in fact, would greatly increase the ability of the poor to help themselves.

Excessive immigration policy blamed for creating huge class of working poor in Singapore

Mr Yeoh further shared that it was the government's excessive immigration policy that has created a huge class of working poor in Singapore. He said, "And it was our misguided policy of excessive immigration over the 1990s and between 2000-2010 that depressed wages and created a huge class of working poor who form the bulk of our 300-400,000 absolute poor in Singapore."

"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 largely eradicate the scourge and shame of absolute poverty in Singapore?" Mr Yeoh asked.

And coming back to Chan, Mr Yeoh has this to say about him, "Minister Chan who is a smart, personable and generally well meaning leader was in charge of the relevant Ministry - MSF and MCCY for over 3 years and was also Secretary General of NTUC for nearly 3 years. With all due respect, If he didn’t or couldn’t do 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, which of our elite policy makers can or will?"

"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," he advised Chan.