Heng Swee Keat to partner SGs to design policies for peripheral issues instead of pressing ones

Speaking at a REACH-CNA dialogue session today (15 Jun), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the Government wants to partner Singaporeans to design and implement policies on 4 areas:

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Housing environment
  • Young Singaporeans
  • Social mobility

For the environment, Heng said this is an issue that many young Singaporeans are passionate about “because they will be inheriting the consequences of our actions today”. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and his team would be engaging the public to come up with concrete action in this space, he said.

In housing environment, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and his team will work closely with residents to shape their living environment and build a stronger sense of community.

The country’s young people, meanwhile, are being engaged by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and her team to create a vision of Singapore 2025 through the Youth Action Plan.

In the matter of social mobility, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will lead their respective teams to work with community groups to support the disadvantaged and give them a good start in life, Heng elaborated.

He added he has been working closely with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong to create good jobs for Singaporeans.

“We may have different views but so long as you have the good of Singapore at heart, we can work together,” he said.

He added that the 4G leaders will in the coming months be speaking with Singaporeans on the four themes.

He also said that the 4G leaders will also want to learn how to build a society with more opportunities for all and provide a strong foundation for all Singapore’s children, and how to build on the strong foundation of a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society to forge an “even more caring, gracious, kind and cohesive community”.

“We will be frank about the challenges we face, the trade-offs we will have to make, the hard truths confronting us,” Heng said.

“We will listen to your views and explore together what the Government can do, what each of you can do, and how we can create partnerships to take good ideas forward.”

“We need to shift from a Government that focuses primarily on working for you, to a Government that works with you,” he added. “Working with you, for you.”

Creating good jobs but open to “foreign talents” at the same time

However, despite Heng’s assurance, the 4 mentioned themes did not seem to tackle the more pressing issues now faced by Singaporeans everyday.

Even though he did talk about helping to create good jobs for Singaporeans, Heng’s government remains very much open to foreigners. Last year, MAS MD Ravi Menon gave a speech at an IPS conference highlighting the need for Singapore to hire more foreign PMETs.

“There is scope to improve the quality of the foreign workforce,” he said.

“The trend of improving quality in our foreign workforce has already begun,” he commented. “The proportion of work permit holders has declined by about 10 percentage points over last 10 years, while the proportion of S-Pass and employment pass holders has increased by around 10 percentage points.”

He argued that there must be some flexibility in the local-to-foreigner ratio to “match economic cycles, changing circumstances and opportunities”.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo also agreed, “If the only way in which businesses can grow is by taking employees from other businesses, there will be more friction. So you have to allow for a little bit of growth.” That is, she meant changing the rules to allow for “a little bit” of growth in foreign PMET population.

Hence, given the PAP’s policy of relentlessly importing foreign PMETs into Singapore to work, no matter how many good jobs created would easily be overwhelmed by “foreign talents”, leaving few for Singaporeans. This is especially so since there is no quota set for foreign EP holders under present PAP’s policy for fear of scaring foreign investments away.

Empty promises of HDB values going up

In the area of housing, Heng talked about “shaping” the HDB living environment and “building” a stronger sense of community. He completely avoided talking about the falling value of HDB housing which his party said would go up if Singaporeans continue to vote for PAP.

For example, just before 2011 GE, then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan promised, “We’re proud of the asset enhancement policy. (It) has given almost all Singaporeans a home of their own… that grows in value over time.”

This turned out to be false. In 2017, the present National Development Minister Lawrence Wong made a public statement saying that only 4% of HDB flats were redeveloped through Sers since 1995. That is, these old flats, typically at very good locations, were bought back by HDB and the flat owners were compensated accordingly.

But the vast majority of flats, Wong warned, will be returned to HDB when their 99-year lease run out without any compensation. “As the leases run down, especially towards the tail-end, the flat prices will come down correspondingly,” he said. “So buyers need to do their due diligence and be realistic when buying flats with short leases.”

CPF not enough

Last month, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at National University of Singapore (NUS) published a survey revealing for the first time that an older Singaporean above 65 years old would need $1,379 a month to meet his or her basic needs.

For those aged aged 55 to 64 years old, they would need a minimum of $1,721 per month.

Despite a projected increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) participation and savings with future cohorts, the basic retirement payment of less than $800 under the CPF Basic Retirement Sum (BRS) scheme is only about half of the household budget for a single elderly person, the study noted.

In Feb this year, under questioning, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo was forced to reveal that presently, 74% or about three-quarter of elderly CPF members are receiving monthly payouts of under $500.

Many on the average are receiving about $300-400 a month of payout, which is only about 25% of the needed $1,379.

It’s no wonder many of the elderly have to continue to work, despite their old age and sufferings from age-related ailment. Some work as cleaners in hawker centres while others work as security guards. Still, some work at Changi airport as cleaners or trolley collectors surprising many tourists visiting Singapore, as their own elderly are typically enjoying the sunset years at home.

These are some of the pressing issues facing Singaporeans which, unfortunately, Heng did not talk want to talk about in his 4 themes. Instead, he prefers to talk about peripheral issues.