“It is not clear that the PAP has the ability to come up with practical solutions to the challenges we face in the future,” said Dr Paul Tambyah, Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in response to the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally 2019 speech.
In a video on the SDP Facebook page, Dr Tambyah said, that Singaporeans were hoping to hear of “bold and dynamic” proposals to address challenges in this rapidly changing world, especially geopolitical challenges, however, they were “disappointed”.
Touching on three points that Mr Lee spoke on in his speech, Dr Tambyah started with the announcements by the Prime Minister relating to early childhood education. This includes doubling he full-day preschool capacity, upgrading pre-school facilities, setting up MOE kindergartens, and
Dr Tambyah recalled a Singaporean saying: “When the government gives you a chicken wing, they take the whole chicken.” Elaborating further, the SDP Chairman said that while the enhanced subsidies are “good”, they become “less meaningful” when the cost of education materials, supplies and fees keep increasing.
“The government needs to take a holistic view of the entire education system,” asserts Dr Tambyah, adding that Singapore is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, comparable to the US. He noted that studies by the Singapore Children’s Society and other research has shown that the majority of children in so called type 3 schools come from low income families.
Unfortunately, parents who are able end up paying around S$2,000 or more to send their children to brand name pre-schools that promise to give their children a head start in the ‘rat race’ of Singapore’s education system. Not something every one can afford.
While Dr Tambyah concedes that kindergartens by the Ministry of Education are a “step in the right direction”, his party proposes that early childhood education be nationalised, similar to primary and secondary schools now. This, he says, will give every child the ability to learn rather than obsess with standardised test and exams.
Moving on to the announcement of increased bursaries for university and polytechnic students, Dr Tambyah pointed out that this initiative doesn’t deal with “key underlying issues”, primarily that of inequality. He then mentions several studies that show how children in deprived households show lower cognitive development across all ages.
Another study he mentioned, the Household Expenditure Survey in 2014, showed that Singaporeans have spent about $1 billion a year on tuition fees. This has amplified the inequality that already exists in the country, warns the Chairman.
He adds, “if we continue to depend on standardised test to sort our children, we are going to be vulnerable to entrenched generation inequality regardless of the aid provided to the few who managed to overcome the structural obstacles places in their way.”
Moving on to a different section, PM Lee had talked about raising the retirement age, specifically the recommendations of the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers which included raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 and the re-employment age from 67 to 70.
While the PM seems to think that Singaporeans want to work until they are 70, Dr Tambyah notes the in reality, the average lifespan of Singaporeans is between 69-78 years old according to data from the registry of births and deaths. Dr Tambyah argued that the Prime Minister didn’t show any evidence that Singaporeans didn’t want to enjoy a hard earned retirement. Instead, Dr Tambyah pointed out, Mr Lee “insisted that we should continue working at lower overall wages at the same job until the age of 70.”
Later, Dr Tambyah mentioned a conversation he had with a former Minister of Manpower where he had asked if the minister would be comfortable being operated on by a 70 year old brain surgeon or travelling in a bus by a 70 year old bus driver”. The minister argued that those individuals could be retrained.
Dr Tambyah countered, “I know a number of neurosurgeons and bus drivers and none of them believe they will be able to learn another trade which will allow them to maintain the same standard of living well into their 60s. Most of them would prefer a reliable state-supported pension to supplement gaps in their CPF savings.”
Finally, the SDP chairman lamented that the PM’s segment on climate change was “perplexing”, noting that while the PM showed a map to illustrate the parts of Singapore that would be affected by rising sea levels, he followed that with another map showing how those very same areas would become part of a new real estate development.
Dr Tambyah noted that SDP agrees that climate change is critical issue, but they also think that Singapore should take the lead in the global battle against climate change as a small country with bright and educated individuals.
“Singapore can take steps towards a carbon light future, encourage our young people to be creative and come up with ideas and solutions which can help the whole world deal with the bigger issues of climate change,” said Dr Tambyah.
He continued, “In order for that to happen, we need freedom of information, access to government data on climate and the weather and also the freedom to engage, debate and discuss on all issues relevant to us.”
Dr Tambyah ended by saying, “Singaporeans need strong, transparent and accountable leadership. It is not clear that the PAP has the ability to come up with practical solutions to the challenges we face in the future.”
He noted that the new developments among the alternative parties is encouraging and hoped that Singaporeans will vote wisely in the coming elections.