Given that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government has not yet formally postponed the General Election despite the ongoing corona virus outbreak, we have to assume that the General Elections are indeed looming.
While normal campaigning activities such as walkabouts and rallies are not happening while the Circuit Breaker (CB) measures are still in place, election preparations still have to be undertaken, especially for the opposition parties who may have less access to the general public.
In view of this, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has unveiled its “Four Yes, One No” general election campaign plan.
Recognising that the world will be greatly altered post lock down and acknowledging the global desire for change, the SDP’s vision takes into account the need to prepare Singapore for a post-COVID-19 future. Looking at the broad points of its plan, it seems apparent that the SDP has put the welfare of the average Singaporean in the forefront of its campaign message with equality at the core.
Economists worldwide have predicted that the effects of COVID-19 will last for some time to come. Many will lose their jobs or suffer salary cuts. Businesses will fail and times will be hard.
The Singapore government has given every Singaporean above the age of 18 a one time payment of $600. While that may seem like a windfall, it will be barely enough to cover expenses when the full economic effects really hit. What forward planning measures has the government put in place to help the average Singaporean thereafter?
The SDP has proposed as Yes #1 – Suspend GST to cut the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to 0 per cent until the end of 2021. It believes the GST suspension will stimulate the economy and help businesses.
The SDP observes that “the GST is a regressive tax and will hurt the poor more than the rich. It is not smart economics to raise the GST to 9% as proposed by the PAP”. Everyone has to buy things in order to survive. Consumption taxes such as the GST is therefore the most punitive tax on lower income groups. This is especially so in the Singaporean context where there are no exemptions for necessities.
The Workers Party (WP) had earlier this year opposed the the GST increase to 9 percent anytime between 2021 to 2025. While the government has said that this increase was needed in order to amplify the country’s growing recurrent spending, especially in the healthcare industry, the WP had opposed this on the basis of a lack of information about different revenue streams among other things. It has never been entirely clear why GST increases were needed in the first place.
In view of the unprecedented times, the SDP’s proposal to suspend GST makes logical sense:
- Although the government has refused to disclose our national reserves, it has always hinted that it is very healthy. So, why do we need to tax people for consuming (even necessities) in such trying times?
- Given that no vaccine is in sight for the corona virus, it is very likely that we will still be facing the economic effects of the corona virus in 2022 and beyond. People will need to consume in order to survive. The GST and its looming increase could cripple household income.
As Yes #2 – Pay retrenchment benefits, the SDP pledged to fight for retrenchment benefits to be paid to workers retrenched as a result of COVID-19. Under its RESTART (Re-Employment Scheme and Temporary Assistance for the ReTrenched) programme, if a worker is retrenched, the government pays 75 per cent of his last drawn salary for the first six months, 50 per cent for the second 6 months, and 25 per cent for the final six months (capped at the median wage).
To those who are fearful of the affordability of this policy without increasing taxes, there is a very easy way to put this issue to rest. Disclose the state of our national reserves! Secondly, the government has been collecting so much stealth tax over the years ranging from COE for cars to migrant worker levies. Surely, it will have enough to support its people and job losses at this unprecedented times? And if not, why not? Where has the money gone?
Many Singaporeans have raised concerns on the number of senior citizens still having to work well past retirement age. This is yet another indictment (together with the migrant worker situation) of our unequal nation.
The SDP does have a proposal to deal with this as Yes #3 – Provide income for retirees. The SDP will push to provide the bottom 80 per cent of over-65 retirees with a monthly income of $500 under its Retirement Income Scheme for the Elderly (RISE). Given that “The Household Expenditure Survey shows that the average retiree household receives nearly $500 as income from their working children, this scheme will reduce pressure on those who have children and parents to support especially with looming retrenchments and pay cuts as a result of COVID-19.
The income disparity between the top earners and bottom earners of Singapore is very high. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage, it has exposed the terrible inequality that exist within our shores.
Even as we inhabit our beautiful condominiums, our migrant workers live in overcrowded and substandard accommodation – among us but conveniently out of sight, the biggest victims to the pandemic – a glaring and undeniable reminder of exploitative employment practices, enabled by our government policies that have chosen to view them as commodities, not people.
Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures are high but the standard of living for the average citizen continues to fall in a country that is overcrowded and expensive.
This is where the SDP’s Yes #4 – Put people first comes in. The SDP (if elected) will seek to ensure that the PAP puts the people’s interest as top priority. “The SDP is of the view that the PAP has not put the interests of people first and made the following observations: “By insisting on calling for a general election in the midst of the COVID-19, the PAP shows that it is willing to sacrifice public health and safety for its own political interests…… the second surge of infections occurred which has affected thousands of Singaporeans and caused a lockdown of the city. The mishandling of the virus spread (e.g. ordering Singaporeans not to wear masks if they are well) and not having addressed sooner the dire living conditions of our foreign workers in their dormitories despite early warnings, has made the situation for Singaporeans much worse.”
Among other things, the way our migrant workers have been packed like sardines is a sign that we already have too many people in our small country.
Yet the PAP’s focus has always been to grow the population further to increase the GDP. The SDP vehemently opposes this with its No to 10 million population. Amid reports that the numbers of Singaporeans falling out of employment was already increasing with numbers of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETS) also increasing pre COVID-19, increasing the population post COVID-19 will exacerbate the problem.
At the time of writing, the finer details of SDP’s election message has not yet been released but the gist of it seems to sound the right notes.