While the People’s Action Party (PAP) “leans on the side of capital”, the Workers’ Party (WP) aims to help Singaporean workers have a larger share of the national income, said economics professor Jamus Lim in the second segment of a CNA political debate on Wednesday night (2 July).
Dr Lim, who is also one of the WP candidates for Sengkang GRC, made the point in response to PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan’s assertion that WP is “PAP-lite” due to the similarities in the two parties’ proposed policies as outlined in their manifestos.
“It’s almost a position where whatever line or stand the PAP has taken, you basically use that as your reference point, then take a half step to the left,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
In response, Dr Lim highlighted that where WP and PAP “fundamentally differ is where we think those trade-offs actually should occur”.
Noting that Singaporean workers receive 42 cents for every dollar of national income compared to their counterparts in Japan who receive 55 cents, Dr Lim said that in WP’s view, Singaporean workers receive “an insufficient amount”.
“And we think the rebalance of that kind of share of the income is ultimately necessary,” he added.
Dr Lim was responding to a question from Dr Balakrishnan on how WP intends to “deal with the trade-offs” with regards to costs and how to allocate such costs in taking “all the little steps to the left” — referencing WP’s position as a centre-left political party. In contrast, the PAP is an ideologically and socially conservative centre-right party.
The WP, said Dr Lim has “actually done the math behind it” and stressed that “it actually is budget-neutral”.
“We do not necessarily object to policy just because of the sake of objection. Ultimately what we want is the right policy. I think the fact that we’re having a debate and agitating toward an answer is a positive step in that direction,” he said.
In return, Dr Lim asked Dr Balakrishnan on the extent to which the PAP has “actually evaluated the efficacy of its policies”.
“And I ask this in the context of things that were already raised [during the debate],” he added, referencing points raised by Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and former Republic of Singapore Air Force colonel Francis Yuen of the Progress Singapore Party on productivity and rising unemployment.
Dr Lim noted as an example that the PAP has “unsuccessfully” tried to raise productivity “since 1972” and raised concerns on whether the PAP’s “big budgets might actually do the job”.
Dr Balakrishnan replied that PAP funds its policies not by “passing the burden to our children or grandchildren”, but from Singapore’s reserves.
“And you have asked yourself: How come we have reserves? It is a question of values,” he said.
The Pioneer and Merdeka generations, said Dr Balakrishnan, materialised the country’s reserves by “spending less than they earn on a recurring basis”.
“That is why we can deploy that for a rainy day,” he said.
In terms of productivity, Singapore as a city-state needs to bring in “high-capital, high-tech, high-intellectual property” investments.
Such investments, however, “will not generate the same labour share of much of the last Industrial Revolution”, said Dr Balakrishnan.
In the Q&A moderated by CNA editor Jaime Ho, each panellist was allocated one minute to pose a question, and one and a half minutes each to give their answers.
However, the alternative parties’ representatives were each allocated only one and a half minutes to wrap up their arguments at the end of the debate, compared to the four and a half minutes given to Dr Balakrishnan.