Singapore Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan Hai Chuan has issued a letter to rebut an article published by Nikkei Asian Review regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore and General Election, saying that the writer has painted “a distorted picture” as well as made false and misleading statements.
The article titled, “Coronavirus and Inequality Threaten to Unsettle Singapore Election” was written by Singaporean author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh on 1 July, while Mr Tan’s letter to the editor-in-chief of Nikkei Asian Review was dated on 11 July and was published on the Nikkei Asian Review website on 16 July.
Ambassador denies claim over the Government’s perceived pandemic lapses led to 44,000 COVID-19 cases, saying it has acted in a “swift, proactive and vigilant manner” since outbreak start
In his article, Mr Vadaketh said that the Singapore Government’s perceived pandemic lapses have resulted in the 44,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“At first glance, the PAP, which has won every election since independence in 1965, the last in 2015 with a thumping 70% vote share, looks like a shoo-in. Singaporean voters are notoriously risk-averse even in the best of times.
“Yet the government’s perceived pandemic lapses, which have led to 44,000 confirmed cases, have reminded the electorate of some long-standing grievances which opposition parties, more competent and diverse than ever before, will seek to exploit.
With the severe COVID-19 outbreak in migrant workers dormitories, Mr Vadaketh also noted that Singapore was facing the “worst humanitarian crisis since independence”, where the crisis has also helped the country to “refocus attention” on the domestic concerns such as economic model, inequality and immigration.
Responding to this, , Ambassador Tan rebutted the claim of the Government’s perceived pandemic lapses, stating that the Government has acted in a “swift, proactive and vigilant manner” where they formed the Multi-Ministry Task Force even before the COVID-19 outbreak hit Singapore.
“On the contrary, the government has acted in a swift, proactive and vigilant manner since the beginning of the pandemic. We established a Multi-Ministry Task Force, coled by two cabinet ministers, to manage the outbreak even before the first case of COVID-19 was detected on our shores.”
He explained that most of the confirmed cases are derived from the migrant workers who live in dormitories, adding that it is inevitably the “significant transmission” could be happened in any sort of environment where people gather in groups.
“The majority of our confirmed cases to date are migrant workers who live in dormitories. Inevitably, in any sort of environment where people gather in groups, there could be significant transmission. We have seen this happen in social settings, workplaces and homes. Similarly, we have seen that whether in migrant worker dormitories, or similar settings like aircraft carriers and cruise ships, there can be significant transmission of COVID-19.”
While Singapore has “committed to aggressive and extensive testing” of all migrant workers living in dormitories, the ambassador described that the Government has put in place the “active case finding and systematic clearance of migrant worker dormitories” as well as expanded the “active surveillance testing efforts” for the vulnerable groups and those who have higher exposure risk to COVID-19.
“As a result of this strategy, we have been able to identify, isolate and provide the necessary medical treatment for infected workers, prevent a wider spread of infection to the community and keep the fatality rate extremely low at below 0.1% of cases. Most of these confirmed cases are clinically well, showing mild or no symptoms. The high number of cases that we have picked up is therefore a reflection of our rigorous testing approach, which is the right and responsible thing to do.”
Ambassador denounces Mr Vadaketh for painting “a distorted picture” of PAP fetishizing GDP growth and downplaying negative consequences
Mr Vadaketh in his article also highlighted that the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been criticised for “fetishizing gross domestic product (GDP) growth and downplaying negative consequences” over the past twenty years, which had “slowly eroded Singapore’s social compact”.
“From the time the British established a colonial trading base here in 1819, Singapore has been dependent on foreign capital and labor. Yet over the past two decades critics believe the PAP has fetishized gross domestic product growth, downplaying negative consequences such as higher living costs, worsening inequality and rising nativism alongside ethnic and class conflicts, which they see as having slowly eroded Singapore’s social compact.”
In response to this, the ambassador denounced Mr Vadaketh for presenting “a distorted picture”, adding that “he fails to recognise that the government has been making continuous efforts to address the challenge of social mobility, in pursuit of an inclusive society that leaves no one behind.”
Ambassador Tan elaborated that the Government has maintained the broad-based real income growth over the past decade to continue upholding absolute mobility as well as implemented various policies, such as KidSTART, SkillsFuture in order to provide equal opportunities for the people.
On top of this, he also highlighted that the Government has enhanced support for the lower-income Singaporeans worker and retirees through Workfare, Progressive Wage Model and Silver Support.
“We have continued to strengthen support for our lower-income Singaporeans at work. Singapore provides as much as 40% on top of the wages that employers pay older lower-income workers through billion-dollar programs like Workfare. The Progressive Wage Model helps uplift workers and creates a clear, continuing ladder of skills, better jobs and better wages, something which a minimum wage cannot provide.
Our cleaners, security officers and landscape workers have seen their wages increase by 30% in real terms over the last five years. Silver Support provides an income supplement for retirees who have less in their retirement and has given 1.6 billion Singapore dollars ($1.15 billion) to this group since 2016.”
Flip-flop policy regarding the lease of Singapore’s public housing
At the same time, Mr Vadaketh had also raised issues regarding the 99-year lease of Singapore’s public housing.
He hinted that the Government had adopted the flip-flop policy on the public housing lease, in which the Government had promised for decade that the property values “will never go down” but later has confirmed that some properties “will be worthless” after the end of their 99-year leases.
“The fate of leases for Singapore’s public housing, where over 80% of the population live, is another key issue. For decades the government promised, in the words of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister after independence, that those property values “will never go down.” Many assumed it would extend their 99-year leases, as has happened in other countries, or reacquire them at fair value.
But after Lee’s death, the government confirmed that the properties, some valued at over $700,000, will be worthless when their leases end — at which point it can redevelop the land. This apparent policy flip-flop has already affected prices, and with some families’ nest eggs in terminal decline, opposition parties are coming armed with alternative housing proposals.”
Ambassador Tan then responded saying that Mr Vadaketh has made a misleading claim given that the Government has always been upfront that “when the lease for the property expires, it will revert to the state so that the land can be redeveloped to benefit future generations of Singaporeans.”
“This is the case not just for public housing but also private leasehold property. Those who buy public housing enjoy significant government subsidies on their home purchase, as well as generous subsidies on infrastructure upgrading.
Owners living in highly subsidized public housing would have derived benefit from living in these affordable flats in the course of the 99-year leases. If they no longer wish to live in their flat, they can sell it in the open market or rent it out for income. Public housing provides affordable and quality homes for many Singaporeans and is a good store of value that can supplement their retirement income.”
Ambassador questions the motives of Mr Vadaketh’s remark on the native-born citizens are well in the minority
The ambassador also took issue with Mr Vadaketh’s remark on how the native-born citizens are well in the minority.
In his article, Mr Vadaketh noted that Singapore’s population has increased over 40 per cent to 5.6 million from 1999 to 2018, “much through immigration” while adding that “native-born citizens are now well in the minority”.
Stressing that the assertion made by Mr Vadaketh is untrue, the ambassador further questioned the motives of Mr Vadaketh.
“This assertion is untrue and raises questions about Vadaketh’s motives in attempting to draw a line between Singapore-born citizens and naturalized citizens, and fuel xenophobia and social divisiveness, which run counter to the values of social harmony and inclusiveness that many Singaporeans hold dear.”
Ambassador Tan concluded his letter by expressing his hope that the Nikkei Asian Review will maintain their high-standard and professional reporting as well as avoid “being used by certain individuals to perpetuate partial and misleading opinions”.
“I am not in any way attempting to, as Ambassador Tan says, ‘fuel xenophobia and social divisiveness’,” says Mr Vadaketh
On the other hand, Mr Vadaketh also made a clarification regarding his remark on native-born citizens are well in the minority in Singapore’s total population through The Straits Times.
As the ambassador doubted his motives, Mr Vadaketh argued that he had worked long to “promote harmony and social inclusiveness in Singapore” and not “in any way attempting to” fuel xenophobia and social divisiveness.
“As the son of a naturalised citizen and a Malaya-born one, I have in my work long tried to promote harmony and social inclusiveness in Singapore.
“I am not in any way attempting to, as Ambassador Tan says, ‘fuel xenophobia and social divisiveness’.”
According to Mr Vadaketh, his remark is also based on “an approximation” in his article titled “The End Of Identity?” that published by the IPS Commons on 23 August 2012.
He claimed that the National Population and Talent Division who declined to provide him the official figure had also acknowledged this remark without dispute by that time.
Not just in Singapore, he said that the foreign-born population is a data point that analysts look to when assessing immigration and integration in the multicultural societies globally.