Coronavirus and e-commerce are not killing businesses in Singapore, but the high rental cost is, said Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) chief Dr Chee Soon Juan on Saturday (31 Oct).
His remarks were made following the announcement last Friday (30 Oct) that Robinsons Singapore will be closing down for good after suffering from losses in recent years amid dwindling revenues.
Robinsons will also be closing down two of its department stores in Malaysia, citing the changing retail buying patterns and weak demand had led to the decision of closing down.
“Reports say that it is COVID-19 and online buying that has killed the once proud business. But there’s more to it than just the pandemic and e-commerce,” said Dr Chee in a Facebook post on Saturday.
“It’s called rent. High rental in Singapore is killing businesses,” he asserted.
Dr Chee pointed out that many retail brands in the Lion City – such as Marks & Spencer, John Little, MPH, Forever 21, and many others – have shuttered years before the global pandemic even took place.
“And if it’s consumers switching to shopping online, then why did O&G companies like Subsea 7, McDermott, Technip, and Saipem leave too? All cited cost as the main factor behind the exodus,” he argued.
Dr Chee went on to say that observers have noted that Singapore “is an extremely expensive place to do business”, which explains why a handful of banks – such as ANZ, Barclays, Standard Chartered, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and ING – have trimmed their operations in Singapore.
He also cited Cathay Organisation’s executive director Choo Meileen, who pointed out that the high costs of development is driving up rent. Ms Choo also claimed that the beneficiary of all the fees and costs is not the landlord but the Singapore government.
As such, Dr Chee questioned, “How many Singaporeans attempting to make it in the retail sector find themselves working their heads off just trying to make the month’s rent?”
Between HDB, JTC, CapitaLand, Mapletree, and Surbana, the Government is the biggest landlord, he stated.
Dr Chee concluded his post saying, “The reality is that the PAP squats on much in this country, unwilling to budge even though its dead weight is suffocating everything under it.
“If Singaporeans don’t push ourselves out from under it, hard as it is, the sun will continue to set on this country.”
SDP proposed alternative economic ideas for Singapore
The SDP also released its alternative economic programme on Saturday, which seeks to create a system that works for all Singaporeans and “level up society”.
It noted that while the Government “clings to policies that help the elite get richer”, it aims to create an economic system that “makes our society more egalitarian by tapping on the people’s innovative best”.
The alternative party’s first idea is to build an alternative indicator of economic progress.
It continued, “The PAP almost exclusively relies on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth as a measure of society’s wellness. The problem is that GDP is an insufficient—and even misleading—indicator when the cost (social, environmental and financial) of production is not taken into account.
“With an alternative index, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), that comprehensively measures the cost and benefit of economic growth, we can better gauge the efficacy of our policies.”
The SDP also proposed the legislation of a national minimum wage, and suggested retrenchment insurance be provided for retrenched workers while they look for reemployment.
Thirdly, the Party encourages entrepreneurship, and aims to cut down on importing cheap foreign labour so that employers will prioritise Singaporean workers when it comes to hiring.
“Only when local talent cannot be found should foreigners be employed,” it stated.
The SDP’s fourth idea is to increase Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by divesting inefficient Government-Linked Companies (GLCs), and helping to reduce land costs and rentals for SMEs growth.
“We will also work towards weaning our economy off its addiction to multinational corporations (MNCs),” it added.
Noting that the country’s reserves should work for the people, the SDP highlighted that Temasek Holdings should be eliminated, and the Government Investment Corporation’s (GIC) operations must be made transparent and its accounts made public.
“The GIC must be restructured to function independently of the ruling party—no member of parliament or their relatives should hold governing positions in the company,” it noted.
The Party went on to suggest allocating more resources to help the most vulnerable segments of society, adding that the national budget for social programmes and healthcare must be increased in order to support the needy and elderly people.
The SDP also called for the abolishment of CPF Minimum Sum Scheme, saying that withholding the savings of retirees through the scheme is “not only impractical but also immoral”.
Lastly, the alternative party aims to empower Singapore’s workers, as it believes that no amount of coercion can bring about a higher quality of output and productivity.
“Singapore needs a new economic model that will take us into a new era of sustainable growth—one that will allow us to compete on the international stage instead of consigning our workers to a cycle of working harder and longer for less and less; one that uplifts our people instead of dumbing them down; and one whose priority is the wellbeing of all Singaporeans, not just the rich,” it remarked.