by Dr Chee Soon Juan

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: Singapore continues to be plagued by a government that leeches itself on the economy, sucking the lifeblood out of the workforce.

Now, having opened Orange & Teal, I can speak from first-hand experience how the People’s Action Party (PAP) continues this wayward economic governance at the expense of society.

I’m, of course, referring to the collection of fees and other charges (eg, foreign worker levy, COEs, ERPs) which is an easy way of lining state coffers but has a pernicious effect on the people.

Let’s start with the F&B business. It’s become axiomatic that sourcing staff for restaurants are stuff of nightmares. I came across a restaurant that was almost pleading with customers not to be abusive to its staff because of the long waiting times due to staff shortage. This is partly due to the lack of workers skilled in the area of F&B. How the situation deteriorated to such an extent is another discussion.

And because there is such a shortage of locals for the sector, F&B operators have had to turn to employing foreigners. The PAP then exploits the situation by charging – gratuitously – a foreign worker levy of several hundred dollars per worker.

It says that such a levy is a “pricing mechanism” necessary to control the number of foreign workers being employed in Singapore.

This is hogwash. The government pre-determines the number of people it allows in to work here. Even if a company is willing to pay a million dollars for a foreign worker, if the government doesn’t allow that worker to come in, it doesn’t happen. It’s that simple.

Tacking on a levy for every foreign employee is wholly unnecessary and serves only as a source of easy money for the state.

(Aside #1: It’s the same for COEs. The authorities already fix the number of new cars allowed on our roads each month/year. COEs is just an excuse to extract more money from the populace.)

How does the foreign workers’ levy affect Singaporeans? For starters, the increased cost of doing business is passed onto customers. Is it any wonder that people find it increasingly expensive to eat out?

(Aside #2: And don’t get me started on rent, which is another cash cow for the government and which adds to the burden of operators and consumers. The only party laughing all the way to the bank is of the People’s-Action ilk.)

Back to the issue at hand. Employing just a few foreigners means that a company may end up paying thousands of dollars in levies. Such amounts could mean the difference between viability as a business or going under.

The levies also mean that employers are constrained in paying their staff better wages – including Singaporeans –.

(Aside #3: The levy is not confined to the F&B industry. The construction sector also needs a multitude of foreign workers. Each contractor/sub-contractor building your HDB flat pays enormous sums on levies. This cost is passed onto to HDB, a cost which you end up paying when you buy a flat – a double boon for the government.)

What all this means is that the exorbitant cost of living makes life in Singapore highly stressful, resulting in younger couples opting for fewer children which, in turn, gives the PAP the opportunity to declare a procreation crisis and open the immigration gates even wider – all the while collecting billions in revenue from employers of foreign workers.

This must stop. This is why my Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) colleagues and I continue to work towards the next General Election. Many of you have asked me whether I will continue in politics since I opened Orange & Teal. I say again, until this old heart of mine stops beating, I will never stop speaking up for this nation, for our people.

Now more than ever, I need your support to get into Parliament. See you at O&T.

This was first published on Dr Chee Soon Juan’s Facebook page. Dr Chee is the Secretary General of Singapore Democratic Party.

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