Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE — In a scathing opinion piece, Reform Party’s Secretary-General, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, targeted the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and its leaders, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Mr Lawrence Wong who delivered a May Day speech which resembled an election campaign speech, for their alleged hypocrisy and disconnect from the concerns of ordinary Singaporeans.

Mr Jeyaretnam’s critique was centred on the PAP’s traditional tactics of feigning concern while undermining the interests of Singaporeans and favouring their competitors.

Mr Jeyaretnam wasted no time in criticizing the elitism within the PAP leadership, pointing out the stark income disparity between PAP leaders and ordinary workers.

He highlighted the fact that PAP leaders and Ministers earn between $2-3 million a year while addressing ordinary workers as “Brother,” emphasizing the stark contrast between their privileged lifestyles and the struggles faced by the average Singaporean.

He wrote, “Everything about them is elitist and out of touch with the concerns of the average Singaporean yet they have the audacity to pretend that they stand with you and have your interests at heart.”

The opinion piece delved into the lifestyle and privileges enjoyed by PAP leaders, raising questions about their transportation choices and housing arrangements.

Mr Jeyaretnam challenged Mr Wong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to disclose whether they utilize public transport and reside in public housing, drawing attention to the shrinking sizes of flats over the years.

Furthermore, he expressed suspicions regarding the use of the Temasek corporate jet by PM Lee, suggesting possible impropriety.

Mr Jeyaretnam also questioned whether certain ministers enjoy non-market rents for colonial-era mansions situated on public land, further illustrating the perceived disconnect between PAP leaders and the average Singaporean.

The allegation of nepotism within the government was another focal point of Mr Jeyaretnam’s criticism. He criticized the practice of securing well-paid jobs for spouses and relatives of PAP leaders, describing it as a form of favoritism.

Mr Jeyaretnam called on PM Lee to provide transparency by revealing the remuneration of his wife, highlighting concerns about the lack of openness surrounding such appointments.

He further raised questions about PM Lee’s son’s employment at Google and his appointment as the head of the Technology Agency, suggesting that influential connections may have played a role.

The opinion piece also scrutinized the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), an institution closely aligned with the PAP. Mr Jeyaretnam argued that NTUC, established by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was intended to supplant independent trade unions and maintain control over workers rather than protect their interests.

He criticized NTUC’s failure to advocate for crucial workers’ rights, such as a minimum wage, protection of working hours, and the prevention of the substitution of Singaporean workers with lower-paid foreign workers.

By contrasting the ban on strikes and detention of independent trade union leaders with the French workers protesting the raising of the pension age, Mr Jeyaretnam called into question whether Singaporean workers have truly benefited from the PAP’s labour policies.

Mr Jeyaretnam further challenged Mr Wong’s assertion that Singaporean workers are better off compared to workers in other countries.

He called for concrete evidence to support this claim and emphasized that under the PAP’s Progressive Wage Model, many lower-paid Singaporeans earn less than $7 per hour, in stark contrast to the higher minimum wages observed in countries like the UK and the United States.

The piece also raised concerns about the rising cost of essential goods and foodstuffs in Singapore, making it challenging for lower-income individuals and families to maintain a decent standard of living.

Critiquing the effectiveness of wage subsidies provided by the government, Mr Jeyaretnam argued that these subsidies primarily benefit employers rather than low-wage workers.

He contended that wage subsidies allow employers to obtain labor at a cheaper cost, ultimately paid for by taxpayers, including average Singaporeans through taxes like Goods & Service Tax (GST).

Instead of relying on wage subsidies, Mr Jeyaretnam advocated for the implementation of a direct minimum wage paid by employers. He argued that a minimum wage would not only benefit workers but also discourage the substitution of foreign workers for Singaporeans, as there would be little to no cost advantage.

Mr Jeyaretnam further emphasized that the current system of wage subsidies and the import of cheap labour without a minimum wage have had a detrimental impact on Singapore’s productivity growth.

Low wages disincentivize the adoption of labour-saving equipment, hindering productivity improvements. He highlighted that Singapore’s productivity lags behind that of the United States and many European countries, despite being a city-state where comparisons should be made with global metropolises such as New York, Paris, or Tokyo.

Addressing the issue of Singaporean workers’ declining labour force participation rate, Mr Jeyaretnam pointed out that wages for many jobs have fallen below a living wage threshold.

While he expressed support for providing assistance to workers who have lost their jobs through retraining programs like SkillsFuture, he criticized the PAP for fostering an economy where Singaporean workers’ prospects of earning a living wage are undercut by foreign workers willing to accept much lower living standards.

He questioned the government’s focus on “credentialism,” whereby workers are made to believe that constantly acquiring new qualifications is essential, without providing evidence that these courses result in tangible salary gains.

Mr Jeyaretnam also took issue with Mr Wong’s claims about the affordability of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats.

While the Prime Minister-in-waiting compared the cost of a four-room HDB flat in 1980 to its current cost in relation to median household income, Mr Jeyaretnam argued that this comparison was disingenuous.

Mr Jeyaretnam highlighted that households in 1980 likely had more dependents than modern households, which often consist of multiple working adults. Therefore, the affordability of HDB flats today is mainly due to the increased number of working adults who contribute to servicing the mortgage.

Additionally, he held the government responsible for high housing prices, asserting that pushing up land prices allows Mr Wong and PM Lee to channel more money from the budget into reserves through fake subsidies.

In conclusion, Mr Jeyaretnam urged Singaporeans to see beyond the PAP’s “fake camaraderie” and critically examine the management and allocation of Singapore’s reserves, which he estimated to be around $3 trillion.

He urged citizens to question where the reserves are being directed and who truly benefits from their management.

Mr Jeyaretnam cautioned against being deceived by the PAP’s calls for unity and emphasized the importance of holding the government accountable for the well-being of Singaporean workers and the equitable distribution of resources.

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