Stablisers for Singapore

This article “GE2020 showed Singapore at ‘inflexion point’: Goh Chok Tong” is behind a Straits Times paywall, so I will just share my thoughts on this one segment of ESM Goh’s interview.

ESM cited some ‘stabilisers’ for Singapore – namely GRC and town council system. He said that these were ‘not aimed primarily at disadvantaging the opposition but to prevent disruptions to services.’

Getting opposition to run town council is fine with me. It is a way for them to show that they can run a town. It also allows elected MPs access to residents over their municipal needs. GRC was first created to ensure minority representation. Then GRCs got bigger and bigger and the justification was that you need economy of scale for town council management.

Gerrymendering aside, some scale is good. Anyway the GRC system has come back to haunt the PAP. Once the opposition has anchored themselves in the GRC, it too can leave behind anchor members and renew with fresh blood at each GE. Then it becomes harder for the PAP to win it back. GRCs are no longer fortresses for the PAP when the opposition slate is stronger.

What upset me the most in my time in parliament was to find the AIM deal. The key engine to running a town council, the management information system, was transferred to a PAP company just before GE2011. I was not involved in the AHPETC as I was an NCMP. It affected my comrades but not me from an operational point. However, as a trained and previously practicing IT professional, you know how important an IT system is to any large operations.

Yesterday, I had tea with someone who is a trained accountant and now holds a very senior position in an international firm advising on merger and acquisition deals. We happened to speak on the AIM arrangement. He said that in M&A, this is called a poison pill. The exiting shareholders cannot plant time bombs or put land mines for the new shareholders. In M&A, they look out for such poison pills. Exiting stakeholders cannot have the right to press any button to trigger destruction in their old organisation! Whether the old stakeholders did push the button or not is irrelevant. They should never have the right to the button.

If we want to truly have stabilisers for Singapore, then any handover must be totally responsible. Any way, AIM is behind us now. The AHTC has developed their own system.

I did not begin my adult life as an alternative party supporter. I voted for the PAP in my first GE. Several things done by the PAP that I felt were not right moved me gradually away from them. The tipping point was upgrading for votes. That was using the people’s money to hold them hostage. Philosophically, I could not accept any party that practices unfairness to this level.

Singapore belongs to Singaporeans, not to any one political party, no matter what they had achieved in the past. The decision as to who Singaporeans want is based on their choice at the ballot box. We need a stable Singapore. Thankfully, things have changed gradually and I hope that they will continue to change, for the better of Singapore.

Note: This is re-shared from my original Facebook post.

Do Opposition Candidates Appear Once Every 5 Years?

I was told that our opponent said that we appear only once every 5 years and that they have covered the ground well in their term.

I am sure they have to cover their ground. The voters elected them to be their representatives, for which they get the monthly MP allowance on top of their full-time pay if they are holding other jobs, which nearly all PAP MPs were. I am not so sure though, why some need to run from house to house during GE if they have covered the ground so well.

My response:

1. From what I know of the WP MPs, they are full-time or virtually full-time MPs. The reality is that to run an opposition ward with its town council duties, it does require full-time attention. How many in the PAP’s Marine Parade team or other teams have been full-time MPs?

And yes, WP MPs do cover their grounds very well. All WP MPs work hard on the ground. I am 100% sure if elected for Marine Parade, my team members and I will dedicate ourselves more than 100% in our roles for town council management, community projects and parliament work.

2. When I was in parliament 2011-2015, the records will show that I was one of the most active, if not the most. I do not bother to count, but a major local newspaper did report the speaking tally.

After 2015, I continue to write on policies and contribute to my WP parliamentarians. WP MPs have to work harder. Some PAP backbenchers have zero or just 1-2 speeches in an entire 4-5 year term. Go check it out and see for yourself.

3. Some losing PAP candidates in past elections disappear after the GE. Some reappear elsewhere in easier wards on the coat-tail of ministers. Not all. Some stay on as Grassroots Advisors (GRAs), and they will get the support of the PA, funded to the tune of $1 billion a year. They also get access to certain spaces within the constituency to continue their work, with an army of people helping.

I lost in Joo Chiat SMC in 2011 by over 300 votes. I could not get any facilities to use. We once tried to use the Telok Kurau park but the use was rejected. We ended up going door to door singing carols for Christmas since our Christmas party could not be realised. Sorry for my bad singing and lousy guitar skills. The ministries cannot accept my appeals or letters for residents. It has to go through the PAP MP. GRAs, however, can.

4. Despite the challenges, I continued my twice-weekly visits from 2011-2015, only to find Joo Chiat SMC absorbed into Marine Parade GRC just weeks before the GE, with no reasonable explanation.

Just as one small proof, a lady came to me today in the Marine Terrace market to show me a picture taken with her son in her house in one of my many visits to Telok Kurau before 2015. Another showed me something similar too, yesterday at another market.

During this GE, I visited some parts of the now-defunct Joo Chiat SMC. A good number of people remembered my visit to their homes post GE2011. One even thanked me for writing back in response to an email from her over an issue in her neighbourhood which I had tried to solve. I could not even quite remember it until she mentioned that she wrote to both the PAP MP and I, and only I had replied.

We did quarterly food distribution at Marine Terrace and later in a smaller way at Chai Chee after 2015. When Covid-19 Circuit Breaker came suddenly, all the RCs and almost all social services had to cease operations on 7 April 2020.I volunteered immediately with an essential social service provider and we did daily cooked food distribution so that those who had been receiving could still get their food. Later, this expanded into Eunos in response to another request to help with distribution there.

Today, we give out some 400 packs of cook food daily, since 7 April 2020. It has grown to become a community project, by residents, for residents. No government funding at all.We just need to be more resourceful. We give them a run for their money. Competition is good.

I would like to see which high-flying PAP MPs can do any of the above when they lose in this GE? What happened to Ministers and those with Ministerial potential after they lose a GE? Go check out for yourself what happened to these high-fliers in the past. And try doing outreach work without the PA or an army to support you, or any space to do your work with. We did. Of course we can never be like the elected MPs. They are paid to do their work. Do they even do it full-time?

So don’t tell me that we just appear once every 5 years for 1-2 months before a GE. I find it ridiculous that an elected MP can compare the work we do versus the work for which they are paid to do.

Go share this.

#VoteForPassion#MakeYourVoteCount

Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here (with minor edits) for easier future referencing.

Towards a United First World Singapore

During this General Elections, we came across the PAP’s Marine Parade team several times during campaigning and of course in polling and counting stations. The exchanges have been cordial. While we fight for every vote and they do as well, the battle has been civil.

On the eve of cooling day, one of the PAP’s flyering team member at Kembangan bought my volunteers drinks from the nearby convenient shop. Much appreciated. I noticed too that some of my flyering team members and those at the PAP’s side at Kembangan that day were having cordial conversations when there were no residents around.

During my distribution of packed lunch and dinner to our polling agents at the stations, I also offered our packs to the PAP side at some stations.

Even as we challenged for disputed votes that were not clearly marked during counting, we were firm and civil.

I continue to believe we can have constructive politics even as we continue to put up a challenge to the super dominant ruling party. I hope this will can be seen in the transfer of TC management at Sengkang and also in how elected opposition MPs can have the direct and final say in how Community Improvement Projects funds can be used. Also elected opposition MPs should have access to PA facilities so as to better serve residents who have elected them.

Even as I write this, my thoughts are with those early and brave warriors who championed on the alternative camp. Many were detained, lost their jobs, became bankrupt or were even exiled. Some returned to Singapore eventually, as ashes. May we never return to these dark days. Beyond going towards a First World Parliament, we should move towards a united First World Singapore

.#MajulahSingapura

(I tried to share from Jeannette’s post but seemed it did not appear so I am inserting as a picture instead. Many thanks too to Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss 张媛容 and family for helping during this GE as seconder, assentors, campaigning and counting agents.)

Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here (with minor edits) for easier future referencing.

Cracking the GRC System and Shattering Race-based Politics.

There are many interesting lessons from this GE. I will just touch on two and perhaps reserve the rest for another day.

1. GRC – no longer the fortress

Kudos to Mr Low Thia Khiang for showing how a GRC can be broken down in 2011. After some hiccups, the operations are now running smoothly, with ratings similar to that of any PAP town. The 2011 takedown of Aljunied saw the loss of two full ministers (one very senior one) and a senior minister of state. Some attributed it to LTK and that it would be hard to repeat a GRC takedown without another LTK.

In 2020, without LTK and with a relatively unknown and young team, the Sengkang GRC has fallen. One 4G minister and two other office bearers have been taken down in one fell swoop.

East Coast and West Coast GRCs were nearly lost, and might have been lost if not for the movement of heavyweights Heng Swee Kiat and Desmond Lee to these. WP stronghold Hougang aside, PAP’s four worst performing constituencies are in the GRCs – Aljunied, Sengkang, West Coast and East Coast. Even the PM-in-waiting could only just manage to salvage East Coast GRC. All these in a pandemic-GE in which ground campaigning became super limited due to a long circuit breaker after the EBRC report was out.

Singaporeans no longer just buy the story that we cannot afford to lose a GRC because of the ministers inside. Even the future PM is not seen by Singaporeans as indispensable. No, Aljunied residents did not repent in 5 years. They did not repent even after 10 years. Aljunied has shown the way for other GRCs to follow when rubbish did not pile 3-storey high as predicted by the PAP. A new IT system has been developed by the WP-run TC and ready to be used in new opposition-led wards.

It is a crying shame that the IT system should even have been weaponised in the first place. The PAP was just using the politics of fear to hold back voters who were afraid of the unknown. Fewer are now afraid, and even fewer will be in 2025.

When PM said several years back that the size of GRCs would be reduced and that there would be more SMCs, really, it was just a token reduction. Now they will have to seriously judge the GRC system.

The opposition has too few SMCs to contest in and there are few SMCs in areas that the WP are known to be interested in (the better performing ones since 2011 have all mysteriously vanished). Ministers or not, the stronger opposition parties have been forced to move into GRCs and future loses of ministers can be expected if this GRC game continues to be played.

2. Race-based politics

The WP’s team in Aljunied GRC has three minority candidates (only 1 is required) and two chinese. Yet it won with an even bigger vote share against a PAP’s team with 4 chinese and 1 minority.

The best performing GRC by the PAP is led by an Indian, Mr Tharman together with 2 newcomers and 2 relatively lightweight previous MPs. The new official leader of the opposition, with 10 elected seats, is Mr Pritam Singh, a minority. The position was handed to him by Mr Low, chinese educated and fluent in dialect. New and capable people of all races continue to join even though a minority is helming the Workers’ Party.

Who says Singapore is not ready for a minority PM. Who says minorities cannot hold their own in GEs? Dr Paul Tambyah polled over 46% against a 3-term chinese MP. Why do we need to reserve presidential elections for minority candidates and set qualifying criteria to be so ridiculously high?

55 years after independence, Singaporeans have learnt to judge people for their abilities and not for their race.

If you believe that our political system needs to be reformed, please share!


Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here (with minor edits) for easier future referencing.

Having an Official Leader of the Opposition

In a recent Facebook post, the retired ESM Goh Chok Tong called the official appointment of Pritam as Leader of the Opposition a “very significant move” by PM Lee. Mr Goh added: “Our opposition MPs and NCMPs will now have to go beyond merely serving as a check-and-balance. They can put forward their alternative policies and solutions so that Singaporeans would know the choices available, besides the Government’s.”

Mr Goh must have been in parliament when the WP proposed our alternative A Dynamic Population For A Sustainable Singapore, or when we proposed our alternative model for ministerial salaries. I was deeply involved in those. I had also presented various proposals in education and early childhood during my time in parliament, amongst others. Most of what I had proposed for reforms to the early childhood sector have now been adopted in one form or another. When I had proposed them early in my parliament term, the proposals were new at that time. Perhaps others had proposed similar policy transformation to the sector that I had called for, but not in parliament before I did, unless I am mistaken. I am not claiming credit for proposing these persistently. Just because the government does not acknowledge our contributions when changes were made does not mean that the opposition did not propose anything.

Similarly, I had persistently called for all primary schools to have Student Care inside the school, and the proposal was brushed aside. I went through extensive effort on my own to even call many existing SC centres within schools to better understand the situation of urgent shortage of places. Some time later, MOE announced that all primary schools would eventually have SC centres. I was the first to propose in parliament that we could implement laws to punish companies outside of Singapore for transboundary haze. That was eventually done. There were many other proposals I had made which are not yet implemented but I hope will eventually be. These include through-train primary to secondary schools and smaller class sizes.

The WP had also made various significant proposals, done with extensive consultation with industry experts. These include Redundancy Insurance and alternatives to the HDB decaying lease issue. There are other policy ideas, proposed within parliament and outside (for those like myself who are now not in parliament).

Sure, the move to have an official Leader of the Opposition with government-funded staffing and resources is a significant first step. I hope data and the intent behind impending policy changes can be shared more openly with those in the opposition. In my time in parliament, I often had to probe and dig, and use various creative ways to file parliamentary questions because we sometimes get evasive answers. I cite my probe into scholarships for foreign students as one example. You can google for more details on this topic and judge for yourself by looking at the answers that I had been given.

I hope the 14th parliament will be a better experience for the opposition MPs. I am writing this to dispute that WP is just check and balance, that we just nudge the government to do a bit better here and there.

I think if there is to be a more significant change, it should be that elected opposition MPs must be allowed to use grassroots facilities, particularly the PA resources and decide on use of Community Improvement Funds. There is absolutely no need for the PAP to appoint their grassroots advisor. There is no need for WP elected MPs to have to get permission from GRAs for use of community funds from taxpapers’ monies. Contrary to what some try to portray that GRAs are doing the ‘sai kang’ or dirty work on behalf of residents, the Town Council where the real ‘sai kang’ are, is run by the elected MPs. GRAs basically just give the PAP a foothold in the constituency to launch their attack at the next election. There is no need for GRAs to have to write letters on behalf of residents when those by elected opposition MPs will suffice.

The road to a first world parliament continues. Let’s us continue to do more. A big ‘thank you’ to Singaporeans whose determination to see a fairer political system is now bearing some fruits.


Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here (with minor edits) for easier future referencing.

The Workers’ Party Marine Parade Team – Constituency Political Broadcast 5 Jul 2020

Source: CNA
Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/ge2020-pap-candidates-for-marine-parade-grc-speak-in-12903712

Ron Tan Jun Yen

每个政治人物都必须要有责任感

因为政策的改变会影响人民的生活

我们也要照顾国家长远的未来

大家好, 我是陈俊元.

亲爱的马林百列集选区选民们,

工人党再次派出团队到这里,把马林百列,团结起来。

马林百列集选区在许多方面都是多样化的。

这些方面包括了地理、距离、您居住的屋子、以及您的年龄.

多样化能够聚成力量,而我们要把这种力量汇集起来。

从菜市区的甘榜精神,到如切的历史

从实乞纳的乡村风情,到实龙岗的繁忙

从乌美的工业区,到友诺士的邻里

从芽笼士乃的传统到加东的美食

让我们把马林百列,团结起来!

我们,工人党的马林百列集选区团队,会在国会里为您发声。

我们会提出对国家有关的课题,也会协助解决区内的问题

集合我们团队每个人所拥有的经验与知识,

我们会竭尽所能诺,为您服务。

像您一样,我们都是普通的新加坡人。

我们也经历过艰难的时刻,

知道跌倒之后该怎样才能重新爬起。

在马林百列集选区内,我们要把马林百列,团结起来。

我们要让您有塑造自己社区的权力。

我们会聆听您的声音,我们会跟随您的脚步,我们会与您同行。

让您的心声成就未来,让您想法成就未来。

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票!

谢谢!

Nathaniel Koh

Dear voters of Marine Parade GRC, my name is Nathaniel Koh.  

The Workers’ Party is here again to bring Marine Parade, Together.  

Marine Parade GRC is diverse in many ways.   

Geography, distance, what type of house you live, whether you’re young or young at heart.  

There is strength in diversity and we want to harness that strength.  

From the kampung spirit of Chai Chee to the history of Joo Chiat.  

From the village vibe of Siglap to the hustle of Serangoon.  

From the working heartland of Ubi to the neighbourliness of Eunos.  

From the heritage of Geylang Serai to the flavours of Katong.  

Let us bring Marine Parade, Together.  

We, the Workers’ Party candidates for Marine Parade GRC, will speak up for you in Parliament.    

We will speak up on national issues, and help you with your local ones.  

Collectively, we have the experience, expertise, and commitment to serve you.    

Like you, we are ordinary Singaporeans. We’ve been through hard times. We know what it’s like to fall and get back up.  

Within Marine Parade GRC, we want to bring Marine Parade, Together.  

We want to empower you to shape your community.    We will listen to you. We will be guided by you. We will walk with you.  

Make your voice count. Make your ideas count.  

Make your vote count. Vote for the Workers’ Party.

Azhar Latip

Salam sejahtera kepada para pengundi GRC Marine Parade  

Saya, Azhar Latip, calon Parti Pekerja bagi Kawasan GRC Marine Parade  

Parti Pekerja telah kembali sekali lagi dengan matlamat untuk bersama dengan anda  

GRC Marine Parade mempunyai kepelbagaian dari segi geography, jarak, seni bina, mahupun usia  

Dalam kepelbagaian terdapat kekuatan yang dapat kita manfaatkan  

Dari semangat kampung Chai Chee sehinggalah ke sejarah Joo Chiat,  

Dari getaran nadi Siglap sehinggalah kemeriahan Serangoon,  

Dari gerak nadi pekerja di Ubi sehingga ke semangat kejiranan Eunos,  

Dari warisan Geylang Serai sehinggalah keakraban Katong,  

Marilah kita Bersatu  

Kami calon Parti Pekerja bagi Kawasan GRC Marine Parade, berikrar untuk menjadi suara anda di parlimen.  

Kami akan mengetengahkan isu-isu kebangsaan dan membantu anda mengatasi isu- isu tempatan  

Berbekalkan pengalaman, kebolehan dan semangat yang jitu, Insyallalh kami boleh berkhidmat untuk anda  

Seperti anda, kami juga rakyat Singapura biasa. Kami faham cabaran yang anda lalui, dan kami bersedia untuk berkhidmat untuk membantu anda bangkit semula.  

Kami bersatu demi anda, untuk anda  

Penduduk GRC Marine Parade, anda berhak untuk membentuk masa depan anda Keluhan anda akan diambil kira. Anda tidak akan diabaikan.  

Suara dan pendapat anda menentukan hala tuju masyarakat dan negara kita  

Manfaatkan undi anda, undilah Parti Pekerja.

Fadli Fawzi

Dear voters of Marine Parade GRC,   My name is Fadli Fawzi.  

Voting for the Workers’ Party means having representatives in Parliament who would listen to you, care for you, and fight for you.   

This is our unwavering commitment.   

In this broadcast, I want to reassure the residents who are thinking of giving us a chance, but who may be anxious about the future of the estate under the Workers’ Party.   

I have served as a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for the past six years. Managing a Town Council, especially as the opposition, is indeed challenging. For one, we had to work harder with far fewer resources.   

We have learned a lot and grown from our experience. We are now better prepared to take over and run a Town Council effectively.   

We have also created a new accounting software system to help us manage Town Council matters.   

This will ensure that the handover process will be smooth and that services to residents will not be disrupted.  

So I promise the residents of Marine Parade: the estate will be kept clean, the lifts will work, and you will still get to enjoy the amenities in the neighbourhood.   

But the Workers’ Party wants to do more than just provide efficient municipal services.   

We want to build in Marine Parade a sense of community and belonging.    We want every single Marine Parade resident to feel that they matter.    

So let me share with you the Workers’ Party’s vision for Marine Parade.    We want to build a neighbourhood that is inclusive, cohesive, and accountable.  

First, inclusivity is about ensuring that each and every resident of Marine Parade is able to live with dignity.   

We will pay particular attention to the vulnerable and those with greater needs, especially the elderly and the disadvantaged.   

Second, cohesion means strengthening the community ethos between the residents and neighbours of Marine Parade.   

This will be a welcoming home for everyone, regardless of your ethnicity or religion, or even your political allegiance.   

Third, accountability reflects our pledge to be transparent and resident-centric on matters of estate governance.   

We will seek your civic participation in monthly town halls where we will listen to your thoughts about how to improve Marine Parade. These town halls will also create social capital in the community, making us more resilient in times of crisis.  

These three principles — inclusivity, cohesion, and accountability — are our guiding lights.   

Under the Workers’ Party, Marine Parade will not just be your home, but the neighbourly sanctuary that we all belong to: Marine Parade, Together.

So Make Your Vote Count and Vote for the Workers’ Party.

Yee Jenn Jong

大家好。我是余振忠. 我是一名教育企业家, 也曾当过非选区国会议员。

I am Yee Jenn Jong. I contested in Joo Chiat SMC and became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. I contested in Marine Parade GRC in 2015. I thank all the voters of Joo Chiat and Marine Parade who had supported the Workers’ Party since 2006.

The Workers’ Party is back, with yet another dedicated team. We have never left. Over the past few years, despite the challenges of not having been elected, we have initiated various community projects in this GRC. We continue to visit residents. We are touched by your encouragement and support.

You have heard from my team mates about our hopes for a better Singapore and a better Marine Parade, together. The now-daily 400 packs of food distribution that we have initiated since day 1 of the Circuit Breaker taught me that we can have ground up residents programme. The distribution is run by volunteers, some of them living in rental flats with a big heart to help their neighbours.

We can build a better Marine Parade, not just with infrastructure, but to invest in people so that initiatives can be ground-up, by Marine Parade residents, for Marine Parade residents.

The PAP has told you that Singapore only has enough talent for a team A, that only the PAP can run this place. My years of participation in the alternative camp tell me otherwise. Hougang and Aljunied are well maintained, just like any town in Singapore. The Workers’ Party has raised many issues in parliament and in a responsible way. Our proposals are made with serious thoughts.

I am concerned that the PAP has led us for the past 2 decades by simply injecting more capital and labour, especially low wage migrant workers without meaningful growth in productivity. This has led to an overcrowded Singapore, depressed wages for many of us, and vast inequality.

I am concerned that we have not adapted fast enough to industry disruptions. We have many retrenched PMETs. Many of us struggle with the high cost of living. 2 out of 3 working Singaporeans do not have enough savings for more than 6 months. It is as if we are two different countries in one small island.

The PAP does not have a monopoly of wisdom. Our team members are passionate, hardworking and resilient.

Ron has many years of experience serving in the grassroots in Aljunied. He served under Mr Low Thia Khiang for the past 3 years.

Nathaniel, an IT professional, has been with the Party for 11 years and is actively assisting Mr Pritam Singh.

Azhar had to take a year’s break from university to earn money for his school fees. He graduated from NUS, had a stable career. Then he lost a leg and his job after a nasty road accident. These did not kill his desire to want to be a voice for ordinary Singaporeans.

Fadli is driven by his passion to help the less fortunate. He switched to being a lawyer because he wants to be better equipped to champion for ordinary Singaporeans. He has been a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for 6 years.

Singapore needs MPs who can connect with the people, who cares deeply for them. We have the right team to be your voice in parliament and to manage this town.

The PAP wants 100% dominance of parliament. They tell you that you can have 12 NCMPs because they want to win it all. They want all 93 seats.

As a former NCMP, I tell you that this will not be the effective check against the PAP. They only fear when their vote share is low. Do not give the PAP a blank cheque.

Make your vote count. Vote The Workers’ Party.

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票。

GE2020 Constituency Political Broadcast – Yee JJ

大家好。我是余振忠. 我是一名教育企业家, 也曾当过非选区国会议员。

I am Yee Jenn Jong. I contested in Joo Chiat SMC and became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. I contested in Marine Parade GRC in 2015. I thank all the voters of Joo Chiat and Marine Parade who had supported the Workers’ Party since 2006.

The Workers’ Party is back, with yet another dedicated team.

We have never left. Over the past few years, despite the challenges of not having been elected, we have initiated various community projects in this GRC. We continue to visit residents. We are touched by your encouragement and support.

You have heard from my team mates about our hopes for a better Singapore and a better Marine Parade, together. The now-daily 400 packs of food distribution that we have initiated since day 1 of the Circuit Breaker taught me that we can have ground up residents programme. The distribution is run by volunteers, some of them living in rental flats with a big heart to help their neighbours. We can build a better Marine Parade, not just with infrastructure, but to invest in people so that initiatives can be ground-up, by Marine Parade residents, for Marine Parade residents.

The PAP has told you that Singapore only has enough talent for a team A, that only the PAP can run this place. My years of participation in the alternative camp tell me otherwise. Hougang and Aljunied are well maintained, just like any town in Singapore. The Workers’ Party has raised many issues in parliament and in a responsible way. Our proposals are made with serious thoughts.

I am concerned that the PAP has led us for the past 2 decades by simply injecting more capital and labour, especially low wage migrant workers without meaningful growth in productivity. This has led to an overcrowded Singapore, depressed wages for many of us, and vast inequality. I am concerned that we have not adapted fast enough to industry disruptions. We have many retrenched PMETs. Many of us struggle with the high cost of living. 2 out of 3 working Singaporeans do not have enough savings for more than 6 months. It is as if we are two different countries in one small island.

The PAP does not have a monopoly of wisdom. Our team members are passionate, hardworking and resilient.

Ron has many years of experience serving in the grassroots in Aljunied. He served under Mr Low Thia Khiang for the past 3 years. Nathaniel, an IT professional, has been with the Party for 11 years and is actively assisting Mr Pritam Singh. Azhar had to take a year’s break from university to earn money for his school fees. He graduated from NUS, had a stable career. Then he lost a leg and his job after a nasty road accident. These did not kill his desire to want to be a voice for ordinary Singaporeans. Fadli is driven by his passion to help the less fortunate. He switched to being a lawyer because he wants to be better equipped to champion for ordinary Singaporeans. He has been a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for 6 years.

Singapore needs MPs who can connect with the people, who cares deeply for them. We have the right team to be your voice in parliament and to manage this town.

The PAP wants 100% dominance of parliament. They tell you that you can have 12 NCMPs because they want to win it all. They want all 93 seats. As a former NCMP, I tell you that this will not be the effective check against the PAP. They only fear when their vote share is low. Do not give the PAP a blank cheque. Make your vote count. Vote The Workers’ Party.

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票。

The Journey Continues

After a 5-day stay-home medical leave and with phase 2 re-opening of the Circuit Breaker, the journey continues.

This morning, it was attending to the daily cooked food distribution, now at three locations across the Marine Parade GRC, followed by a visit to a market. In the evening, it was house visits.

For the evening, I chose the spot right outside my house, within the now-defunct Joo Chiat SMC and in the Marine Parade GRC, to start off the daily visits to come.

Back where it all started in March 2011

I recall in 2011, I joined WP and was assigned to take on Joo Chiat SMC. I was new to political campaigning. I was new to the Party and did not know anyone well. I was assigned just one member, Shaun to be my Elections Agent.

And so I started, at this spot where we did our visits this evening. There were only Shaun and I on day 1. I did not even know what to say to the residents.

As the campaign of 2011 went on, I started to polish up my presentation to keep it short. I treated each person I meet as a 20-second elevator pitch. I wanted to explain why they should vote for WP and me, and to hopefully generate enough reasons from them within 20 seconds to consider giving us their vote, especially the swing voters. From just Shaun and I, we eventually grew to more than 40 people regularly helping when the campaign ended on 7 May 2011. Friends and relatives came along to help in the campaign. Then friends of friends and strangers, most of whom we met while on the campaign trail. Several stayed on even after the campaign had ended with a narrow 1% defeat. One of them is Dennis Tan, now a key member of the Party.

GE2020 will be so different. It is likely to come and go too quickly. There cannot be large numbers when we visit. We will not have time to visit many households given no visit was allowed during the two and a half month of the Circuit Breaker. Even the way we engage will be more distant than before. There will not be physical rallies.

But it will be an important GE. I joined in 2011 because I believe there must be a strong alternative. In business, we are told that we need anti-monopoly laws to keep companies innovative and responsive to the consumers. We want to prevent profiteering and exploitation. Yet in politics, we are told there can only be a team A. We cannot just rely on a team A and wish things will go well with Singapore forever. It takes a long time to build up a respectable, rational and responsible alternative. It takes many people of commitment and courage to take the difficult route. The PAP speaks of the ‘sacrifice’ their handpicked high flyers will have to make to take a pay-cut to join, or the loss of their privacy. After a long uninterrupted and very dominant rule since independence, they have forgotten what it is like to be on the other side; what it really means to take sacrifices and what loss of privacy means for some who had to face with smearing of their character.

The ruling party has said this is about the 4G and about Singapore’s future. Sure, it is important. It is also about defining the alternative, about the continuity of the alternative, about whether good men and women will continue to join the alternative, and about whether we can have a Singapore where we can thrive even with diversity of views.

Are we prepared to go back to the days with 100% PAP’s monopoly of parliament? As an ex-NCMP, I can tell you that the contest is not about having the alternative only as NCMPs. Being an NCMP means you have lost in the elections. You have no ground to sink your roots in. Constituencies that are narrowly lost can be reconfigured just before a GE with the snap of a finger. You face big hurdles in how you can serve the people who have voted for you. The PAP will definitely wish for a parliament with 12 NCMPs. It will mean a total loss for alternatives, yes even Hougang and Aljunied can be lost. The PAP came quite close to achieving that in 2015. A pandemic GE is now a good opportunity for them to push for that scenario.

The journey towards a first world parliament that began in 2011 continues. What Singapore do you envisage? The choice is for Singaporeans to make.

A long walk into this house
Deciding on the alternative

Accounting for how $93 billion is being spent

Mr Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-Large for the Straits Times wrote a good piece “Covid-19: Make sure the $93b is well spent”.

He made several strong points. Here is an extract from his piece on one part which I wish to follow up on:

“President Halimah Yacob’s in-principle approval was sought and granted for past reserves to be used. …

Approving the use of the reserves is an important task, but it is also equally critical to make sure that it was used for their intended purposes.

Do the elected presidency (EP) and CPA have these monitoring powers? I could not find anything in the Constitution regarding this. But it seems to me that some review has to follow.

If you approve funds for a particular scheme, you should want to know its result, and what action was taken if it did not achieve its objective or fell short. …

The EP’s primary role as a second key safeguarding the country’s reserves is intended to prevent a future rogue government from raiding it. To do this job well, it should have some review powers over whether those funds were used for the purposes which it had approved and if they had achieved their objectives.”

These were questions I had too. And my WP colleagues in parliament covered some of these quite well already in the debate on the fourth budget, the Fortitude Budget. A summary is here by a former senior leader with The Straits Times, Tan Bah Bah: “Faisal Manap: Did in-principle President Halimah Yacob know the exact amount of our reserves?”

The government’s reply? “I am surprised that both Mr Faisal and Mr Dennis Tan had to ask. It is public information that under our Constitution, the President has access to information about the size of reserves. Under Article 22F of the Constitution, in the exercise of her functions under the Constitution, the President is entitled to any information regarding the reserves. In addition, on the MOF website, it is already mentioned that the President has full information about the size of the reserves.”

Well done then. So it will not take the Accountant-General “52 man-years” to produce the list of physical assets of the Government, something which our first (oops, second – things are sometimes confusing in Singapore) Elected President, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong had to struggle with the Government on. I am not sure if he ever got his answer.

The mystery of the size of our reserves aside, Mr Han raised the important question of accountability in the way money is spent. No one will question that we need an extraordinary budget to deal with a major global crisis that will impact jobs and lives. Speed is important as the crisis is immediate and widespread. All four budgets were approved in quick time. The combined size of our response to Covid-19 is nearly double the annual government budget. How well will the money be spent? How effective have they been to address the situations they were intended for?

These are important questions because we will need to know for better response to a future crisis on this magnitude. Could the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) be better designed? Companies that continued to do well or even better during this period, such as the supermarkets, got the JSS too. Some companies have stepped forward to return the money or donate them to charity. Yet, many companies continue to close even with JSS. Jobs continue to be lost. There is no perfect solution. Some form of JSS is necessary, but some post-mortem certainly can be done. How well did the major recipients of the funds respond? Mr Han cited the aviation sector. Yes, they need help for sure. How did they use the money and were they effective? We do not know how much the government has and will continue to spend on fighting the explosive spread of Covid-19 in the crowded foreign employees dormitories. Did we fairly apportion enough of the huge intervention costs to the dorm operators? Did we let off too easily the operators who have not done well in implementing measures to manage epidemic which they should have been doing? Did we execute the rent relief properly such that the money did flow down fast enough to tenants? The list goes on.

The President approved $52 billion from the reserves (the balance are from budget surplus and from borrowings which have to be repaid by the next government). What roles will the President have in scrutinizing how well the money have been spent and how effective the schemes have been. I hope it will be a big and important role. ‘Ownself check ownself’ is not always the best.

Singapore’s Post Covid-19 Future

Prime Minister Lee addressed the nation yesterday on Singapore’s future in a post COVID-19 world. His speech is the first in a series of national broadcasts with five other Cabinet ministers laying out future plans for the country.

I have a few areas which I’d like to see for Singapore post Covid-19.

(1) First is on domestic wage reforms. Business leader Ho Kwon Ping brought this issue up in an IPS talk in 2012. He presented data in a refreshing way. Ho asked IPS to compile data on the wages of various professions across 9 of the most developed economies in the world.

The finding? Singapore is the MOST UNEQUAL of all developed nations. On average, we pay doctors about four times more than nurses and 11 times more than construction workers. Doctors represent the top end of professional work, nurses the middle range and construction workers represent the low wage. In other developed countries, the disparity is far smaller. Doctors and lawyers were paid slightly better in Singapore than the average elsewhere but the startling fact was how badly we paid the low wage workers. In Germany and Australia, a construction worker is paid HALF that of the average doctor! Hong Kong, a small and open economy like ours, paid nurses a third that of doctors. Construction workers earned a quarter that of doctors!

Ho called it the incomplete wage revolution. It began in the 1980s as we reformed the export-oriented industries. Factories that relied on low wage workers shifted out. We had to move up the value-added chain with higher wages. Today, we have high value-added export and services industries that pay decent wages. The trouble was with our domestic industries. There are some industries that cannot be shifted out – we will need to have cleaners, gardeners, security guards, construction workers and retail assistants in Singapore. Instead of also increasing wages gradually and allowing companies to figure how to make workers progressively more productive, we had large-scale import of low wage migrant workers. The situation started to explode in the 1990s where we grew from 311,000 migrant workers in 1990 to over 1.42 million by 2019, the vast majority of whom are low wage. Foreign workers account for 38% of our workforce today, stretching the limits which a small country like Singapore can take.

The large influx of migrant workers over such a sustained period depressed the wages of local low skilled workers who had remained in the domestic industries. Employers continued to fill with migrant workers as the demand went up. Levies started increasing when the government wanted to force companies to hire locals and be less reliant on foreigners. I believe many of the measures were done too late. We were already having many low wage migrant workers willing to work for very little. The better and more experienced migrant workers can find better paying jobs in other countries. The higher levies and accommodation costs made businesses look for cheaper workers, never mind that their skill levels are not there and that they do not speak much English.

In two of my earlier blog posts, I recounted this 3-decade journey of large influx of migrant workers and some solutions we can look at using the construction sector as an example.

Today, Singapore face a rapidly changing world with lots of technology disruptions and with our neighbours also hungry for success. We are now presented with the disruptions due to the pandemic. We have China and USA on hostile relationship that is impacting world trade. These are all known facts. Even before the pandemic started, we were already seeing higher retrenchments amongst PMETs and challenging operating environment for our companies. There is mismatch between training and employment opportunities. With the pandemic, more jobs will be lost. More companies will close down.

We can use this current period of job stresses to transform certain domestic industries. It will take big government interventions but we can make certain jobs more viable for Singaporeans, to progressively pay better for technical skills like in other developed economies, and to gradually move the industry up the productivity path. We should seriously state our intent by setting Minimum Wages. We want to match the Swiss standard of living but our model for growth had so far been that of Dubai’s and not Switzerland’s.

(2) I am concerned as to our strategy on low wage migrant workers. This is an old issue, raised by experts from time to time. Even our founding leaders such as the late Dr Goh Keng Swee and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had warned about becoming over-reliant on migrant workers or having too many of them. We have blown past all the numbers they had warned about. In the 2013 Population White Paper debate, we were told to accept 1-2% increase in migrant workers each year or face economic decline. The numbers continue to rise after that debate. We could reach 6.9 million population in 10 years’ time and far more after that. This would result in a society with much higher income and wealth inequality, higher pandemic risks, as well as probably much higher xenophobia, social divisions, overcrowding, less social well-being and less social capital and national solidarity. 

Beyond providing better accommodation, we need to look at how to bring in more productive foreign workers so that we can have a better starting base and can pay them better. I am not an expert. I suspect there are lots of low hanging fruits we can pluck by first recruiting better. Currently, the middleman makes big bucks bringing able-bodied workers in from low wage countries willing to pay the huge fees to come to Singapore. Many may not have relevant skills. Many come saddled with debts, desperately afraid of being sent back home.

Singapore has done some small scale setting up of ITE-type of training in neighbouring countries on government to government relationship. I think if we can look at places where we recruit large number of migrant workers. We can put our vocational training expertise to good use. If we can have more productive workers already trained at source; familiar with the tools, processes and automation needed in Singapore, I believe we can jump start productivity. Having such institutions at source can also offer better transparency and links for recruitment. The implementation may need more thoughts and strong government backing to be workable. I think this can uplift productivity and wages at the low end, and allow us to do with fewer numbers of workers. And I believe that if we can build up a strong pipeline of skilled overseas workers, coupled with aggressive investment in better construction processes and automation, we might even be able to create globally competitive Singapore construction companies.

The welfare of workers can also be better taken care of. We can think of careers for them to move upwards while in Singapore. A few months ago, I came across a former foreign domestic worker who did part time studies in early childhood when in Singapore (she had a very supporter employer), and is now a trained preschool teacher here after finishing her domestic helper contract. Such stories are few and far in between. Most come, work hard with outdated and low productivity methods and return home with some savings to do other things. I believe few low wage migrant workers make it up the career ladder in Singapore. Many years ago, Singapore thrived because we provided opportunities for our low wage migrant workers. The innovative and hardworking ones climbed in their career and even start businesses in Singapore. Many of our big local institutions had started that way.

(3) We need to free up the Singapore spirit. We are victim of our past successes – we have grown risk averse. We celebrate innovation only when it meets the government’s agenda but clamp down on alternative views. I wrote about this last month – Monopoly of wisdom will cripple Singapore. I cited Sonny Liew as an example.

Be open. Be free spirited. Be bold. Our past leaders were so. PM Lee’s speech yesterday recounted how Singapore had overcome. Yes, we did. We overcame the lack of an armed forces with a modern force built on national service and modernisation. We overcame housing problem by being socialist – mass land acquisition from the rich and building HDB flats for as many Singaporeans as possible. We cleaned up the Singapore river, and more. Sure, we can do it again. There was boldness in the early leaders. There were no past successes to safeguard, only a future to aim towards. Bold ideas had to be tried.

These days, I noticed that many have become afraid to take risk. There are tried and tested ways to succeed. Just follow rules. Leaders in the government service or political office bearers are rotated frequently. We become wary of projects that may take years to see results or that cut across ministries or are seen as ‘risky’. We become afraid to let smaller start-ups have a go at projects in case we have to answer if projects fail. We award at higher costs to companies with big names so that if they fail, it will not be the fault of the evaluation team.

If we are to build world leading companies, to pioneer big brands that can fly the Singapore flag all over the world, we need to free up our spirit, not mute it. Our reforms cannot start only when Singaporeans enter the workforce. It must start from school. In education, we are again victims of our past successes. Our schools were earlier reformed to make the education processes more efficient to train up workers for incoming investments and to fill up jobs. We thought we had figured out the formula for sorting out students by abilities and then fast track them along career paths. We cannot rely on model answers, for the new world economy may not conform to known models. We need to celebrate ambiguity in education. We need students to be bold to ask questions. We need them to create.

(4) I believe Singaporeans are resilient. In recent years, with the growing mismatch between jobs and training, more have switched to the gig economy. Food delivery and private hire driving are not easy work. Yet PMET Singaporeans, many retrenched or in low paying jobs, turned to these trades to find a way to make a living. We will need to reclaim PMET jobs for Singaporeans and to work out viable career paths for Singaporeans in domestic industries, many of which are too low-paying to sustain the high costs of living in Singapore.

Being more resilient also means better preparedness in food and other supplies. Yes, it is great that we have Polish eggs and Arabian shrimps. MTI is doing right by seeking new sources of food and essential supplies. I think it would be just as great if Temasek takes the lead to invest aggressively so that we own critical food sources overseas. Sure, we might still be hit with supply restrictions such as what had happened over masks in Taiwan recently. To overcome our smallness in size, we may need to expand more aggressively into ownership of critical resources outside of Singapore.

Let’s look forward to a more resilient, more creative, more productive and more egalitarian Singapore post Covid-19.

Note: The views are that of the author. I had an earlier discussion with Ku Swee Yong where we found that we share similar ideas about having some ITE-type institutions in countries with large number of migrant workers bound for Singapore.

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