People’s Action Party Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh has written a lengthy – if surprisingly critical – commentary on the performance of the government under the ruling party in the past three years.
The disconnect between Singapore’s wealth and citizens’ well-being, the importing of talent, the complacency and elitism in the top ranks of civil servants, and the national identity for Singapore’s young people – these were the issues the former deputy government whip raised in a Facebook post Monday night titled “Response to the President Address At the Re-Opening of 2nd Session of Parliament May 2014”.
Known to be vocal about political issues – he spoke against the population White Paper that projected as many as 6.9 million people in the city-state by 2030 and eventually abstained from voting on it – Singh explained that he was sharing his thoughts on the social media platform since he was overseas and could not participate in the parliamentary debates on President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s address.
An MP for the Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency, along with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singh noted that, after the general election in 2011, the government got a very clear signal from Singaporeans about the issues that affected them most, and the government spent considerable time fixing these problems.
The problems themselves were “created as a result of a decade long series of policy misjudgment linked to its ‘growth at all cost’ economic strategy”, but he added that the government has since done well in many areas, particularly in sorting out issues in housing, healthcare and even transport to some extent. He then elaborated on the areas that he believed had yet to be sufficiently tackled.
Disconnect between Singapore’s wealth and citizens’ well-being
Singh said that while the country has become richer, not all Singaporeans are reaping the benefits of that growth as some citizens face even tougher times coping with the rising cost of living than before.
Even though Singapore has emerged relatively unscathed from the 2008 global economic crisis, Singh questioned if the lives of average Singaporeans had improved.
He commended the Pioneer Package, but said that beyond it, “If someone were to ask me honestly whether the lives of all Singaporeans have become better in these last few years, I would not be able to do that.”
Singh also disagreed with the government’s approach of linking asset appreciation to homes. He cautioned against “overly emphasizing the role of the home in providing for retirement adequacy” as this asset appreciation would instead create stress on the younger generation who would have to deal with rising house prices.
He called it “an inter-generational transfer of wealth”, where young working Singaporeans pay elderly retirees inflated prices for their homes.
The MP also criticized the promotion of medical tourism done by government restructured hospitals amid the crunch in hospital beds. He said, “Shouldn't the services in our government restructured be for Singaporeans and residents first?”
Importing talent and creating wealth for citizens
According to a recent wealth report by Barclays bank, Singapore has the fifth-highest concentration of millionaires in the world and was the fastest place for one to accumulate wealth, but Singh doubted that the rise in wealth had been equitable. Instead, he believed that a large number of the wealthy resident millionaires are new citizens or PRs who had “transplanted their wealth” into Singapore.
He also suggested that the reported increase in Singaporeans’ median income was highly correlated to the increase in the number of new citizens and PRs.
Singh wrote, “Today we are willing to achieve growth by transplanting what others, including foreigners can do into Singapore – an 'instant tree' mentality of sorts -- what pride do Singaporeans have in such a prosperity?” He added that “the ends have too often been used to justify the means.”
While he praised the government for heading in the right direction with its “inclusive growth strategy”, he identified low wages as the root cause of the problem in creating wealth for citizens. Singh said, “I urge this government to further develop the [progressive wage] model”. He said, “Why not instead give everyone a decent salary so that they do not need to depend on government handouts to live comfortably?”
Is Singapore a home — or a hotel?
Singh also expressed his concerns about how members of the younger generation envision their future in Singapore.
He shared his friend’s thoughts about the country. A 30-year-old man was quoted saying, “At times, I do not feel like Singapore is my home. Yes Singapore is a brilliant place to make money but not to live anymore.” He also lamented that Singapore “seems more and more like a 6 star hotel - emphasized by the huge amount of imported wealth and labour - where everything is perfect if you can pay the high room rates.”
Singh believed that the influx of foreigners has “destabilized” Singapore a little and has “reversed our gains on building a national identity”. He admitted that “the government made a mistake of bringing in too many foreigners [too] fast”, as he had indicated in his speech on the White Paper in 2013.
While it is not possible to ask new citizens and residents to return to their countries, Singh encouraged the government and Singaporeans to focus on making things work with “those who are committed to Singapore and treat Singapore as their own home" and not "bend backwards" to give privileges to those who see Singapore as a stepping stone.
Singh also emphasized the need to keep in touch with talented Singaporeans students studying overseas, to “make them feel more wanted and welcome to come back” instead of having to bring in foreign talent.
Complacency and elitism in top ranks of civil service
Singh also spoke out against the complacency and elitism he “detected” in the top ranks of civil servants. He said, "today’s policy makers live in a different society from the average Singaporean”.
The MP said that during his Meet-the-People sessions, he had encountered a number of residents who questioned the rationale of government policies.
He urged the government to consider reorganizing the policy making process, to “reverse it to make it more bottom-up and driven by the man in the street” instead of the top-down approach of policies crafted by those seated in “an ideal clean and sterile policy lab or an ivory tower”.
Singh had observed that the civil service’s top ranks are populated by scholars chosen for their academic achievements. He expressed concern that these scholars, who are “parachuted” to high positions at a young age, may not have the experience or understanding to craft policies for the rest of the population.
Singh supported a different approach to talent management in the public service, saying that “we need the best people for the respective jobs not necessarily the best academically qualified for all the jobs.”
Since it was published on Monday evening, Singh’s post has been shared over 400 times on Facebook, garnering over 400 likes. Comments thus far have been positive, applauding Singh for his insights and thanking him for speaking out. The CEO of a Singapore home appliances and electronics company, Singh has been an MP for 18 years.