Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Why I Think the PAP Is Still Far From Perfect

As a follow-up post to my previous opinion piece on Why the opposition still isn't good enough for my vote, here's Budget Babe's take on why I feel the PAP is still far from perfect as well.

For obvious reasons, the PAP is not a perfect party. 



But is there even a perfect government in this world? I doubt so.

Here are some of the issues I have with PAP's policies, and where I hope they can improve.

Population White Paper


I have to agree with WP when they argue against PM Lee's Population White Paper - our infrastructure isn't ready yet. 

Looking at the number of transport breakdowns that have occurred in the last 2 years alone, it is safe to say we still have a lot of upgrading work to do. But on the other hand, I'm not completely against bringing in foreigners, even as we try to raise the local birth rate. 

My appeal to PM Lee is, please slow down the rate of bringing in foreigners. Your team needs to first address the problems highlighted by everyone else with regards to whether our current infrastructure can handle the inflow.

Foreign talent influx: ensure quality over quantity

MOM and another government agency got flagged out when they were found hiring foreigners who were eventually caught with fake degrees.



While measures have been put in place ever since, in the form of tightened background checks, I still question the types of provider MOM is using. According to AsiaOne, MOM paid $100 per check previously with an Indian firm in New Delhi.

My questions are:

- Why did MOM not check every candidate? Why was action taken only after such cases were caught? How many foreigners did you bring into Singapore based on fake degrees which you did not bother to check? How many of them are still working here today and have yet to be caught?
- Why was the job given to India (Dataflow), and not someone based in Singapore?
- Why did you pay $100 for the check, when I submitted a quote for much less?



While I was studying in NTU, I saw much unhappiness among the locals towards the foreign students. Many felt too many scholarships were being given to the foreigners, when Singaporeans ought to get greater priority. 



I don't know if Roy Ngerng got his facts right in his infographic, but if the numbers are true, then we really need to question - do these foreign students deserve the scholarship more than local Singaporeans?

Other than MOM, I hope that the PAP can make it compulsory for government agencies, universities and all employers to thoroughly check the backgrounds of all foreigners who come to work or study on a scholarship in Singapore. Checks should not just be limited to education, but also checking whether they have any prior criminal records as well as any other reputation issues. Checks should also be conducted in the local country language in order to ensure you do not leave any stone unturned.

I welcome foreign talents, but please at least make sure they truly are talents, and not false imposters. My all-time favourite story is on a former NUS professor who got called out for his fake credentials only after he landed a prestigious job in the U.S. The question is, shouldn't NUS have checked for this before they hired him to teach their students?




Enforce higher levels of employing Singaporeans over foreigners, especially among the PMETs

 
Implementing a foreigner to local worker ratio is a good step forward, but I think more can be done among the PMETs. If you take a walk down the CBD today, you'll realize that the majority of professional executives are still foreigners. In my previous company, the ratio of foreigners to locals was extremely high (I don't have exact figures). 

I do appreciate the hard work that the foreign workers are doing for Singapore, including taking on the jobs that most Singaporeans are too snobbish to do. However, with the rise of an educated generation, the government should now look at helping Singaporeans get the right opportunities to excel in the professional space. 

If employers discriminate against locals and pass them over for a promotion in favour of foreigners, then the government really should step in. There should also be a system in place for employees who are affected by such a situation to alert the government about their plight. 

Otherwise, just quit the company and go to another company where you'll be valued instead. 


Cut Singlish some slack

When our founding father Lee Kuan Yew forced the entire nation to learn English, most people hated it, but we have him to thank today for making a decision that was unpopular but necessary.

However, I disagree with the PAP ministers who have tried to curb Singlish, and I personally think their worries that we will not be able to master good English are exaggerated. Most of us today are able to switch from proper English (in the workforce) to Singlish (with our fellow Singaporeans in everyday life) without much trouble.


See, even BBC likes the language.

So I say to the government, cut Singlish some slack, and let us embrace Singlish as part of what makes us uniquely Singaporean

After all, didn't PM Lee just use Singlish in his lunchtime rally yesterday too? 

Be more transparent about Temasek & GIC's investments

There has been much talk about how Temasek and GIC makes their investments. The Reform Party even calls for giving Singaporeans a stake in both entities. (Oh please, no.)



As a retail investor, I do think that Temasek and GIC probably has more resources to make better investment decisions than us average folks. I also happen to think that they should be employing me to do their due diligence on investments for them, but that's another matter.

There is no need to tell us every single action that Temasek and GIC takes, but I do agree with the opposition when they argue that there needs to be more transparency on how Singaporeans' monies are being handled. Singaporeans have the right to know.

How much should Temasek and GIC disclose?

I'll leave that for the experts to answer.

Flexible CPF and education

While I disagree with the opposition when they argue for lump sum withdrawals, it might be worth examining flexible CPF withdrawals for savvier Singaporeans who wish to handle their own retirement monies. This has to be done carefully to ensure that retirement nest eggs do not get squandered recklessly such that the government has to come in and support that stupid person for the rest of their life at a later stage.

Also, the CPF Board could do more on educating the average person on how the CPF works, together with its benefits. I'll share more on this in a later post, but for now, let me make it clear that I think the CPF is a great scheme. Can it be improved? Certainly. But it is still one of the better schemes, if you asked me, in contrast to what other countries have.

The government can also encourage Singaporeans on taking responsibility to save for their own retirement. Look, if you were counting solely on your CPF to see you through your golden years, don't blame the government later when you don't have enough money.

Everyone should be saving and planning for their retirement now. That's partly why this blog, Budget Babe, exists to tell you how important this is, and how to go about doing it.

Don't hold the government wholly responsible for your own retirement. You need to take the lead. It is YOUR life after all.

Reduce the cost of housing



I understand that there is a price to pay for the limited land in Singapore, but I also feel that the prices can be made more affordable, given that wages have largely stagnated despite inflation.

For instance, in my own situation right now, my boyfriend and I are discussing about getting a house, but we have insufficient funds, even if we use our CPF. There's an upcoming BTO that we really want to apply for, but we can't, because it is still too expensive for us.

I don't think the opposition's idea of letting us pay cost price for our flats is a good one, but I do think the PAP could consider giving more subsidies, especially to young couples who are trying to build a family and still don't have a house to call their own.

Less censorship, more diverse debate
I was quite shocked that our local Mothership.sg was recently mandated by MDA to pay $50,000, especially given the fact that they do not charge their readers for their content.

Many have benefited from their articles, especially their comprehensive and articulate coverage of the General Elections 2015. $50k is not a small sum to them, especially given their limited team and resources in contrast to SPH and Mediacorp.

Who will forget about how PM Lee sued Roy Ngerng over a blog post not too long ago as well?

While everyone has a right to defend their reputation and stand up for themselves in the face of false allegations, I personally feel the government can also afford to relax their grip on the media scene - be it offline or online.

If everyone is too scared to say anything bad of the PAP or any other political party just because they are afraid to be fined till bankrupt (a very valid fear) or put behind bars, I don't think that is a very healthy environment to encourage open discussion and ideas about Singapore's politics. I was also quite sad to see Professor Cherian George leave for Hong Kong, as his essays on Singapore's political scene were quite a worthy read.

Yes, we must balance and weigh individual freedoms against national security, racial harmony, social security, blah blah blah. But not to the extent of cutting out all alternative voices altogether, please.

I was quite upset when TheRealSingapore was shut down. I quite liked some of their articles, even if some of its articles felt to me like it was rubbish at times.

Unhappy Singaporeans and high stress levels

SingFirst states that "Singaporeans are unhappy, they work the longest hours but wages have stagnated, stress levels are high." For the record, being happy and managing your stress levels is everyone's individual responsibility, not the government.

Our perspective and attitude is not something the government should be held responsible for. 

Nonetheless, there are some ways the PAP can help. Look at the causes of unhappiness and stress, and see if there are policies that can help ease the pain.

Is the problem that of mindset, or the external environment?

On high stress levels, I do also feel that more can be done in reshaping our education system. It just doesn't seem right that children nowadays are so tied up in endless tuition classes and homework that never seems to end.

My 14-year-old English student seems to be even busier than I am! 

I certainly don't wish for my future child to grow up having such a stressful childhood. Let the children play. 

Low-income earners who have fallen through the gaps

Many of the opposition parties claim that the PAP are not doing enough to help the elderly and the low-income workers. If you read Roy Ngerng's blog or follow his Facebook, you'll know how he has been repeating this on numerous occasions, especially during the last few weeks of campaigning.

They also claim that the PAP is "out of touch" and do not know what the low-income workers are facing, given their ministers' high salaries.

I'm not in a good position to comment whether this is true or false. However, I do think that it is unfair to say the PAP has not done anything either. They are reaching out and trying to help, but things cannot be resolved overnight either.

Should the PAP resolve this issue faster and give more support to the lower-income earners? I think so. 

Can the opposition parties do that without compromising on our current and future reserves, and without taxing the rest of the population at higher rates?

I'm not sure.

But on that note, why should we wait for the PAP to help? If you feel so strongly about helping the poor and elderly, why not donate, or help them in a personal capacity?



It could be as simple as donating cash, clothing or even delivering food to them. If you know of a poor family, you can also help them, or alert welfare groups about their plight.

Instead of always pushing everything to the government, let us be the change that we want to see in Singapore.

If the PAP is truly with us and for Singapore, I also hope to see some of the positive changes being implemented regardless of the result. 

May the best party win, and may Singapore's future burn bright.

14 comments:

  1. Dear Budget Babe, I like this article of yours. Well thought out, more balanced and came across as more open-minded despite you sharing your opinions on matters. Keep writing in this style :)

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    1. Thanks! Well, I did say I'm very rational and balanced. Just that some people may think otherwise when they only read one or two articles. If you read the rest of the articles in my blog, I hope you'll find them more balanced and well researched too.

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  2. I hope you can do abit of research on the process of govt project biddings. With sagas like Brompton bike(Nparks), AIM($2 company). These are some of the transparency factors to decide your vote. It is not as simple as it seem.
    recent AGO reports shows that some of the govt projects biddings was not properly documented n a few are suspicious n this is just a sample out of the whole govt agencies. It is not as simple as it seems and voters wanted to know how transparency the govt is n If the govt is dominated by 1 party and how are we going to account this process of transparency? Are we going to let the ruling party to ownself check ownself?

    Hope voters can think wisely.

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    1. Hi Colin,

      Have you bidded for a government project before?

      I have, and I think I roughly know what goes into the process of them making a choice, so I'm not just making assumptions here.

      Furthermore, it was a minor statement where I was merely expressing my thoughts that they should have used me instead of another firm for their checks. The choice is ultimately up to the government. We are nothing compared to Brompton Bike nor AIM either, so I don't think drawing such parallels are fair in my case.

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  3. Yes, Colin brought out some good points. Hope more effort can be put into conducting in depth research and analysis into these matters.

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    1. Were you and Colin referring to my single sentence of me wishing the government had used me, instead of another firm, whom we lost the project to?

      My company is nothing like AIM and Bromptom bike so it's unfair to put us in the same vein.

      On that front, it was just a personal statement too. I've not said there are problems with their bidding process. My questions are very, very targeted.

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  5. Hi BB

    I will not talk about points I agree but rather those I disagree, because what is a political discourse if everyone agrees on the same thing.

    1. Unhappiness And Stress
    Yes, we are responsible for our own stress. But I think our culture/social norms contribute (be it a large or small amount) to the level of stress of we experience. So while our perspective and attitude should be ours and ours only and not the government's, they can be guided by society, of which the government plays an important role in shaping. Not just in education and work but in all spheres (e.g. family, community).

    2. Low income earners
    The government is definitely doing more since 2011 but as Lam Keong Yeoh said, we can do much more and we surely do have the ability to. Distributive justice is an issue Singaporeans have been shying away from for many years. What is a just society? Given the inevitability of social inequality, how can we best ensure the most disadvantage group can receive the most advantage (not just an adequate but the most) without being fiscally irresponsible? Tharman's speech about taxes and the middle class while seemingly persuasive, is not one I totally agree with. I am of the opinion that the middle and upper class groups are taxed too low, and they should and I believe are also willing to be taxed higher in order to become a more progressive nation. I have, in my blog post below, borrowed a thought experiment from moral philosophy to iterate this point.

    https://whimzicalmusings.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/making-a-case-for-more-distributive-justice-in-singapore/

    While we definitely should not wait for the government to help and like you said, do whatever we can as private individuals, the government probably is the entity most suitable to help. In fact, one function of the government is and should be the redistribution of wealth and income via taxes

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  6. Hi BB,

    2 points:
    1. Are you sure you want more transparency on temasek & GIC. Dont forget they are managing our reserve and no govt in the world tell others exactly how much they have as it is inviting other to attack (see what happen to /malaysia in 1997). It is simple logic. If you want to buy a fish at 45 price at 50, if fishmonger knows you have 100, will he sell you at 45? Another analogy, the whole play is playing poker, do player showhand?

    2. Singaporean First in PMET
    Do you know we got hard time getting sporean chemical engineer to work in jurong island/bukom even pay them hardship allowance. If no foreigner, we can kiss our status as no.1 refinery in the world, it simply go to malaysia or indonesia. Perhaps, a more targetted approach is required. I think the govt should be more hand-ons in order to tackle the many issues faced. They are doing a good job in uplifting the low-pay industry like cleaning and security.

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    1. Hi,

      I'm afraid you misunderstand me.

      1. I asked for more transparency where necessary, and not full disclosure. Obviously, it would be quite dumb to disclose our entire set of cards to the whole world. My exact words were "There is no need to tell us every single action that Temasek and GIC takes, but I do agree with the opposition when they argue that there needs to be more transparency on how Singaporeans' monies are being handled."

      2. Note that I've argued for the case of having foreigners, and continuing to bring them into Singapore. But here, I speak only for myself in the PMET space, where I see many positions occupied by foreigners and too many smart (or even smarter) Singaporeans being passed over for promotion :(

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    2. Hi,
      1. as long as it comply to international stds, they have done enough. Why do we want to take the lead in this area ie. disclosure. We are a small country, dont forget. Dont forget although Indonesia is poor , their GDP is bigger than us.. If we are talking about shares we are buying in a company ourselves, yes we ask for full disclosure. . FYI only PM, Finance Minister and the President knows the exact reserves spore have besides those reported figures. This is good enough for me.

      Being smart is not the only criteria for promotion. Can you cajol, can you mentor, can you lead, can you manage etc. Many factors. But one thing I would like to agree, most sporean bosses including our MPs/Ministers is poor at communicate, note i used communicate and not talk/explain, meaning, the audience understand what they want to say, not what they want to hear or they thought they know what they says.

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    3. I agree with you. I do feel that the PAP can afford to spend more time on engaging the ground and communicating about their policies. Or hire folks to do it. Many people have mistaken grouses about their policies when it is mostly a lack of knowledge and understanding, rather than the policy being bad e.g. CPF, housing grants, subsidies.

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  7. What our country needs is a thorough reexamination of its basic operating assumptions , rather than reacting to issues piecemeal. The latter are all pieces of a single whole after all, which in turn operates according to a certain internal logic. Politics is therefore about continuously reflecting upon and evaluating his logic. We need to see that technocracy cannot be measured on its own terms alone (eg quantitative statistics) bc it is itself based upon normative visions of the world. eg Are there really deep seated human urges which exist independently of systemic conditions? Cf LKY on race and the (his) notion that racial difference is a primal faultline. We see that this notion has played a tremendous role in structuring the PAPs major policies. So the question for a true political discourse is, do we still accept the validity of this notion? Why or why not? Another question--how should we define economic success for SG as a whole? It is not clear, for instance, that top-down investment led growth is the only viable model for our economy, even granting our peculiar limitations (see the arguments of the likes of Donald Low et al). How this question is answered will in turn hinge on more fundamental questions of egalitarianism vs hierarchy , the rship btw state and society, etc etc. These deep holistic questions are needs to be brought to light of day

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