My Analysis of the "4 time bombs".Govt warns of 'time bombs' in Workers' Party manifesto
It may claim ideas are like PAP's but WP has four 'dangerous and wrong' proposals, says Ng Eng Hen
By Lydia Lim and Zakir Hussain
THE Government yesterday accused the Worker's Party of planting 'time bombs' that would destroy key pillars of Singapore's stability and success.
Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen last night identified as 'dangerous and wrong' four proposals by the opposition party: to scrap grassroots organisations, ethnic integration policies and the elected presidency, and to raise subsidies.
Responding to the Workers' Party (WP) manifesto launched last weekend, he noted that the WP and the PAP were 'moving closer' in some respects. He reminded Singaporeans, however, about fundamental differences separating the two parties.
'On these four fundamental issues, PAP and WP are obviously taking different approaches,' said Dr Ng, who is the organising secretary (special duties) of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
'The four time bombs within WP's manifesto will weaken and tear Singapore apart,' he cautioned.
'This cohesive society that we have carefully nurtured and kept together for 40 years will be fractured. Racial harmony will be destroyed. Whether or not WP intends for this to happen, this will be the tragic result if they implement these ideas.'
The remarks signalled the PAP's move into a higher gear for the upcoming General Election, and that it wants to draw a clear distinction between the parties - even as Dr Ng acknowledged that some of the WP's proposals 'on economic policy, society, education, defence, sports and recreation and environment sound very much like what PAP MPs have asked for, only slightly different'.
He threw this challenge to WP chief Low Thia Khiang: Reconsider the party's manifesto, or campaign on these four key issues at the General Election, expected to be held in the next few months.
Dr Ng's point-by-point rebuttal of WP proposals was interspersed with comments that drew appreciative laughter from his 300-strong audience of Toa Payoh East residents and grassroots leaders at a Chinese New Year reunion dinner.
On the WP's call to abolish residents' committees and citizens' consultative committees, he observed: 'They say you are the 'eyes and ears of the Government'.'
By casting grassroots groups in such a light, the WP was belittling their efforts to build bonds between the races, contain the Sars and dengue outbreaks and others, he added.
He also scoffed at its proposal to replace grassroots groups with a social-cohesion public holiday to build community ties, saying it was 'dangerous and foolish' to think the various communities would come together naturally.
Turning to the WP's call to do away with the ethnic quotas for public housing, he warned that without them, Chinese, Malay and Indian Singaporeans would end up living in different estates and there would be little mixing between the races - a point also made at a separate event by Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday. Said Dr Ng: 'When things go wrong, we will become strangers and even more suspicious of each other.'
He also criticised the WP's call to replace group representation constituencies (GRCs) with proportional representation, under which political parties would be allocated seats in Parliament according to the percentage of votes they won.
This would result in parties being formed along racial and religious lines to incite communalism or religious bigotry to win votes. The GRCs ensured parties campaigned not on race or religion but on policies for the country's long-term good, he said.
They were how Singapore had 'averted disaster'. The WP's proposal would bring Singapore back to the 1960s, he warned.
He also challenged the WP to explain why it wanted to remove the elected presidency, an institution that helped check the Government from corruption and squandering the nation's financial reserves.
Finally, Dr Ng turned his attention on WP's calls for higher subsidies for the elderly, unemployed and single mothers, and in services from education to health care, public transport and housing.
He said the WP was dishing out 'empty promises'. 'Anyone can promise but WP should tell us all, how will WP pay for this expensive shopping trip?' he asked.
If these higher subsidies were financed through higher tax rates, then businesses would not invest in Singapore and this would reduce the number of jobs.
He pointed out that the PAP government was also helping the needy but in ways it could afford.
To applause, Dr Ng ended by assuring grassroots groups that the PAP would not allow anyone to abolish them and pledged to uphold policies to ensure Singaporeans continued to live as one cohesive society.
Actually hor I din get to read WP's manifesto yet la, but judging from what Dr Ng have said my sense is that some of “time bombs” are massively exaggerated la… While the others are valid in some ways but still are somewhat exaggerated. Let me start from the “time bombs which I feel are massively exaggerated.
WP: Abolish the Elected Presidency and make the presidency ceremonial. The power of Parliament as the people's representatives should be unfettered, and this abolition should be done alongside changes to the electoral system.
Dr Ng: The Elected President is a check against a corrupt Government and protects reserves from being squandered. Singaporeans voted for the PAP after the elected presidency was openly debated in the 1988 General Election.
Me: Well… Is the S’pore suffering from massive corruption from 1965 to 1993? Does S’pore have an elected president during that period? I believe both of the answer will be No… So what is the problem?
By the way how many times did we Singaporeans vote for our president huh? Only once leh… S’poreans last voted for the late Mr Ong Teng Chong as our president in 1993. That, incidentally, is also the 1st and last time we voted for our president, at least until maybe after President Nathan’s term expire…
It is worth noting that Mr Ong Ong Teng Chong NEVER got to know exactly how much reserves does Singapore actually have. In fact Mr Ong Teng Chong had to write to the govt. in 1996, after three years into his presidency, to ask for the amount of reserves that S’pore possess. Amazingly, the Finance Minister replied that it would take "56 man-years" to provide to produce a dollar-and-cents value of the immovable assets!
When Mr Ong decided to compromise and ask only for the list of all the properties that the government owns, it took "less than two months" [That was according to the Finance Minister, Ong says it was "a few months"] for them to produce the list and even then Mr Ong said that the list was incomplete. Mr Ong even had experiences of only coming to know of things that he was responsible for after reading the newspapers!
It is also interesting to note that the issue of the Singapore reserves is no longer mentioned after Mr Nathan became our president.
Under these circumstances, I inclined to believe that the ability for the president to act as a check against a corrupted govt. and guard our reserves is really at best very limited.
Hence abolishing the Elected Presidency, to me, is really no big deal... Except that I might lose an extra public holiday every 6 years. But then again judging from the way the Elected Presidency is going, I don’t think I am going see any holiday anyway…
If anyone wants to know more about the “56 man-years” affair you can go here for further info.
WP: Give more subsidies to the elderly and unemployed for education, public transport, health care and housing. Infrastructure and support for vulnerable groups need to be improved.
Dr Ng: It is the Government's duty to help the less fortunate, but only out of Budget surpluses, which is where the recently announced workfare bonus for low-income workers will come from. Calling for more subsidies is always popular - but 'how will WP pay for this expensive shopping trip?'
Me: Actually hor, there are many ways to get the money lah. For example how about reducing and/or eliminated all subsidies for non-Singapore citizens without any next of kin who are Singaporean citizens? I am sure that most will agree that the welfare of Singaporean CITIZENS rather than foreigners should be number one priority for any Singapore govt.
Or maybe we can add the revenues generated from all govt. land sales into the budget. From what I know this money is not being included in the budget and it goes straight into the reserves. In most countries, money from the govt. land sales is part of the budget.
Perhaps more portion of the money earn from investments from past reserves can be used. I believe that the current ratio is 50:50 with 50% of the money being included in the budget while the other 50% are transferred straight back into the reserves to be reinvested. Perhaps the new ratio can be 70:30, with 70% being included into the budget.
Why not reduce the amount of $ spent on new roads, MRT and LRT lines? Personally I feel that some of these projects are not really needed, so why not reduce expenditure on this area and spend it on other areas leh?
In any case with the projected huge increase in revenues coming from the IRs, maybe there isn’t any need to do any of the above at all.
Now I will go on to the “time bombs” which are valid in some ways but are still somewhat exaggerated.
WP: Remove ethnic quota for HDB flats as society has attained a level of multi-racial integration. End the GRC system and consider proportional representation to ensure maximum participation by voters and contestants and to 'reflect party votes at the national level'.
Dr Ng: Ethnic quotas foster multi-racial public housing estates. The GRC system ensures all races are adequately represented in Parliament whereas proportional representation will see parties form along communal lines.
Me: There are 2 issues here I will start from ethnic quota for HDB flats. I do not know the exact distribution of ethnic quotas but I believe is somewhere along lines of Singapore racial makeup, which accord to Singstats is 75.56% Chinese, 13.64% Malays, 8.7% Indians, 2.1% others.
While I disagree that ethnic quota should be abolish, I feel it should loosen substantially. Personally I think so long every block of flat have at least 50% of the households being Chinese, 5% Malays and 2.5% Indians, it should be fine. The rest of the 42.5% can be left to the market. But hey, another public holiday won’t hurt lol…
As for the claim that by adopting proportional representation we will see parties forming along communal lines and thus destroying racial harmony is really a gross exaggeration. This is because the problem can be solved by amending the constitution or enacting a law to make all political parties to have, say, at least 25% of their MPs from the ethnic minorities.
WP: Abolish all Residents' Committees and Citizens Consultative Committees. They act as 'eyes and ears of the Government', prevent community leadership developing naturally and impede community living.
Dr Ng: These grassroots organizations are necessary to bring racial and religious communities together, keep them together and play a role in crises.
Me: I guess this is the only point I agree with Dr Ng. My stand is that the RCs and CCCs should not be abolished. Dr Ng is right that these organizations have important roles to plays.
However WP is right too. RCs and CCCs are indeed the 'eyes and ears of the Government'. In fact, the day that the grassroots organizations can no longer function as 'eyes and ears of the Government' by listening to feedbacks and reflecting it to the govt is the day they should abolished, as their existence no longer serve any purposes.
However I think changes are needed on the way these organizations are being run. My view is that only Elected MPs and no one else should be one who should in charge of these grassroots organization. The reason is simply because only the elected MPs have the mandate from the residents to represent them in the parliament (hey parliament is also part of the govt ok, govt is not just the cabinet!).
However as far as I know this is currently not the case. (Please see this artice by Trasy for further insights on how RCs and CCCs work.) Hence I believe this situation should and must be corrected.
Phew... I have finally finished my half-baked analysis, pls feel free to leave comments if u have any!