TL;DR – They covered a whole range of issues.
As the only opposition party in Parliament, the Workers’ Party (WP) plays an important role in voicing out alternative views and putting forth alternative policies. And that’s exactly what they did during the Budget Debate.
We had written about Mr Pritam Singh’s speech earlier, and here are some of the key points raised by WP MPs during this year’s Budget Debate.
Daniel Goh – women and ageing in Singapore
Dr Daniel Goh spoke about three key issues: gender income gap, issues with supporting caregivers, and the economic and health security of seniors.
Dr Goh highlighted that there is an income gap between genders. In particular, he pointed out the little recognition that are given by employers and the Government to the years women spent in service to the family and to the nation to bear and raise children. He reiterated the proposal of the SkillsFuture Mommy Awards to make reentry into the workforce for mothers less challenging that he made in 2017.
Dr Goh also urged the government to recognise the contributions made by full-time caregivers. He argued that if we recognise full-time caregiving of seniors as unpaid work, then it is not far-fetched to consider them as low-wage employees who need income supplement. He therefore urged that we provide income support to caregivers through the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS).
Lastly, Dr Goh advocated for better care for seniors. He pointed out that needy senior who live in 5-room flat get less from the Silver Support Scheme than a needy senior living in a 2-room flat. But one may be living in a bigger flat, but they are facing the same financial difficulties of meeting their everyday needs. As such, Dr Goh advocated that needy seniors should receive $750 a quarter regardless of the size of the HDB flat where they live. He also advocated for a more targeted approach to tackle dementia and mental well-being among seniors and the general population at the national level.
Read his full speech here.
Leon Perera – Singapore should be a hub for disruption
Mr Leon Perera highlighted that the world is seeing the emergence of disruptive industries using new technology or new business models like the sharing economy, industries that may reshape the economy – destroying old jobs and stodgy companies but also creating new ones.
Against this backdrop, Mr Perera suggested that Singapore can be relevant to this process of the unfolding of disruption in Asia in the following ways:
- as a hub for R&D and localization
- as a test-bed to trial new products
- as a management headquarters for regional companies
- as a manufacturing base for high-tech, high-value added exports
- as a service exports hub for things like analytics, professional and business services; and
- as a financing centre.
In particular, Mr Perera suggested that we champion two initiatives.
Firstly, Mr Perera suggested that we champion an ASEAN autonomous vehicles initiative, where Singapore could help to test-bed autonomous vehicles, pioneering the establishment and maintenance of refuelling stations as well as the associated regulatory framework. The financing for such an ASEAN-wide project could be raised in Singapore. The know-how and supply of parts and services for refuelling stations as well as manufacture of critical components for the vehicles could be undertaken in Singapore. This taps on Singapore’s core competences of design, project management and servicing of urban infrastructure,
Secondly, Mr Perera suggested that we champion an ASEAN urban solar panel initiative where Singapore test-beds new technologies for solar power generation in dense urban environments. We could pioneer new technologies and processes in manufacturing, deployment and maintenance of solar panels. Singapore could pioneer best-practices in the manufacture, deployment and maintenance of solar panels in dense urban environments in ASEAN’s largely tropical weather conditions. These could be used as a model for deployments in major cities across ASEAN.
Mr Perera also asked why the need to lower the tax exemption for start-ups now, from 100% on the first $100,000 to 75%? Is there evidence that we have passed a certain threshold in terms of our effort to cultivate a vibrant start-up landscape? He also asked why the Finance Minister did not mention the gig economy in his speech.
Read his full speech here.
Sylvia Lim – Inequality
Ms Sylvia Lim spoke at length about inequality and social mobility. She opined that it’s harder to break out of certain social classes now compared to the past. She felt that in order to get answers to these questions, it is important to do longitudinal studies to track the fate of families over time. She reminded us that in 2013, the government told Parliament it intends to do longitudinal studies. She asked what the government has been done since then.
Ms Lim also spoke about inequality of healthcare. She pointed out that the annual deductible of Medisheld Life rises when one passes 80 years old. She asked why is there a “everse discrimination for our oldest citizens”. She also asked whether the government studied the effect of full coverage of “as charged” private insurance policies on the behaviour of patients, and its implications. She asked whether there is inefficiency and a waste of expensive resources caused by such policies.
Read her full speech here.
Dennis Tan – Taking care of our elderly and challenges for maritime industry
Mr Dennis Tan pushed for singles to get the same Proximity Housing Grant (PHG) scheme as families. He highlighted that many singles end up taking a larger role in caregiving support than their married siblings who may be bogged down with caring for their children. He thinks that singles do not deserve a lesser grant than their married counterparts whether they are living near or with their elderly parents.
Mr Tan also asked that the Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) levy increase for a second FDW be exercised more equitably in favour of families needing two FDWs to look after elderly parents as well as doing housework. He also advocated for the government to exercise some flexibility in reducing the Singles Premium that senior singles have to pay for buying a new 2-room flexi flat.
Mr Tan moved on to talk about challenges to the maritime industry. He suggested that our eading shipyards should focus on developing new niche areas of ship and offshore building. While he agreed with the current push for innovation, building on autonomous system, robotics, data analytics as well as for digitalisation under the current Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, he highlighted that we must not forget those who may not be able to benefit from this development.
Mr Tan further suggested that SMEs of different specializations can be integrated to work together, develop products and pitch for bigger businesses and contracts internationally as a consortium, tapping on each other’s expertise and sharing the economies of scale.
Read his full speech here.
Low Thia Khiang – Global vision of Singapore
Mr Low highlighted the shifting of global economic weight to Asia and the emergence of new technologies. He pointed out that the heart of Global-Asia is China. While we had reaped a lot of benefits from the first-mover advantage of sharing the knowhow of economic development with China.
But, as China transforms, this knowhow is irrelevant. As such, Mr Low urged that we have to make ourselves useful again to this new Asian capitalism centred on China by fundamentally transforming our economy. This also means transforming our culture and human capital, as well as our diplomatic relationships with the economic powers and interpersonal friendships between national leaders and citizens.
However, Mr Low also cautioned that we should be wary of political ambitions of China as a Global-Asia superpower. He cautioned that if we are not careful and if we fail in our economic strategy to become a Global-Asia node, would become a pawn on the chess board of great power games in Southeast Asia.
Mr Low concluded that he appreciate the Government’s vision statements and the articulation of how Singapore should strategically position itself in the new era. He said:
“This is a forward-looking Budget to anchor Singapore firmly in the future and for the future.”
However, like Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Low expressed concerns about the announcement of the GST hike. Mr Low said:
“This (the announcement of the GST hike) has become a unnecessary distraction from the vision articulated in this Budget, and as a real distraction causing the Government to lose its focus in getting buy-in for the vision because it has to explain the future GST hike instead. Do not let this opportunity to lead Singapore with this vision go to waste.”
Read his full speech here.
An opposition that doesn’t just oppose for the sake of opposing
It seems like the WP doesn’t oppose everything that the Government says just for the sake of opposing. They aren’t afraid to publicly agree to some of the things that the Government put forth. Having said that, they are willing to voice out different perspectives and put forth alternative views, although they may not necessarily surface alternative solutions.
Whether we agree with those perspectives or proposals, it’s always healthy to have a contest of ideas.