A Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog or How the RP Has Already Changed Government Policy
Recently on Talking Point* I mentioned SM Goh’s comments on 22nd February in Marine Parade and how government policy had apparently been changed to reflect what the Reform Party had been saying since 2009. SM Goh talked about the need to rely on raising Singaporeans’ productivity and incomes rather than the import of cheap foreign labour. He said that companies that could not cope with the higher cost of labour by learning to use it more productively would have to close shop and set up in countries where labour was cheaper.
Now, in a speech** yesterday, Senior Minister Goh has been repeating what he said on the 22nd. To quote,
“Singapore has to make changes to the way it grows its economy as the model of relying on cheap and plentiful foreign workers to boost output is not sustainable, “
and then later in the same speech:
“I would like to reiterate here that the government is determined to reduce the dependency on foreign labour and raise the productivity and incomes of Singaporeans”.
The troubling thing is that the government has shamelessly claimed the credit for this U-turn in policy rather than recognizing the Reform Party’s role in drawing attention to failed policies and pushing for change. It seems that a whole decade of policy mistakes (of growing GDP by boosting inputs of cheap foreign labour rather than by learning to use our own workforce more productively) can be wiped out in an instant as though it never happened. In the interval of course our population has grown by over 25% with effects that are obvious to everyone (crowded public transport, an HDB housing price bubble, stagnant real incomes, etc.).
In my response to the President’s Address as long ago as May 2009, I said that,
“…despite Singapore’s high growth rates between 2003 and 2007 this boom largely passed ordinary Singaporeans by. Instead it was evidenced by the growing numbers of foreign workers (which put pressure on the incomes of lower-skilled Singaporeans and led to falling productivity)…”
However this is not the first time that I have drawn attention to how SM Goh and the government have quietly adopted what the RP have been advocating. On the 25th January 2010, in our press release entitled, “Work Smarter, Not Harder” ***, I said that:
“The Reform Party refers to the ST report dated 25th January 2010, “Work smarter, harder to sustain growth: SM” as well as the ST Online report of the same date, “Focus on productivity: PM”. We are delighted that the government has adopted one of the core messages of the Reform Party: that boosting economic growth artificially through a massive influx of foreign workers has done very little to improve the welfare of ordinary Singaporeans.”
I went on to say that:
“The Reform Party hails SM Goh’s statement. It marks a watershed in Singapore whereby the public can see an opposition party highlighting problems, scrutinizing issues and putting forward policies that are then adopted by the government. This shows how credible the Reform Party is that our message is taken up by the government and repeated almost word for word.”
And then in our response to the Economic Strategies Committee report dated 2nd February 2010****, I said that:
“…we were delighted that one of our core messages had been taken up by the Government. This was that economic growth had to be driven by productivity growth and not as has happened over the last ten years largely through expansion of the foreign labour force and that we had to improve our dismal productivity record, We have been saying for over a year that the Government’s target should be focusing on raising the majority of Singaporeans’ living standards rather than just maximizing economic growth.”
I finished by saying that:
“It is also good that the government and the ESC have come round to the Reform Party’s view that their primary goal is to raise the living standards of Singaporeans. However there must be serious doubts about the government’s ability to deliver given that the track record in this regard of the last ten years has been so poor and whether anything more than lip service is being paid to weaning the economy off its dependence on cheap foreign labour.”
SM Goh’s recent speech and the Finance Minister’s statement in Budget 2011 that his goal was to raise productivity and the median incomes of Singaporeans by 30% over the next ten years have done nothing to reduce these doubts.
However what it does illustrate is the fact that, far from the Reform Party talking nonsense, as has been suggested by the government in the past about the Opposition in general, we are actually at the forefront of pointing out mistakes with current policies and driving changes in those policies to the benefit of Singaporeans. While we may still be far away after this election from our ultimate goal of forming the government, the electorate can see how much effect we are having already. This can only increase once we are in Parliament.
If it were ever possible to justify multi-million dollar salaries for our ministers, it becomes much harder when this government appears to be taking its policy cues from the Reform Party in so many areas.
Another example is Ms. Indranee Rajah’s call in Parliament on 2nd March 2011***** for “‘a more targeted and focused strategy’ to help working, low-income families who typically live in rental flats and have two or more children.” Strangely this seems to mimic the Reform Party’s election pledge to provide child benefit or income support for low-income or working families with children****** and follows my statement on the same Talking Point show* that the Reform Party would introduce an income support scheme and help with child care for this group.
The message is clear- Vote Reform in the coming election if you want to see government policies that focus on improving the incomes and welfare of Singaporeans!