PAP’s Tactics Against Sylvia Lim Follow A Familiar Pattern of Fake News and Distraction
Now that Parliament has passed the charade of fake accounting and sham spending that is the PAP’s excuse for a Budget, Singaporeans can look forward to the exciting prospect of as much as $300 in what the Government insultingly terms the SG Bonus. Do not let it be said that the PAP are ungrateful for the fact that, whatever anger you might express through a faceless avatar online, in two years time you will shuffle dutifully into the polling booth and put a cross next to the lightning symbol that LKY stole from the British Union of Fascists.
Never mind that it is only $700 million or maybe 2% of the real cash surplus. Never mind that once again there is no clarity on the reserves or on why so much of what passes for spending is just recycled into more unaccountable and opaque long term funds. This year’s Budget was no exception. Lawrence Wong deceitfully claimed that the whole of the unexpected surplus (on the Government’s own eccentric definition) of some $8 billion had been returned to Singaporeans. However $5 billion was put into a new Rail Infrastructure Fund to fund new MRT lines (like telling you that the Government has used your money to buy you a shiny new car but that it will not be ready for five or ten years and then you will be forced to share it with everyone who visits Singapore but does not pay tax) and $2 billion was for Eldershield subsidies (which again is unlikely to ever be spent).
I recognise that calling out the Government for squirelling away money while lying about the need to raise taxes is like whistling in the wind. When we (the Reform Party) proposed $6 billion of additional spending every year on basic items like child benefit and an old age pension, most people asked how we were going to pay for it as if they had not understood our previous explanation as to how this would only be a small proportion of the total surplus.
Most Singaporeans seem to like the idea that the Government tells us the money is sitting there accumulating interest and not being spent while they go without the basic social safety nets and universal health care that other citizens in advanced countries take for granted. We are all austerity masochists. For those suffering from an intelligence deficit (which nearly sixty years of Familee rule and PAP control of education and the media have worked hard to bring about) Cambridge Economics graduate Chan Chun Sing even helpfully explained that if you have a dollar and you spend it now you will not be able to spend that dollar in the future. We are even more trusting than the investors in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme, for whom Bernie had at least to produce statements showing their investments growing, even if it was at a remarkably stable rate with zero volatility.
We do not even require statements because we know that the PAP are an honest and good Government who can “ownself check ownself”. After all PM Lee always appoints the best people for the job who must by his definition of “meritocracy” be his relatives. As ordinary folks like us must by the same logic be of limited intelligence, since otherwise we would have risen to the top by now, we do not need to know what the returns on our reserves are. Neither do we need to know the remuneration of the PM’s wife whom he appointed to run one of our SWFs (Temasek) while he chairs the other (GIC). Those are not fit subjects for envious “lesser mortals” as Charles Chong so ably put it and our “natural aristocracy” should never have to answer to them.
Our Opposition seem to agree because as usual this Budget time the Workers Party did not ask any tough questions about the real surplus and some of the accounting fraud that goes on. Instead they asked questions on things like party wall problems, the Agricultural Productivity Fund (but not the lack of accounts for the National Productivity Fund which is mysteriously missing from the Government’s Statement of Assets and Liabilities), upgrading for HDB residents, concrete spalling and so on. These may be important questions. However the WP obviously shy away from crossing OB markers and are generally supportive or only very mildly critical of the Government. Sylvia Lim asked about what seems clear to me to be an endemic culture of corruption at Temasek and its associated companies and subsidiaries but not to call anyone to account and certainly not the PM’s wife, the manner of whose appointment and secret of whose remuneration clearly sets the tone for the low standards of accountability and corporate governance.
Given that their fear of what happened to my dad and that they might lose access to the all-important gravy train of Parliamentary tax-free salaries is always uppermost in WP MP’s minds, their performances in holding the Government to account could be characterised as “like being savaged by a dead sheep”, as the late Dennis Healey memorably described one of the late Geoffrey Howe’s attacks on him in the UK Parliament.
Governments in democratic countries can only dream of having an Opposition like the WP. Which makes it all the stranger that the Government should have got no less than five PAP Ministers to attack Sylvia Lim, merely for suggesting that the Government might have been thinking of raising GST in this Budget but then withdrawn the planned rise after adverse public reaction. Or not strange at all, because the PAP have used their total control of the media and of Parliament to turn the Budget debate on its head so that instead of being about the Government’s dishonest Budget presentation it has become one about Sylvia Lim’s lack of honesty and integrity. It has been extremely successful because, by distracting people using the kind of trolling tactics that their IB use every day on social media, they have made Singaporeans forget how much unnecessary revenue the Government is collecting and either hoarding or secretly squandering through ill-judged investments or worse.
For the record, I have asked again and again why the Government needs extra revenue, the last time after the PAP convention in November last year (“Hey Lee Hsien Loong, Where’s Our Money Dude?“). The PAP can hardly pretend that they are not immune to public pressure despite Goh Chok Tong’s famous utterance that the PAP would not back down after JBJ won the 1981 Anson by-election, “We have fought on principles and if the people of Anson have shown that they have a lower threshold of pain, so be it.” After the 2011 GE and swing against them, the Government reduced ministerial salaries by up to a third though they still remain outrageous. They have also slowed down the influx of foreign workers, though the population is still likely to hit 7 million by 2030.
In my last but one blog (“Will Heng Swee Keat Stop Lying About The Government’s Finances?“) I gave a list of questions that I would be asking if I was in Parliament. None of those questions are ever likely to be asked as long as WP are the only Opposition in Parliament. Probably the warnings that next time she will be referred to the Committee of Privileges, coupled with the state media’s reminder that my father was fined $28,000 for daring to question the judiciary’s independence, will convince Sylvia Lim that it is not worth the effort to try and hold the Government accountable, even if done in the mildest and most timid way possible. After all more aggressive interrogation might seriously damage her financial health. While Singaporeans may applaud the entertainment and ask their friends to pass the popcorn, my dad’s experience has shown they will disappear quickly if asked to reach into their own pockets. Not that Sylvia is likely to be any kind of hero anyway.