Heng Doesn’t Give Any Good Reasons Why the Government Are So Desperate to Rush This Election
Lee Kuan Yew and his son Hsien Loong have never been less than utterly ruthless in crushing any threat to their rule or opportunistically taking full advantage of any crisis. Even though my saintly father always seemed surprised by the depths of viciousness to which the PAP leadership would sink, no one, particularly an economist, would be surprised by their behaviour which is entirely rational when the continuing ability to pay themselves billions of dollars paid out of public funds are at stake for them and their families.
Furthermore allowing Singaporeans to believe that their Government and its members have to provide any kind of accountability for their mistakes and transparency over their actions might lead to the discovery of embarrassing skeletons and secrets that they would rather stay buried, not least about the state of the reserves and the value of the assets that the Government owns. Ong Teng Cheong tried to find out what they were but was famously rebuffed with the response that it would take 50 man years. Like the famous Schleswig-Holstein question, the value of the Government’s assets is probably something that only three people in Singapore ever knew. One was Lee Kuan Yew, who is dead, the second is his son (in the original quote from Lord Palmerston the second person had gone mad) and the third may be Heng Swee Keat, who has forgotten what the figure is. Keeping things murky has undoubted benefits as in the famous quote from Khaw Boon Wan used against the Workers Party but surely equally applicable to his Government, “Where the water is murky, it’s easier to fish. Opacity creates opportunity for crooks to make money.” Singaporeans should think about that phrase particularly in relation to the Government’s deliberate and repeated stonewalling of any attempts to find out what the PM’s wife is paid.
So not surprisingly my old Cambridge colleague Heng Swee Keat, Seatwarmer-in-Waiting and a man LKY described as the best Parliamentary Private Secretary he ever had (though Heng’s workload must have been extremely light as LKY confessed that despite a salary and pension of about $5 million p.a. his in-tray was usually empty), said in an interview yesterday with state broadcaster Channel News Asia (CNA) that the election should be called as soon as possible, probably by July:
The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead.”
If as Heng says, “It is not a set of issues that we deal with over the next six to nine months or one year, but a set of issues that we need to deal with over the next five and even 10 years for us to emerge stronger, for us to manage this crisis of a generation as best as we can” then this is all the more reason for not rushing this election so that Singaporeans have more time to consider the issues and whether an unfettered PM and Cabinet are the best people to deal with these challenges. An election held under the Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill will be even more unfree and unfair than Singapore’s elections are already. It is difficult to see how election rallies can be held and outreach is almost impossible with social distancing regulations whereas PAP MPs and Ministers benefit from even more media exposure on their state-owned platforms than normal and regularly flout rules like wearing masks in public. I am not alone in this. Most of the Opposition parties, including Reform Party, SDP and PSP, have called for the elections to be postponed. There is still no clarity on how the election rules will be modified. SInce the Elections Department is headed by the PM, it only serves his interests.
Lee Hsien Loong undoubtedly is hoping for a clean sweep of seats at the GE, including taking back Aljunied. Do not expect any gentlemanly playing by the rules. Like his father who used the British colonial administration in Operation Cold Store to seize power and lock up his opponents, LHL sees Covid as a similar historic opportunity to consolidate power for another generation and hand the succession to his wife or son. It would be a grave mistake for Singaporeans to allow him and his Government another blank cheque particularly as the Government’s handling of the Covid crisis has shown up its complacency and misplaced belief in its own infallibility. If Singapore faces enormous challenges in the years ahead, we need much more scrutiny and accountability not less.
In his interview, Heng said that Singapore’s financial position would be a lot weaker in the coming years as a result of the pandemic. We need clarity on what he means by this particularly as I have already pointed out that much of the extra spending will probably be just a transfer payment from one Government entity to another. His words are a clear indication that, despite the fact that his Government has been fairly parsimonious in its level of support for workers and households compared to other countries with supposedly much weaker fiscal positions than Singapore, taxes will be put up at the first available opportunity. And the tax rises will be regressive, such as raising the level of GST, so hitting poorer Singaporeans, while tax rates on the wealthy (of which they are their relatives are a large subset) at low to zero. I will be looking at this in my next blog. I will also be examining Heng’s claim that Singapore cannot afford to move away from its dependence on low productivity cheap foreign labour.
Government mistakes in handling Covid-19, partly due to incompetence but largely due to the way their economic model made Singapore uniquely vulnerable demand that Lee Hsien Loong and the PAP be subjected to more scrutiny and accountability not less. Once again the Government have shown that they put their own selfish material interests before that of the country. If these are the most serious challenges we have faced since independence we should not be handing a blank cheque to the same people who have put us in this predicament and ensured that they profited handsomely along the way. The PM and his Government have no answers to the challenges. Dp not be fooled by Heng’s self-serving calls for unity. Rather than giving PM Lee the clean sweep he is gambling on, If Singaporeans want accountability and answers they must deny the PAP a two-thirds majority.