As PAP Leaders Look Forward to Another Year of Outsize Earnings and Prepare to Raise Taxes on the Poorest, More Singaporean Families Go To Bed Hungry
PM Lee has said he expects the economy to grow by 3-5% this year but that will still only make the economy about 1% bigger than it was at the end of 2019. By way of contrast the US economy ended 2021 over 2% larger. Most of Singapore’s growth in both 2020 and 2021 came from manufacturing with all other sectors below the peak they reached in 2019. Manufacturing’s growth was of course driven almost wholly by external demand, meaning that it was the same old story of dependence on US growth, whether directly or indirectly.
Nothing is likely to change this year either. The PAP have made Singapore so dependent on foreign labour that the economy grinds to a halt without it. Thus LHL has reassured business that the doors will be open again to foreign workers, saying “We will also press on to bring in much needed migrant workers, and ensure international talents feel welcome and are able to complement Singaporeans”.
Hopefully among the foreign talents that must be welcomed due to the dearth of qualified Singaporeans, despite PAP’s claims that our education system is hugely superior to the rest of the developed world, there will not be too many of the recent rash of paedophiles that have attracted headlines in Singapore such as the American Mixed Martial Arts artist that was making videos for Contact Singapore while making videos of his own having sex with underage girls. The frequency of these cases might have something to do with the fact that while countries such as the UK, US and Australia require a Police Certificate containing details of all convictions (other than those that have been stepped-down after 30 or 35 years), MOM does not seem to make that a requirement. I googled criminal record checks for working in Singapore and the first thing I came across is a post from someone in the UK boasting that he got a job with a criminal record for violence because Singapore only requires a basic criminal record check and not the full disclosure other countries insist on. The post is headlined “A city of possibilities – Living and working in Singapore with a criminal record” which should really tell Singaporeans all they need to know about the PAP’s policies. Our Minister for Law. Shanmugam, normally so eloquent when it comes to telling other countries how to run their affairs and boasting about Singapore’s safety, is strangely silent on these cases and why they were welcomed into the country and not picked up at the visa application stage.
It is likely that PM Lee is expecting manufacturing to generate much of the expected 3-5% growth as it is has significantly outperformed the rest of the economy which remains depressed by the pandemic . Manufacturing has also been responsible for most of the productivity growth over the last five years, though much of this may be generated by MNC tax avoidance strategies and is neither taxed nor makes much impact on Singaporeans’ living standards. Ireland has the same strategy and its economy has massively outperformed Singapore’s (and the UK’s) over the last twenty years but its people have not benefited to anything like the same extent. If he is relying on manufacturing, then he may not be in luck as there is increasing evidence that Americans’ demand for manufactured goods, which generated the huge Asian export boom last year and snarled global supply chains on the back of US stimulus payments, is saturated and unlikely to expand much this year.
LHL is silent on how he expects the growth to be generated but by removing demand from the economy through a rise in the regressive GST he is not helping to reduce the economy’s (over)reliance on external demand. Most of the extra jobs needed to generate that growth will likely go to new foreign workers and managers who may not spend much in Singapore meaning that what economists call the multiplier effect of that spending will be limited.
The PM and his Government’s indifference to the welfare of Singaporeans is shown by the anecdotal evidence of increasing hardship for a significant section of the population. A few days ago a BBC article entitled, “How the high cost of living is hitting Singapore’s poor” quoted Nichol Ng, co founder of Food Bank Singapore, as saying:
“What we have seen when we make the door-to-door deliveries is that young families [with] both husband and wife working a part-time job or in the gig economy – these were the families that got impacted when Covid hit and all the part-time work dried up. It is not just the poorest 10% of the population who now need help: It has slowly crept to maybe 20% of the population including middle income families that might not even know where to get help in the first place.”
This is similar to findings by the LKY School of Public Policy in their study, “What people need in Singapore: A household budgets study” I wrote about this recently in “As More Singaporeans Go Hungry, PM’s Wife Offers Free Mouthwash”:
The Government’s stinginess while sitting on over $2.5 trillion of financial assets, which does not include the value of the land it owns and assets like Changi Airport Group, was put into stark contrast with the plight of many Singaporeans by the publicationrecently by the LKY School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) of a study of the minimum income needed for a basic (very) standard of living in Singapore for a single person household with one child (aged 2-6 years) and a two person household with two children (one aged 7-12 and the other 13-18). It calculated this as $3218 per month for the single person household with one child and $6426 for the two person household with two children.
Comparing this minimum income with the figures for work incomes (including Employer CPF contributions) per family member for employed households (Key Household Trends, 2020) the study found that the incomes of 30% of working Singapore households were below their assessed Minimum Income Standards. However only 87% of households have at least one working member. 8% of households are comprised solely of non-working members aged over 65 while the remaining 5% are also non-working but some at least of the members are under 65.
For those over 65, CPF savings and Government assistance are unlikely to be enough to meet the LKYSPP minimum income for the over-65s of $1,421 month meaning that a significant number of the elderly live in poverty. The elderly are forced to continue working into their 70s and 80s, though unlike Father of the Nation Lee Kuan Yew not many are able to draw combined salaries and pensions from state coffers of $5 million per year (till 2011) and continue “working” into their 90s. Government income supplements like WorkFare only cover a fraction of the shortfall. They also subsidise employers meaning that wages are probably lower than they would be in the absence of WIS (Workfare Income Supplement).
This year the situation is likely to get much worse with utility bills doubling and food prices rising at double digit rates. The unnecessary and regressive rise in GST will not help. As I said in “Indranee Rajah Misleads Parliament by Falsely Claiming Singaporeans Will Be Protected from the GST Hike for 5 Years. Should She Be Referred to the Committee of Privileges?”, the amount the Government will rebate back to middle and lower income Singaporeans will likely only be about 6% of the revenue raised, and the rebate has in any case been paid for previously through the Finance Minister’s misleading (some would say criminal) practice of claiming as spending money set aside in funds and endowments. There is no certainty that this money will ever be spent. Expect this year’s Budget to contain more fake assistance for lower income hard working Singaporeans and their families in the form of squirreling money away in “long term” funds while the level of reserves, along with how much the PM’s wife has earned over the years, remains a state secret.
While too many Singaporean families go to bed hungry, the only certainty is that LHL and his Ministers will continue to draw their outsize salaries for another year. However this will only be the tip of the iceberg as we are denied any information about Ministers’ spouses and relatives’ monopoly on the top jobs in the bloated state sector and also whether they profit from Government contracts like LKY’s wife did in the past as head of Lee & Lee. Unlike the UK where damaging information about Boris Johnson’s parties during lockdown surfaced, LHL’s corrupt control of the media, fear of the penalties that await whistleblowers and desire of the Parliamentary Opposition not to risk losing their seats by questioning the PM too closely, means that LHL and his wife can sleep soundly and continue to plan to pass the baton of power to the next generation of their family. Seemingly, despite increasing immiseration, Singaporeans are quite happy with this state of affairs.