berthahenson

ALL MPs should work harder

In News Reports, Politics, Society on February 4, 2013 at 1:05 am

So now you have ministers stumbling over themselves and each other to explain the 6.9m figure. It’s not a target, not a prediction, not a projection. It’s a planning parameter, a worst case scenario. In other words, we might not hit it. So please don’t worry. Thing is, if we don’t hit it, the White Paper makes it seems like we will not even make 1 to 2 per cent growth (which is really low going by the standards we’re used to). Is that really the case?

In any case, Parliament sits today and a whole bunch of people are speaking up, including all the opposition MPs. I hope they dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase and don’t all start lauding the White Paper for its comprehensiveness and then immediately go on to do the popular thing of talking about the people’s worries of living in a crowded space.

Can we hear some substantial views instead about how to keep Singapore going, an analysis of the assumptions the White Paper has made, and deeper look at particular parts of the paper?

Based on what I’ve read online and offline, some strands of thought have emerged. And yes, some are contradictory.
a. Is the G too fixated on GDP growth and have simply worked backwards to come up with the numbers? Does GDP growth equate to higher standard of living? Some have pointed to Nordic countries which have kept populations small while still achieving a quality life style.

b. Is the G paying enough attention to the baby front? Should we be devoting even more resources to have more babies?
Suggestions:
– Take a look at Singapore’s adoption processes and see if things can be made easier for couples who can afford it to adopt an “instant’’ Singaporean brought up in the Singapore way. And who will serve NS.
– Or put all our effort into raising the fertility rate, that is, really, really subsidize potential parents. (Then you have to deal with where the money is coming from – single taxpayers?)
– Convert long-staying foreign spouses to PR and then to citizens (TNP had a story last weekend about a poor Indonesian who has been rejected time and again even though she’s bringing up Singaporean children as a widow of Singaporean husband) Of course, some would make the point that these foreigners are not economically active, hence why give citizenship…? (That’s the problem when Singapore men marry down. Serious.)
– Slay the sacred cow of the ban on dual citizenships. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear even Singaporeans saying they will jump ship if things get too crowded. And some 200,000 already living abroad anyway. Plus there are long-staying foreigners here married to Singaporeans and think that giving up their citizenship marks a betrayal of their homeland. Usually the better-educated men. (That’s the problem when Singapore women marry up. Serious).

c. Cost of living versus standard of living is something that should be explained. Are they necessarily opposed to each other? An ST Forum Page writer raised this matter today and it’s worth elaborating that keeping cost down means somebody else is going to suffer. I mean, if taxi fares remained low, you wouldn’t have so many people wanting to be taxi drivers because they realise they can now make a decent living driving…But of course, I would STILL complain leh. Human nature.

d. Another point on cost of living. Dare we slay the sacred cow about “home ownership’’? Our home ownership push is so successful that every newly formed family expects to own a new home asap if not immediately – and then they scream about high prices. Thing is, is renting or leasing such a bad thing? If something is out of reach, then you settle for the next best before you can afford what you want. I am not talking about rental flats from the G which should only be for those who are in real dire straits. But renting from the rental market. Why should only foreigners be tenants? Can’t Singaporeans rent homes too? Or too paiseh?

e. Businesses are screaming about tightening of foreign labour in the immediate term and how they will have to close down or relocate. This is in contrast to the ordinary people’s views: They think already too many here. I guess some business people figure that this is “forced’’ restructuring of the economy into the higher value-added services sector although it wouldn’t be politic for any G man to say so. Then, there’s this question of productivity. It would be good if we have an update on whether the productivity incentives are bearing fruit – and whether more can be done to make it easier for businesses to access. Even the planners admit that 2 to 3 per cent growth is a stretched target – which begs the question of why it is in the paper in the first place. And what would change if the target isn’t met? We bring in more foreigners to achieve GDP growth or throw in even more incentives for baby-making?

f. All those plans for more rails, reclamation etc is nice. But one wonders how we are going to pay for them. So the projected GDP growth is enough to cover the cost of laying rail lines and building new homes? Or are we looking at the possibility of dipping into reserves on the premise that we’ll be investing in Singapore’s future and averting a future crisis? By the way, who’s going to sell us sand?

I’m sorry if I’m not very coherent. I guess the subject matter is so vast that to come up with something sharper is difficult. Or I’m just stupid. You know, I’m looking forward to hearing the MPs speak. A couple of opposition parties have already said their piece but not the Workers’ Party. I know Mr Low Thia Khiang is trying to project a moderate image and seems to expect to only serve as a “check’’ or co-driver. You can bet everyone will be watching the party’s performance in this regard. With so high a margin of victory in Punggol East, we expect a rigorous performance. No less. And from the PAP MPs too, if they don’t want to labour under the perception that they merely parrot the G’s line which is why the G needs a “check”. And from Nominated MPs as well given that they have picked because they have some level of expertise in some areas. Bring that expertise to the fore please.

Advertisements
  1. “- Convert long-staying foreign spouses to PR and then to citizens (TNP had a story last weekend about a poor Indonesian who has been rejected time and again even though she’s bringing up Singaporean children as a widow of Singaporean husband) Of course, some would make the point that these foreigners are not economically active, hence why give citizenship…? (That’s the problem when Singapore men marry down. Serious.)
    – Slay the sacred cow of the ban on dual citizenships. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear even Singaporeans saying they will jump ship if things get too crowded. And some 200,000 already living abroad anyway. Plus there are long-staying foreigners here married to Singaporeans and think that giving up their citizenship marks a betrayal of their homeland. Usually the better-educated men. (That’s the problem when Singapore women marry up. Serious).”

    True story. I know too many of the former, and my dad’s one of the latter, hurhur.

    If I may touch upon rental: I had to rent for four years before finally being able to qualify to buy a flat(very long story, that) and I really do think that while we should all look forward to one day getting a flat of our own, more people should move out and rent for a bit, to at least experience what the lifestyle of owning a home is like. Too many people think that they can get and run a home while living it up to the max of their capabilities, without need for trade-offs. It would be good for people to get a sense of how it’s like so that they’d be better prepared for the reality of the situation when they finally get a home. Also, moving out of comfort zone and renting really toughens a person up.

  2. Don’t worry about not being coherent. This is a multi-faceted issue and you’ve raised valid points that should be discussed & debated (whether in Parliament or outside).

    Personally, I’m disappointed that SG Govt seems more eager to tackle the symptoms but isn’t focus on finding out the root cause(s) of WHY Singaporeans are having less kids.

    We’ve been trying Baby Bonus programs since the 1990s. In each subsequent revision, it has been more money & more programs. But the results are still the same.

    All these $ incentives make having children an almost financial transaction between the government & its citizens. I fear it will only drive existing citizens to expect even more and would-be citizens to convert because of the financial incentives more than a true sense of wanting to belong.

    Meanwhile, as you have pointed out in an earlier blog, other Singaporeans are paying for these $ incentives either thru higher taxes or less benefits. Remember the Share-for-Citizens program of the 1990s? It started with distribution of SingTel shares…….will there be another GLC up for distribution in my lifetime?

    I feel citizens are being treated like a “factor-of-production” in the whole process. When the boss-man wants to slow down population growth, he uses (our tax) money to get it done. When he wants to speed it up, he again uses (our tax) money…..plus the threat of converting (mostly rich) foreigners.

    I agree “cost” – both cost-of-living and cost-of-doing-business – are prime concerns.

    As a parent, I already mentally accept that I have to spend on tuition & enrichment classes. But now I’m expected to contribute to my kids’ purchase of their apartments? Soon I’ll have to contribute to their kids’ future…..when will this end? I’m almost envious of Singapore Man of Leisure with his carefree life!

    As for businesses, lower foreign workers quota is the “squeaky wheel” right now. But it wasn’t too long ago that rentals & transportation / energy costs were the issues. Remember when JTC sold off its flatted industrial sites & rentals were re-adjusted to “competitive market rates”?

    But I suppose SBF is taking a leaf from the White Paper which equates growth in population as a key driver of GDP. Afterall, why focus on productivity increase (which takes a longer time to deliver results) when you can import foreigners for a quick fix?

  3. “Plus there are long-staying foreigners here married to Singaporeans and think that giving up their citizenship marks a betrayal of their homeland. Usually the better-educated men. (That’s the problem when Singapore women marry up. Serious).”

    Wow, any more gratuitous assumptions you’d like to make about us Highly Educated Foreign Husbands of Singaporean Women (or HEFHSW for short)? 🙂

    Let me switch positions here and explain things from an actual example I know of. So this Singaporean lady married this Australian ex-pat here; they lived here in Singapore for 14+ years, after which the husband gets this really good job at this firm in Sydney, and the entire family moves. While she’s there, the lady takes up an Australian citizenship; she didn’t foresee returning to Singapore, the citizenship made things simple there, and it was a sort of a no-brainer. In due course, there were marital problems; the couple finally decided to split after 20+ years. The lady is 45 or so, wants to return to Singapore to be closer to her aging folks. Unfortunately, she can’t anymore; with an Australian passport, and crucially as someone who has willfully given up her Singapore citizenship, ICA refuses to process her PR or even WP. I believe she had to appeal to an MP for her case to be processed.

    What has happened to a lady of Singaporean origin elsewhere can easily happen to anyone in an international relationship living away from their parents.

    Look, it’s rather simple: no matter how loving a relationship you’re in, you need to think of a few things for yourself, *separate* from your spouse’s, or your spouse’s country’s, needs. I’d argue that all ex-pats, no matter where they live or are from (to include Singaporeans who live elsewhere), will need to think of a “return” ticket, situations in the short or long-term future when you need to move closer to your roots, for family reasons. In fact, anecdata but one of the top reasons I see why many international couples move away from Singapore, despite staying here for years, is family: a parent suddenly being taken sick, the extended family suffering a tragedy and needing them, and so on. Or as I had just explained, in the event the marriage breaks down and so on.

    In short, it is extremely rational for foreign spouses to want to hold on to their “return ticket”, so to speak. Patriotism is all fine and dandy if you’re the emotional kind, but there are other overriding clear-eyed, logical reasons why people might not want to switch nationalities.

    • Sorry if you thought it was gratuitous. But sure I agree with you.
      I could have been in that same position of the Singapore lady. I was married
      to a foreigner too.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: