Disclaimer: RICE does not endorse or support any political party in Singapore.
Last night at 8 PM, we finally got some hot, intense, policy-on-policy action between 4 of our leading politicians. All it took was a global pandemic and a CB for the sparks to fly at long last.
Was it brief, awkward and unsatisfying? Perhaps so, but a nation reaching CPF-withdrawal age will take what it can get. Here are some of the highlights:
Mr. Francis Yuen cited the 400,000 foreigners employed in PMET jobs* and wants to ‘slow it down’. CSJ flat-out said: “We got to stop this foolishness where we continue to bring in foreign workers, especially foreign PMETs”—because they serve only to lower local wages for the benefit of companies profit margin. Only the WP’s Jamus Lim abstained, focusing instead on the GST.
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan countered their arguments point-by-point, but there was no stopping the piling on. The debate returned again and again to the PMET-foreigner issue in the second segment.
*MOM has since addressed some of these claims, which you can read here.
As an SME employee, I can safely surmise that most SMEs are getting a fair amount of help from the government. We can debate the nuts-and-bolts of whether Jamus’s Import-Export Bank is better than Vivian’s skills-focused approach, but there’s little real dissent on this issue.
Whether or not you agree with the PAP’s policy of ‘growing the pie so everyone can have a larger slice’, you should be impressed by Vivian Balakrishnan’s ability to pull these random stats from memory. If nothing else, our education system has triumphed in the art of turning men into Wikipedia servers.
The opposition candidates seem to share these concerns. WP’s Jamus emphasized that: “We don’t just want jobs, but we want good jobs which enable workers to work with dignity.” PSP’s Francis Yuen echoed this sentiment when he made a distinction between temporary jobs like “digital ambassadors” and the “lifelong careers” Singaporeans need.
It does raise the question: how many of these jobs are traineeships and internships? Are they anything more than a Keynesian stop-gap measure? Will there be high turnover for the 25,000 private-sector jobs when government funding runs dry?
Is the phrase tattooed unto the PAP member’s lower back during initiation ritual? Are they religiously obliged to say it at least 5 times a year like Catholics saying hail-marys? Their undying love for this cliche truly boggles the mind.
Our Foreign Minister did not really answer this question to anyone’s satisfaction. CSJ’s point was completely ignored, and he was saved by the bell before he had a chance to really tackle Jamus Lim’s thorny efficacy question.
First, there was the pre-debate selfie. Then, it was the affability and ease with which they addressed each other. They broadly agreed on most of the issues. Even when they did not, they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes, perhaps imagining what it would be like if politics had not made them star-crossed lovers …
Who’s right in the case? Here’s the Mar 29, 2019 report that Chee Soon Juan was referring to so you can decide for yourself: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/sporeans-must-remain-open-to-foreigners-says-heng
Income inequality is a problem. Social mobility is a problem. Vivian Balakrishnan making more money than your average uncle is not the real problem.
Bringing up cardboard aunties and Minister salaries in the same breath is the sort of shit you’d expect to see on a slow day in the ST comment section–below Peter Lim’s latest keyboard malfunction. Sure, it’s the symptom of a larger problem, but why turn a serious issue into a lame personal attack?
Say what you want about economists or the WP’s fairly limited ambitions, Jamus’ carte blanche was a really elegant way to avoid that old, boring, technocratic phrase: accountability.
It just goes to show: we’ve been really missing out all these years. Not all debates turn into ‘political theatre’, and an occasional trip to the theatre is anything but intellectually fruitless.
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