It is about one year since MM Lee told us we are in a golden period (Jul 2007).
MM Lee has great powers of prediction but I think he forgot to tell us that period was to last only for one more month before the subprime crisis struck and sank the global economy. Last week when he said something about things getting worse, for unknown reasons, I suddenly felt a lot better. With things getting worse, I guess PM Lee have to step up to the plate to say how he intends to face the new and old challenges for our nation.
Encouraging Singaporeans to make more babies. Ha this one is really difficult. In the 80s, MM Lee was highly concerned that graduate moms were not producing enough babies and we were losing all those good quality genes. Priority was given to children of graduate mothers in school etc. Unfortunately people mistook his good intentions for some kind of evil discredited eugenics theory and reacted badly in the elections. The govt decided to reverse those policies....and thank goodness they did otherwise A* might have lost more than half their scholars who were reported to be living in HDB flats. Some remnants of these policies remain and I'll get to them a little later. Singaporeans don't want to have more children...why? why? why? Life is so good in this world class globalised city shouldn't we do our duty as humans to deliver more of mankind to this wonderful city? Are Singaporeans just selfish? They want to enjoy life unhindered by the burden of having children? ....Er how come the Malaysians and Europeans are having more children, is it because they are poorer than us? Is it true that the rich have money and the poor have babies?
While it is true that very poor nations have high fertility, there is no correlation between GDP and fertility rate once GDP gets above US$10,000. So why does our birth rate continue to decline, despite various govt measures:
Tax Incentives and baby bonus. Today Singaporeans get a $20,000 tax rebate if they have a 3rd child. This rebate has to be used over 5 years is not meant for the average Singaporean who does not pay so much in income tax. In the baby bonus scheme, the parents have to be rich enough to put money into an account to get matching funds from the govt. When I first saw it, I thought - "here we go again, govt giving money to high income earners who don't need the money to have more children"....but no lah... our govt has a compassionate heart, they doing this so that the average Singaporean will not burden himself further trying solve our nation's fertility problem. See how considerate our govt is to average and poor Singaporeans...they are shifting the burden of child bearing to the higher income. In being considerate and compassionate, our govt has created a challenge for itself by trying to solve the problem with less than half its child bearing resources. If we truly believe that everyone, regardless of his parents' income, has a fair chance of success we should encourage every to have child not just one segment of our society.
Going Swedish..... Recent reports in our papers hinted that we might be going Swedish to boost our birth rate:
"All parents get 13 months of leave, and continue to receive 80 per cent of their pay - with the cost borne by both the state and employers. On top of this, they can opt for another three months, though they will get just $40 a day during this time. " Straits Times Report Jul 08
"Oh my, if companies have to shoulder this burden, they will hire more FTs for sure!!" - Lucky Tan
I'm sure that if they implement what the Swedish have, our birth rate will shoot up. However, with such a large part of our workforce imported, our employers who can have ample supply of foreigners will not foot the bill of paid leave or loss of productivity resulting from the leave. What will happen is unemployment among Singaporeans (which is an unpublished statistic today) will simply shoot up from one unknown level to another unknown level. I'm really curious about how Swedish the govt will get and whether we will be selectively Swedish like the tax incentives given out to the higher income.
Narrowing the Income Gap. Yes, here we go again. The gap has grown when the economy boomed and will be growing even faster when the economy falters. It has been more than 10 years since the problem was first identified. So far the formula to addres this has been more worker retraining, blame the global competition for the gap and explain that imported labor has nothing to do with the gap. Maybe if we drag this problem long enough, people will start getting used to it so it won't be a problem. ....the resident sleeping at the bus interchange is now a PR, I don't even blink when I see Singaporeans digging the trash ...I getting used to that 70 year old cleaner at the hawker center. I guess its a matter of getting used to so I expect the PM to give the usual treatment to this problem - welfare is a dirty word, retraining and more retraining is the key.....no need for social safety net, no need to revise our tax structure, no need to improve labor laws to safeguard our low income workers.
I hope PM Lee will also take the opportunity to remind us of the dangers of Western influence such as support for human rights something our society will be much better off without. He will probably explain more about this idea of an inclusive society in which nobody should feel left behind....a far superior idea compared with the chaos of western style democracy. He will talk about this openness in our society which allows for a diversity of views to be expressed. You can express your diverse views via the ST Forum, Feedback Unit and at meet-the-people sessions. Your views will be taken into account along with the views of others, processed, categorised and fed into govt papers and eventually govt policies. Many Singaporeans must have expressed their views that the GST has to be increased, that there should be means testing for hospitals, that CPF Life is good for us, that massive increases in ministers' and top civil servant's pay will be good for Singapore. See how well your views are taken into account in the formulation of major policies in this inclusive society. I really encourage you to meet and share your thoughts with your MP at meet-the-people sessions....say what you want and feel included in our society. I'm sure our PM will talk about how open our inclusive society is during the National Day Rally.