Today on 93.8Live, listeners were asked to call in to say what topics PM Lee should address during the National Day rally...I have provided the standard PAP model answers along with my own comments for each of the topics:
1. Why so many foreign talents? Are they really talents? Can we limit the number or implement Singaporeans-first policy?
The issue that cropped up most often among the callers was the Foreign Talent issue - about 70% of those who called in.
The PAP has standard answers for this question. Foreign talents help to keep the labor cost down. They take up jobs that Singaporeans do not want or don't have the skills for. Without them, businesses will go somewhere else in search of cheaper labor. We cannot implement Singaporeans-first policy because that will limit the flexibility of businesses to hire people. Imported labor keeps Singapore competive.
If you're not tired of listening to these standard answers, you can hear them again at the National Day rally when our PM speaks. At the end of the day, whether this policy is good or not good, it is how much it benefits the majority of Singaporeans who are workers rather than business owners. Before we go further lets put things into perspective - our foreign talent policy is not a normal one, it is a policy on steriods. The PAP govt carried the FT policy to its extreme with about 30% of our work force made up of foreigners higher than all developed nations. Such a high % makes us dependent on foreign labor and the policy irreversible because of this dependence.
Importing cheap foreign workers in such large numbers result in many distortions. We are told that it is necessary to get cheap labor to keep Singapore competitive. This is not true. Singapore is an expensive place to do business high rent, high utilities (2nd highest in the word), high cost of transport (ERP, COE) and high cost of various govt services. To keep the total cost of doing business contained, cheaper labor is imported to keep this component of cost down so that the rest of the cost can remain high. Much of the rented space is owned by the govt or its GLCs that benefit from the high rent. The distortion is quite incredible - a foodcourt where each stall can cost $8000 to rent per month and the income of cleaners there can be as low as $600/month. Very few countries suffer from such a huge rent-income differential (if you know, tell me).
This policy has hurt a large segment of the population. It has caused structural unemployment among older workers who find it hard to get a job because employers can always import younger workers. It has worsened the income gap and increased poverty in Singapore.
2. Is it possible to have a minimum wage?
The PAP standard answer for this is it will cause unemployment and cost of business to go up. Their standard alarmist answer is businesses will pack up and run away.
My view is the PAP has pursued policies that caused the income gap to balloon and a large segment of the Singaporean workforce to have such low wages that implementing a minimum wage will cause problems down the road. The PAP has created a situation that makes it hard to implement a minimum wage because we have an economy with so many low wage workers. Full explanation here.
3. What will the govt do for the old? What can the govt do for the poor? Safety nets?
The standard answer is govt cannot afford to take care of the poor, old and sick. The govt cannot afford safety nets. If it implements schemes to help people in need, it will have to resort to higher taxes. It is better to rely on philanthropy and charities (such as RenCi & NKF?) to take care of the underprivileged (Read PM Lee's speech on this idea here).
It is not true that taking care of the weakest in our society will result in higher taxation. For a start, taking care of the old and sick probably only requires our existing annual budget to be properly allocated to where it is needed most rather that other forms of spending such as grand buildings, rebranding campaigns and overspending in other areas. Talking about taxes what happened to the $5B surplus in 2007 from the GST increase that was meant to help the poor - maybe just doing what it says, the govt can go a long to solve these problems. The strange thing I observe is Singaporeans like to migrate to countries with higher taxes,minimum wages and more comphrensive safety nets. ....why?..
On Sunday I suggest you tune in to the live broadcast of the National Day Rally. Listen to what PM Lee has to say and think hard about the issues. As a citizen, it is your responsibility to do so because at the end of the day, you have to cast a vote to decide on your future and your children's future (not the best estate upgrading plan). You have to decide if the PAP govt has the right solutions for problems Singaporeans face or a better solution is possible. You have to decide if the PAP govt puts your interest first or does it put other interests above that of ordinary citizens. If PM Lee drowns us with the worthless standard answers that we have heard so many times, he won't be worth 1% of the $3+M we pay him every year.