The transcript is found here - every paragraph is numbered. I was looking specifically for how 2 issues will be addressed - the income gap under the segment on the economy and how the large foreign influx is suppose to benefit Singaporeans under the segment on immigration.
In para 15-30 (refer to transcript), he attempted to explain the immigration issues. He explained that immigration issues have surfaced around the world including in US where the society is relatively open:
- "Lessons for us:
a. Immigration and foreign talent are difficult issues everywhere
b. They pose very real political and social challenges
c. But if we can manage these, benefits are substantial" - Para 21 of transcript.
He also mentioned the key concerns of Singaporeans:
ii. Crowding – housing and transport
iii. Character of society
iv. Also want to be sure that Singaporeans are more valued than foreigners " - Para 15.
The examples he cited where people have concerns about immigration were countries many times the size of Singapore with low population densities. Yet the citizens find it hard to accept large number of immigrants. In the US, the number of foreign born workers (including those naturalised) is only 15%. The foreign workforce in Singapore is 30% not counting those who are newly converted citizens and PRs. The US is a big country with plenty of room to take in immigrants yet they have restricted the flow...... same with Australia. None of these countries have done it at the same scale as the PAP govt. No other govt except the New Zealand govt has been proactive in bring people into their country - New Zealand terribly is underpopulated with more sheep than people. Immigrants find their own way to US and Australia seeking out opportunities on their own. The Singapore govt has set up offices in many countries offering scholarships, jobs and assistance to settle in Singapore. Singapore is a very small island with limited land and housing. The issue with immigration has never been whether we should have immigration or not but the numbers. Singaporeans have always accepted immigrants in the past from Malaysia and Indonesia but the issue today is with the large numbers in the recent waves that strain our infrastructure. We have probably cross over the point where Singaporeans have net benefits from the influx. PM Lee kept talking about having immigrants to create jobs. We bring in so many that Singaporeans find it hard to get good jobs due to competition especially older Singaporeans who now face the serious problem of structural unemployment and under-employment as a result of the PAP's immigration policies. The PAP's immigration policy is pro-business. PM Lee talks about job creation but the real problem is wages. Bringing in foreign workers in such large numbers has driven down the wages of a large segment of the population resulting in the largest income gap among developed countries without the corresponding safety nets to mitigate the effects of poverty. In the past decade, we have seen the emergence of the "new poor" and a growing ultra-underclass that will result in serious social problems in the future.
.................."Basic principle: citizens come first....", para 31
In para 31 to 35, PM Lee tried to reassure Singaporeans that they come first and they will be protected. Looking at the PAP policies, it is hard for me to believe Singaporeans come first. Businesses come first. Remember the casinos (oops IR)? Many suggested that since the PAP govt claimed that main benefit of IRs is jobs for Singaporeans, they should have concrete targets for the % of Singaporean workers hired at the IRs. That is what the Hong Kong govt did for the Hong Kong Disneyland. For a business that was granted a special license to operate a business with such high margins and negative effects the society, the PAP govt could have secured greater benefits for Singaporeans but it refused to do so. At the end of the day, one the casinos owned by Malaysians will be making more than $1B a year, filipinos and mainland Chinese celebrate the large numbers of jobs for them and Singaporeans lose their shirts gambling there. So who came first in the govt's decision to allow the building of casinos? The IRs are just one example. Over the years, Singaporean workers' job security, retrenchment benefits, retirement and healthcare benefits etc have declined under the PAP govt while corporate profits as a % of GDP have climbed to new highs. Singaporeans don't come first. The PAP govt with the large network of companies to which it is linked has diversified its interests beyond that of ordinary Singaporeans.
- "Finally, we need immigrants to make up for our population shortfall
a. Our efforts to produce more Singaporean babies have not yielded results
b. Despite all our measures, last year we had fewer babies than 2008" - Para 27.
I've pointed out a number of times on this blog that the above logic is completely flawed. Singapore's workforce today was born in the 1960s to early 80s when the birthrate is higher and this period also include the baby boom years when birth rate was more than 3 per couple. We can only compensate low fertility rate today by importing babies or young kids not the large number adults brought into the workforce. The main reason for importing adults is to artificially expand our workforce to generate economic growth. Doing this will in fact cause more problems in the comng decades when this large workforce age - we will have a bigger ageing workforce issue down the road.
The entire speech misses one key issue - income inequality. PM Lee emphasised the importance of maintaining high economic growth but he did not tackle the problem of wealth distribution. More and more Singaporeans are left out and don't benefit from the growth in the economy. In fact they suffer from the price increases that occur during periods of economic growth and they don't see corresponding increase in their wages. Singapore had rapid growth in the 70s -80s and we had the number one workforce in the world during this period. It was reported recently that 20% of this group of elderly Singaporeans who contributed to the most rapid growth in our history live in poverty and will never be able to retire("Not So Golden Years For the Elderly in Singapore", Straits Times [Link]). With the huge income gap today, we can expect an even bigger % Singaporeans in our generation to face these problems in the future if nothing changes. What is the point of economic growth if it is not shared more equally? I'm not going to accept a system that will leave so many of my fellow Singaporeans living in poverty, unable to retire and working until an elderly age as our leaders pay themselves the highest salaries in the world. The PAP govt is not going to change this - the PM doesn't even talk about it during the ND rally.