Thursday, May 19, 2011
In the last part of the 1st video, PM Lee says they will relook at the policy tradeoffs including safety nets as long as it does not undermine work ethics and Tharman reiterated that with more technical language saying the changes in cabinet will result in a relook at policy "parameters". If you look at every minister that spoke in the video, you get a sense that they have realised the need to do things differently. GE 2011 did send a very strong signal to the PAP govt and it is wise for them not to miss it otherwise the electorate will send an even stronger signal in 2016. For most Singaporeans, it does not matter if they have a 2-party system or a 1-party system, what matters is a govt that delivers or try to deliver a better quality of life - they have never hesitated to give PAP dominant power in the past when their could see lives improving year after year.
A few general comments about the cabinet reshuffle. It looks like PAP ministers are versatile. Khaw for example can jump from being health minister to minister of national development in charge of housing. All the portfolio changes just show you that the technical expertise in each ministry lies with the permanent secretaries and the whole "army" of civil servants. Ng Eng Hen, who was a surgeon in his past life, is now defense minister helped by the experts in the SAF and DSTA - he just has to decide at the top level how "hawkish" we should be on defense matters.
For the PAP to find areas where things can change "safely" is actually not difficult given how "extreme" this govt has been in its policy making. A few examples of extremes - Singapore govt has the lowest healthcare expediture as a % of GDP compared with all other developed countries. While the govt scrutinise every drug and every procedure to find ways to cut subsidy and pass the burden to sick Singaporeans, Singapore spends more on defense than the two nearest neighbors combined and not too many questions are asked because the "Singapore govt is committed to defense"....it should also be more equally committed to helping Singaporeans who are burdened by healthcare costs. Another example of extreme is the COE system which led to Singapore having the most expensive cars in the world. It allocates cars purely on the ability of drivers to pay completely ignoring the needs of the people. In the past when the income gap was not so large, lower middle income families would still have a chance of car ownership. However, as the income gap rose, a larger mismatch between the needs and ability to pay emerged. The fall back was the public transport system which became for-profit entities when the govt privatise them - these entities always have to trade off between quality of service and profits. The more packed the trains and buses are in the morning the bigger their profits because commuters have no choice but to take them because cars are the most expensive in the world. A millionaire's son drives his car for dates but lower middle income families with grand-parents to look after struggle to own one.
Another extreme is the govt's fixation with corporate tax cuts and cuts in high income brackets. One of the policy moves I cannot understand is the implementation of means testing that hurt the middle class financially folowed by a tax rebate and tax cut that the middle class probably don't really need. While everyone welcomes some kind of income tax cut, it is the high medical cost for uninsured parents and healthcare cost without class "C" subsidy for those who have fallen through the cracks that keep many middleclass breadwinners awake at night.
There are many things for the PAP govt to fix, adjust & change and they have to look at policy making with a new pair of eyes. The populace can understand trade-offs and don't expect everything to be done for only short term benefit or 'self-benefit'. Why do you think the Aljunied people voted for the WP despite the millions in upgrading dangled before them? Intelligent Singaporeans have been asking what is the long term nation benefit of the excessive foreign influx for native Singaporeans - surely the benefits cannot be so elusive and difficult to comprehend that nobody can understand except the PAP govt. On the other hand, the long term negative effects of the income gap and high housing cost on Singaporeans is very clear but the PAP govt was less than determined to address the situation. Mah Bow Tan, who will be a great asset to any profit-making company, was still explaining why those prices are affordable days before Singaporeans went to the polls.
The govt has to respond more flexibly given effects of globalisation. Govts around the world have been voted out or forced out in authoritarian states because they failed to adjust and change fast enough. The PAP policies appeared to be exacerbating the effects of globalisation such as the income gap,, importing cheap labor and not doing enough to stop the speculative inflows into our housing market. I hope the sweeping changes in the cabinet comes with sweeping changes in the way the PAP thinks and operate.
Posting Time 12:14 PM
Posted by Lucky Tan