The Natinal Day Rally this year after the 2011 General Elections is an opportunity for the PM to address the deep unhappiness among Singaporeans seen during the election campaign that ultimately resulted in a big swing in % of votes against the PAP. His speech outline changes to housing, foreign influx, education and healthcare - raise income ceiling for HDB purchase, increase university intake of Singaporeans, tighten the criteria for employment passes and lowering the age for subsided Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) from 65 to 40. While these are changes in the right direction, they are changes that are long overdue for problems that have frustrated Singaporeans for many years.
The income ceiling for HDB should have been raise years ago - this celing was kept as the prices of HDB flats rose and it wasn't even adjusted for inflation. The increase intake of Singaporeans in universities partially address the aspirations of Singaporeans who are capable of getting degrees but have been squeezed out of local universities - they end paying to get an overseas degree. Does it make sense to give scholarships and places to foreigners when our own citizens capable of getting degrees have to go overseas to get one? This shouldn't have happened in the first place. As for the tweaking of criteria for employment passes, after they do this, Singapore's foreign influx will remain high. This large influx on a per capita basis exceeds those of all countries we compete against and is the highest by a big margin compared with all other developed nations. The economic fundamentals that has led to such a big dependence on foreign workers remains - our low productivity and large number of industries dependent on cheap labor.
In recent days, instead of outlining a economic plan to reduce our dependence on foreign labor, the govt has fallen back to tell us not to be "negative" about foreigners and embrace them. It just shows how economically entrenched we are - the PAP took a short cut to keep the GDP growing by simply expanding the workforce with a high foreign influx, now they can't turn back and the dependency just grows with time. Worse still, they try to get us to accept this policy using disingenous reasons like our low birth rate in an attempt to push the blame on ordinary Singaporeans - the fact is the foreign influx is many times higher than what is needed to make up for the shortfall due to low fertility.We need a plan to grow this economy without depending on the foreign influx;. GDP growth achieved in recent years has been like empty calories from soft drinks, the side effects exceed the benefits causing a rising tide of dissatisfaction among Singaporeans.
We need bold leadership and a grand vision to reshape our future. We need a truly universal healthcare system in place not one that leaves out thousands of Singaporeans who do not have insurance or whose insurance coverage has been outstripped by rising medical costs. We need an education system that will level everyone starting from a high quality pre-school education to overcome the large inequality we have in our society. We need a truly world class public transport system that will elevate the quality of life of millions of Singaporeans not one that has to compromise quality with the need for high profits.
With a few tweaks, the PAP govt hopes to move this system along. 4 years from now the demand for change will be even greater. Merely softening the edges of policies and not making fundamental change will not get us very far. Perhaps, the people will be slightly less unhappy in the short term but they will remain unhappy nonetheless. 4 years from now they will feel that little has been done and by then those who had given the PAP a chance in the last GE may run out of patience waiting for real change.