The National Conversation started in a broad manner with some tweaks in education in the right direction. Even the radical idea of getting rid of the PSLE was discussed and general agreement that the MOE has to find ways to reduce stress level among parents and students. If there is one redeeming feature in the PAP system, it TV d ;is education. The PAP govt has been willing to spend on this area as an investment - however, in recent years gaps have opened up. Pre-school education quality has become extremely varied, a massive tuition industry draining resources (best experienced teachers) from the system and education has become a high stakes board game sorting students - focussing on selection and amplifying small difference among students. It is good that a frank open discussion about the problems with the system. I welcome the move to eliminate banding of secondary schools and the announcement to educate more students to university level (40%) from a below OECD average of 27%, so that more people have access to better education.
Having evolved the biggest income gap in the developed world, the PAP message now is even if your situation now is bad, your child will have a shot at a better life. Great if a poor parent has a child with an outlier IQ able to overcome the hurdles but not so good a low wage worker whose son gets streamed to normal technical because of poor pre-school, poor language skills and no financial ability to get tutoring. So the message to these people is wait another generation? Maybe your grandson will make it. When prosperity is not broadly shared, you can't elevate the quality of life of ordinary people. I think most Singaporeasn today understand this and they are waiting for National Conversation to boldly address this issue. But this is not where we are heading in this conversation:
Singaporeans 'accepting of foreigners': Participants of forum with PM Lee
PM Lee talks about population of 6M.
Lim Hng Kiang talks about need for foreigners to generate growth
Minister Tan claims that foreign influx is calibrated
Ex-MM Lee : Singapore cannot do with foreign talent
Foreigners can help anchor new sectors: Minister
Unless you have buried your head in the sand, you should be able to see that the PAP govt is trying to get Singaporeans to accept more foreigners. Without them, the PAP tells us, our economic growth will slow and we will be less competitive. The PAP govt will "calibrate" the numbers. When the govt talks about "calibrated" slower pace of growth it refers to the 34,000 foreign workers excluding domestic helpers in first 6 months of this year or 68,000 annualized. This is roughly double the workforce growth if we count Singaporean joining the workforce. It looks "calibrated" only if we compare with our own numbers in the past but it is still extremely high compared with any other developed country.
The MTI warns of slower growth without the inflow of foreigners. We know that expanding the workforce by importing labor is a sure way to generate economic growth - it is simple maths, the imported labor drives up demand for housing, medical care, attracts investments etc. We also know how such approaches of growing the economy will not lead to desired outcomes for ordinary Singaporeans. Tommy Koh and most economists have said that such imports have depressed wages[Link] - it is ultimately a transfer of wealth from the lower income to the rich in our society. Is the PAP govt going to do this at a time when we have the largest income gap among developed countries? There are certainly better ways to grow our economy such as moving up the technology ladder, innovation, higher productivity etc but the PAP govt seems determined to import more foreign labor to artificially ramp up the economy.
Even MP Tin Peh Ling has woken up, but the rest of govt is still living in the dark:
“In a way, Singapore has to go into ‘cold-turkey’ after years of allowing huge inflows of foreigners. Politics should be about having the courage to make the best decision at any given point in time, and act on it,”, Tin Peh Ling[Link]
Importing labor to generate economic growth has numerous deleterious effects that Singaporeans are all too familiar with - the relentless rise in cost of living as the demand for necessities like housing and medical care shoots up, the depression of income, and widening of our income gap.
I have been watching this episode involving a group of SMRT bus drivers requesting for help from the NTUC to revolve issues with pay and work load[Link]. Our bus drivers are the among the lowest paid if not the lowest paid bus drivers in the developed world. Bus drivers in Taiwan are paid about twice that of Singapore bus drivers[Link] - this was revealed in parliament by Josephine Teo, Minister of State for Transport. In the US, a bus driver is paid US$40-50K a year[Link], this is about 3-4 times what our bus drivers are paid and in Scandinavian countries it is even higher. This low income relative to the high cost of living(Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world [Link]) means workers such as these bus drivers face enormous financial strain and have difficulty with housing, medical care and retirement. It was recently announced that these drivers who make gross salary of about $1200 a month were given a salary increase of $225 but it turned out they were badly shortchanged because they were required to work 6 days a week instead 5 days a week.
However, if you look at the situation for bus drivers, there has been a shortage of drivers inn the last few years]Link]. The reason for this is obvious. The pay offered by SMRT is too low to attract drivers and the shortage should have driven up the pay of these drivers to a more reasonable level. The assertions that "few people want to drive buses" and "bus company have difficulty finding drivers" are just ridiculous. These ridiculous reasons are often told to the public to get them to accept a larger foreign influx. If you go to Germany, Australia and France, they can find drivers for their public buses even though their their populations are better educated (more holding university degrees). The truth is these companies can't recruit because they offer wages that are too low.
"SMRT said it has drivers from Singapore, China and Malaysia, but did not break down the figures.." - [Link]
The govt solution to this is to allow these companies to keep wages low and recruit from overseas. You can find easily find drivers from developing world countries who will accept these salaries because they come from countries where the cost of living is just a fraction of Singapore's - they can raise their families back home and go back to buy homes after working in Singapore. But we are not just talking about bus drivers but imported labor at all levels in our economy and this has driven wages as a component of GDP down and profits up. Right at the top are a small number people who are richly rewarded based on profits generated rather than actual work.
The unbalanced policies of the PAP has resulted in a 3rd world wage structure in our economy adversely affecting the lives of Singaporeans at all levels. The increase population density also resulted in a cost of living increase that made life tougher for everyone including young graduates:
HDB index Q3 at 96.7
Grad starting pay $2.5k
hdb/grad pay ratio = 39
HDB index Q3 at 198
Grad starting pay $3k
hdb/grad pay ratio = 66
The PAP in the National Conversation says it desires to pursue policies along the same direction to keep the GDP growing and its policies of the last 10 years were essentially correct. Looking further down, it is very clear that these policies will cause Singaporeans' quality of life to deteriorate further and undermine the ability Singaporeans to retire.
After pursuing policies that caused a large segment of the population to struggle from rising cost of living and depressed wages, PM Lee in a recent interview said:
“Singaporeans are not poor, but feel less well-off relative to others in society and that there is a relative sense that they should get an entitlement....
Singaporeans will get help, but the help is not something they are absolutely entitled to...”[Link]
There is no greater sense of entitlement than that among th e people whom we are supposed to be our leaders - they feel they are entitled to the highest salaries in the world for the same job . Yet PM Lee is saying those who have fallen on hard times due to our wage structure resulting from his policies have a sense of entitlement when they need a helping hand. What people want and need are decent wages. Singaporeans want to be paid fairly when they work. His disdainful view of Singaporeans who have suffered due to his policies and are not doing well "feel that they should get an entitlement" says a lot about what he thinks of ordinary Singaporeans and their struggles.