. "Think seriously about our future, contribute your ideas and work together to make it happen,"
PM Lee, National Day Rally 2012.
,.PM Lee invites us to contribute our ideas to the new committee headed by Heng Swee Kiat to engage Singaporeans on where the country should be in the future. Yes, another committee, another conversation and another round of ideas. There is no lack of ideas. That is not the problem. What is lacking is the political leadership and will to implement them.
Lets start with 6 ideas from the PAP Womens Wingn[Six proposals to turn S'poreans into babymakers] to arrest falling birth rates:
- Couples with children or who are expecting a child to be given priority to BTO or repossessed flats at mature estates near their parents
- Allow couples who choose to live with their parents to be eligible for the first-timers housing grant
- Give couples the option of renting a flat while waiting for BTO flat
AFFORDABLE AND GOOD-QUALITY PRE-SCHOOLS
- Stronger government intervention to create more accessible and standardised quality pre-school centres
PRO-FAMILY HR PRACTICES
- Encourage flexible work arrangements, including part-time work Tax relief for firms hiring part-time or relief employees
SHARED MATERNITY LEAVE
- Share four-month maternity leave with fathers. Two of the four to be leave for mothers; allow flexibility over who should take remaining two months’ leave
MEDICAL INSURANCE FOR NEWBORNS
- Include serious congenital and neonatal conditions in medical insurance
- Enhancement in Baby Bonus to be in the form of subsidised premiums for a “Baby Shield” insurance scheme to mitigate expenses
INCREASE IN SUPPORT FOR ASSISTED REPRODUCTION
- Increase subsidy for in-vitro fertilisation and allow eligibility for this subsidy in private sector
Although late, the announcement of efforts to revamp pre-school [Pre-school set for a shakeup]during the National Day rally is a welcome move. This issue has been discussed for years [Stark contrast between pre-school of the rich and poor] and fixing this is needed to necessary to keep afloat social mobility which the PAP often claims is a sufficient solution for income inequality. I don't buy this but the PAP govt should save this one redeeming aspect of its system which has been going downhill in the last decade before it declines further.
There is an important mindset switch required to improve fertility. We have to avoid schemes like HOPE that gives out incentives to low income groups to have smaller families. They should instead be provided with more aid to cope with larger families. In Sweden the basic principle of their programme to improve fertility is to give every woman the ability to have as many children as they want regardless of income by supplementing their financial resources. It is not clear if the PAP will come around to doing this in its effort to improve fertility.
In the PM's rally speech, he again spoke about an inclusive society highlighting "heart, hope and home".
"What is the next chapter of the Singapore story?" - PM Lee
But the speech falls short on how we can narrow the income gap, the highest in the developed world, that has polarized our nation. How can we be an inclusive society without tackling the most divisive force in our society - the growing gap between rich and poor?
"SINGAPORE will soon have six universities offering full-time degree programmes, giving 40 per cent of each school cohort a shot at university education right here at home by 2020.
That is up from the current cohort participation rate of 27 per cent. It translates to 16,000 undergraduate places yearly, up from this year's 13,000." -[Link]
Here is that statistics for countries in OECD for % of people having the equivalent of 4-yr college degrees[Source]:
A number of countries already have more than half its cohort attain degrees (based on 2009 figures) and our current 27% is well below the overage in OECD countries. South Korea, for example, has more than 60% attaining college degrees. But it is not just this low figure that is disturbing. Given our competitive education system and making our children go through such a stressful system, we only put 27% of Singaporeans through college when this figure can be higher and the PAP govt chose to give out thousands of scholarships to educate children of foreigners in our universities instead of children of Singaporeans. I don't think this is right. This policy does not serve the interests of Singaporeans. Singaporeans without degrees become disadvantaged when they have to compete with these foreigners given scholarships to study free in our universities.
The PM spent part of his speech berating Singaporeans for negative behavior towards foreigners:
He said Singaporeans cannot be "one-eyed dragons" - a Taiwanese idiom which means that you only see what you want to see - and we cannot afford to be xenophobic.The Prime Minister also pointed out foreign publications picking up on stories of anti-foreign sentiments in Singapore and how these reflect on us: "It speaks poorly of what sort of people we are, what sort of people we want to be."He emphasised on "heart", that we must "feel for our fellow human beings"..
I strongly believe that foreigners when they are allowed work here should be treated fairly. But the so-called anti-foreigner sentiment that our politicians keep highlighting is a result of PAP's own over-zealous policy to import foreigners in large numbers, Singaporeans had, in the past, been very graceful and welcoming of foreigners when the number was reasonable. I can't think of another nation of people who would behave more gracefully when its govt allows foreigners to form 40% of the population competing along side locals for jobs, housing and cars. The fact that some Singaporeans have reacted negatively is a reflection of how badly constructed the PAP's policy is. To now use terms such as "anti-foreigner" and "xenophobic" on Singaporeans is not only unfair - it shows the blindness of the PAP govt to the plight of ordinary Singaporeans who have suffered as a result of this policy. Calling Singaporeans "one-eye dragons" is very insulting especially when it comes from a govt oblivious to the sentiment and suffering on the ground - there are workers who have lost their jobs when employers hire foreigners to replace them, their are many PMETs unable to find good jobs when they are older due to structural unemployment because employers can now hire younger foreigner workers. How dare the PM talk about "heart" "feel for our fellow human being" when it comes to foreigners .......when he comes from a political party known for its harsh semi-authoritarian ways - in the past bankrupted and jailed people for speaking up for their fellow Singaporeans. We still remember JBJ. We remember Lim Hock Siew.
PM speaks about solutions for problems that should have been solved long time ago. The little tweaks and adjustments cannot reverse the direction our society and economy is headed. Ultimately, whatever is unsustainable, be it the rising income gap, rising cost of living, falling fertility rates, ...and the disconnect between the leadership and ordinary citizens...whatever it is that is unsustainable will come to an end. Whether the PAP get ahead of the curve and lead the change or continue to muddle along, change will come simply because we are on a trajectory that cannot last. There is no solution in his speech to close the biggest income gap in the developed world. There is nothing in his speech to alleviate Singaporeans' concerns on healthcare, retirement, housing and structural unemployment. If anything, his speech tells us the govt will drive along the same general direction...and the gap between what Singaporeans want and what his govt does will keep widening. 4 years from now, saying "sorry" is not going to work again.....and this govt will only have itself to blame because there ideas are all there...but there is just no political will to get it done.