Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

The 2011 PAP Election Manifesto: Old Wine in Old Bottles?

Picture an open, half-empty bottle of wine lying on the table for the last 30 years.

An army buddy of mine, when asked what he thought of the PAP’s 2011 manifesto, without hesitation replied, “manifesto meh? So many problem, act like everything ok!” By any measure, this was a rather unflattering remark. So I pressed him further, “what is it specifically that makes you feel that way?”  What followed was a visceral, from-the-gut response that identified the PAP’s 2011 manifesto as a document of general motherhood statements and glossy photographs possibly chosen by a top-tier public relations company making the manifesto resemble a corporate IPO brochure rather than a call to ‘secure our future together’.  I decided to test my friend’s opinion and selected one of the manifesto’s aims for scrutiny.

PAP 2011 Manifesto Promise Number 2: Improve the lives of lower-income Singaporeans

The first thought that hit me when I read the PAP 2011 manifesto was how flimsy and hollow it was on details. Broadly speaking, the “details” on how the lower-income would be assisted were as follows: Enhance incomes through Workfare, help them own homes, support their children through bursaries, strengthen the safety net for the needy, and foster the spirit of volunteerism to help the lower-income. Clearly, there was absolutely nothing new there, so the claim of the manifesto containing nothing more than motherhood statements was not going to be easy to refute, to say nothing of how it was going to “secure our future together.”

So I tried a different tack. What did the 2006 PAP election manifesto say about the lower-income? Alas, another motherhood statement: Do more for lower-income Singaporeans. Specifically, redesign old jobs and upgrade workers’ skill so they can earn more, enhance social support for families so that workers’, particularly women, can go out and work, ensure children receive a good education, give them more help to buy homes, distribute Workfare bonus to encourage and reward work, build up Comcare.

Where was the data and information on how the PAP was going to do what they claimed either in 2006 or 2011?

I was initially a little more enthusiastic about the 2011 manifesto as it boasted 30 pages compared to the 2006 manifesto that hosted just seven. Upon closer inspection, I realised half the 2011 manifesto was in Malay (not Chinese or Tamil, both of which are recognised official languages as well). Perhaps the PAP is insecure about the Malay vote this time around. Even if it was, this was a very patronising way of reaching out to the Malay community I thought to myself.

Even so, the 2006 manifesto contained 15 pictures in all the 7 pages. But the 2011 manifesto hosted 25 pictures (some of which took up the more than half the real-estate in each page!) in 15 pages. Well, clearly there was not going to be anything else to milk out of the 2011 manifesto with regard to concrete plans on assisting lower-income Singaporeans.  Or was there? I decided to go to the horse’s mouth instead.

Petir is a People’s Action Party (PAP) magazine that is published once every two months. I make it a point to read articles in Petir and jot down notes not usually captured so starkly in the mainstream media. Page 16 of the Jan/Feb 2010 edition of Petir carried an article entitled, “Labour Market Policy: Issues and Challenges” by a Teng Su Ching. Some of the data contained within made for uneasy reading.  The article revealed that in 2007, six out of ten out of a cumulative total of 235,000 jobs went to foreigners. In 2008, that ratio was up to seven out of ten of a cumulative total of 221,600 jobs.

Another noteworthy revelation was the finding that the higher educated in Singapore were increasingly finding themselves out of work in Singapore. 13.1% were out of work in 1998, rising to 18.8% in 2003, and rising yet further to 24.7% in 2008. (In the subsequent issue of Petir, MP Josephine Teo sought to put this rising figures into perspective, citing the changing profile of the Singapore workforce, of which more than 50% comprised of PMETs in 2009).

But the sobering figures did not end there. Teng’s article also revealed that the number of workers aged 50 and older who were out of a job was also on the increase. 11.8% were out of work in 1998, a figure that rose to 17.5% in 2003, before peaking at 22.4% in 2008. In light of 30-year HDB loans, and the inability of CPF savings to fund the retirement for lower income Singaporeans in particular, I would have thought these figures ought to have shocked the PAP into overhauling its goals and objectives for the lower-income Singaporeans with a view to unveiling a comprehensive master plan for the 2011 election manifesto.

Well, it turns out that the 2011 manifesto is not really a document that tells Singaporeans how we are going to secure our future together, especially when juxtaposed against the rather worrying data presented in Teng’s article. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Lim Swee Say has since come out to say that the PAP’s 2011 election manifesto is a compass that charts the course for the country. Only a week earlier, after the release of the Workers’ Party manifesto, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng urged voters to “to drill down to the details as to what exactly (the Workers’ Party) mean by their specific recommendations.”

In setting out two different standards to assess party manifestos, the PAP has revealed itself to be guilty of shifting goalposts at best, and intellectual hypocrisy at worst. And by indulging in scare-mongering to cast aspersions on the WP manifesto, the PAP has shown itself willing to engage in needless politicking for its own existence, without proposing transparent solutions to issues and problems that have crept up on Singapore under the PAP’s watch.

Motherhood statements – to say nothing of glossy pictures and eye-catching headlines – are not new to the PAP. In 1984, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong revealed that Singapore would achieve the 1984 Swiss standard of living by the year 2000.  Sometime in 1995, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore had already achieved that objective. On the surface, DPM Lee was correct. In 1994, Singapore’s GNP was US$21,182, comparable to the Swiss GNP which stood at US$21,307. But substantively, it turned out the “Swiss standard of living” did not mean purchasing power parity of the Swiss. Nor was there an examination of the relationship between Singapore’s GNP or GDP with lower and middle-income Singaporeans.

In conclusion, the need to question the PAP on how it plans to deal with a whole range of 21st century problems affecting Singapore cannot be more pressing – cost of living, galloping HDB prices, integration of foreigners etc. – issues that have made the headlines over the last five years – all appear to have been met by a 2011 PAP election manifesto that does not differ in substance from the ones that have come before it. As far as the future of Singapore is concerned, the PAP’s 2011 election manifesto does nothing more than to reiterate the Workers’ Party conviction: Never has the need for a First World parliament to hold the PAP to higher standards of accountability and transparency, ever been so urgent.

Written by singapore 2025

22/04/2011 at 3:49 pm

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