Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Income Inequality Motivates Singaporeans to Work Harder

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defended Singapore's income inequality in a Parliamentary reply yesterday (Feb 5) saying that it motivates Singaporeans to work harder:

 "Some degree of income inequality is natural in any economy. It gives people the motivation to strive to do their best and improve their lives." The scion of the powerful Lee family also refused to take set up a ministerial committee to address income inequality, saying that existing measures is sufficient and refused to acknowledge the danger of income inequality: "

A specific committee is not necessary since government ministries already seek to tackle these challenges in a concerted and coordinated effort."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Former PAP Elites Telling The Truth About The PAP

In a recent exclusive interview with DEALSTREETASIA, former People's Action Party Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh criticised the Committee for Future Economy (CFE) which was led by Minister Heng Swee Keat. The transcript of the interview was published on Monday (29 Jan).

The CFE was established in Dec 2015 at the behest of PM Lee to address the new economic challenges that Singapore faces. It is a high-powered committee made up of five Cabinet ministers and 25 other members from the private sector.

The committee is led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, with Minister of Trade and Industry S Iswaran as co-chairman. Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Minister in Prime Minister Office Chan Chun Sing are the other ministers. CFE is supposed to map out a strategy to transform Singapore by embracing innovation so as to become a digital economy.

However, at the interview, Mr Singh expressed his disappointment in Heng's committee.

Rehash of old ideas

"The CFE was something that everyone was really looking forward to. There was an expectation that if something came out, it would inspire us and show the government realised the changes needed for a future economy," Mr Singh said.

"When the report did come out, it was just many old initiatives being rehashed. So it was all about things being tried and tested, but with some fine-tuning. Nothing new came out of it, which was the biggest problem."

Mr Singh said that ideas like innovation and overseas expansion as the second wing of Singapore economy have already been discussed some 20 years ago and Heng's committee were "just rehashing things".

"They’re all the right things to do, but the only way to do it is if we change our approach," he added.

Mr Singh explained, "For instance, there’s lots of intellectual property (IP) in the universities and research institutes. How can we accelerate their commercialisation and entry into the market? Don’t make the transfer of technology so expensive or difficult."

"The CFE implementation team needs to explain how they’re going to go about fostering and implementing innovation. Currently, there are no great ideas," he added.

Chasing after new trends
He also criticises that Singapore economic planning model for many years was about focus on growth plays at the moment. "A group of smart civil servants sit down and review world trends, achieve a consensus on what Singapore needs to get involved in and then try to develop that industry cluster here," he observed.
"But the mistake we’re making is that we have got some very solid industry clusters that we’ve neglected. In the past, we had the semiconductor sector, but after 10-20 years, the government lost interest in it and felt we should shift our focus."

He said that the government should actually concentrate on deepening the skills and capabilities in each of the existing industry clusters and continue to run them as long as possible and innovate on them beyond cost, not just give up on them.

Using Belgium as an example, Mr Singh explained that it has been having a strong textile industry for a long time. Today, they’re still a major player in the world in textile manufacturing, automation, technology, all the parts of that value chain.

"Hopefully, the CFE understands this need for a different approach and really shows the nuts and bolts of how to build up innovation capacities and how we’re going to create the future economy," Mr Singh lamented.

The government is the bottleneck

Mr Singh also criticised the government for being the bottleneck for slowing Singapore's transformation towards the digital economy.

He said that Singapore is not changing fast enough in view of the disruption caused by technology and the effects of globalisation.

"You’re seeing massive disruption of traditional business models and changes coming from automation and robotics. A lot of the reports and research I’m reading indicates we’ve got to change more rapidly," he said.

"But the government is the bottleneck for this right now, because they believe in their past model of success and think this will continue to work."

The past model of success saw Singapore develop an MNC-driven economy but "today, there are many nations around the world who can provide the same kind of appeal for a lower cost and offer a greater availability of talent and a larger market. Our advantages are being eroded and we cannot depend on that anymore."

He went on to criticise the government for not supporting Singapore's SMEs, "We should have shifted gears 10-15 years ago and focused on supporting local enterprises that can be grown into large global corporates."

But the government was content with SMEs playing supporting roles for the MNCs and neglected to make them a focal point of local economic development.

"The whole bottleneck is the government’s economic strategy and if this doesn’t change, then it’s too late. By 2030, 50% of the jobs as we know now would be gone. And if we cannot create new jobs, then it’s not a viable situation," he warned.

"However, if we get the government to change their mindset and get the manpower and resources mobilised to execute the necessary changes, then we’re nimble enough to act as a centre for Asia. But the government has to first let go and not be the bottleneck."

Mr Singh is certainly a rare maverick among the PAP MPs. In 2013 when Parliament voted for the unpopular 6.9 million population white paper, Mr Singh "conveniently" excused himself from the chamber and avoided voting for it. If he was in the chamber, he must then vote "yes" together with the other PAP MPs as the party whip wasn't removed.

In the end, it was 77 vs 13, with the Parliament endorsing the 6.9 million population white paper. The endorsement triggered a first big public protest in Singapore at Hong Lim Park, which made worldwide news


Dystocia of Our Next Prime Minister

It is interesting to note that PAP could not decide on which current Minister is to take over LHL as the next Prime Minister after such a long while since 2015.

Well, Singaporeans have absolutely no say in the selection of our Prime Minister and the power of to appoint the next PM lies solely in the Cabinet.

However, PAP's Ministers cannot just ignore Public Opinion and popularity of their choice of PM-wannabe. But this should be the least of PAP's concern.

The remarks made by both PM LHL and GCT seems to suggest that there is no consensus on who is the best person to take over the leadership and position of Prime Minister. Would it make any difference if it is to be selected NOW as compared to a year later?

We all know there are just a few contenders left. Tan Chuan Jin has been literally kicked out of the race for Prime Ministership when he was just stuffed into the position of Speaker of Parliament. So it seems that in public consciousness, there are only 3 persons left in the race.

1) Chan Chun Seng
2) Ong Ye Kang
3) Heng Swee Kiat.

I think Heng Swee Kiat was made to commit political suicide when the PAP government decided to increase GST as he is principally in charge of the Finance Ministry. Whether or not PAP government really raise GST this year or next year or after next GE, Heng Swee Kiat is already dead meat. The bad public impression and feelings have already been invoked. As Finance Minister, HSK will be blamed for raising GST!

The announcement of "probable" GST increase right before the battle of Prime Ministership has been concluded smacks of an attempt to kick HSK out of the race for PM!

So now, the race left OYK and CCS. It is pretty obvious CCS is PM Lee's blue eye boy. But if PM Lee says they will need more time for his successor to be confirmed, then it bags the question. Did the PM just lose the support of the majority of his own Cabinet in the selection of the next PM?

As much as public sentiment isn't supportive of CCS, but I guess OYK is the worse choice for Singapore. In this new era, he is still singing the tune that it is best for Singapore to have one party rule!

I really wonder if he becomes the Prime Minister one day, will he use PAP's majority in parliament to amend and rape our Constitution again to mimic the China's Constitution to put PAP as the only legitimate Ruling Party, effectively installing One Party over Singapore? That's really a scary thought indeed!

Between the two, CCS and OYK, I would rather choose the lesser potential evil CCS. He may talk nonsense at times but at least he isn't going to be harmful to the Democratic Development of Singapore.

I hope this Dystocia of our next PM will end soon. It doesn't look good on PAP, LHL and the whole country when such succession plan has become a mystery shrouded in secrecy and under-current arm-wrestling between the contenders.

Arrogant, Slack and Lost Touch with the Ground - Goh Choon Kang

In his forum letter to Chinese newspaper Lian He Zao Bao, former PAP MP Goh Choon Kang criticised the current PAP administration as “arrogant, slack and lost touch with the ground”. The criticism was featured in a propaganda article by state media Straits Times earlier this week.

In his letter, the former PAP MP wrote in Mandarin (translated by Straits Times) poignantly pointing out the society’s inequality and government’s complacency:

“They lose touch with the masses even though they are in leading positions. They feel that their achievements today are based solely on their own capabilities and talent within the meritocracy implemented by society. They bask in their own successes, sing their own praises and no longer have the slightest empathy for the people, with the political parties fighting for power but unable to understand and sympathise with the public feeling.

The system becomes such that it is your own problem if you cannot keep up with the times or are left behind. As a result, many pressing issues do not get proper attention. For example, jobs being outsourced or becoming short-term hired labour because of globalisation, job losses, workers facing job instability, wage stagnation, uneven distribution and a widening gap between the rich and the poor…

Like mainstream political parties in other countries, the PAP may encounter issues of being too comfortable, of arrogance, slackness and losing touch with the grassroots because of its long-term rule, if it does not have sufficient awareness of potential problems or is unable to correct some possible problems in time.”

Just earlier this week, several academics published a book criticising Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as “less pivotal” when compared to his father Lee Kuan Yew:

“Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was a captain who led from the front, while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appears comfortable to let his colleagues do more of the talking when presenting major policies. I would not embed ‘Lee’ in the title because Lee Hsien Loong’s role and impact is less pivotal compared with Lee Kuan Yew’s.”

One of the editors even pointed out that unlike Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew did not hire friends as key appointment holders:

“Aside from Eddie Barker, Lee Kuan Yew and his team were not buddies. They were men who were at loggerheads about many things, but were united for a common purpose.”