Singapore’s main Opposition parties have risen to the occasion and quite conclusively laid to rest the image that the ruling party has always tried to portray them as – people who cannot be taken seriously. I think the performances or the postures of the Workers’ Party, the Progress Singapore Party and the Singapore Democratic Party during the current Covid-19 pandemic have been noteworthy.
The WP has been largely supportive of government’s support measures.
Secretary-general Pritam Singh asked if the measures in the various schemes would represent a “new normal” for Singapore, especially after the nine months that several schemes in the Resilience Budget covers.
“Will these schemes represent a new normal akin to a multi-year ‘New Deal’ to help Singaporeans cope and bounce back from economic hardship? For Singaporeans who will continue to see disruption and technology reducing their job prospects, can we expect continued support for them in the nine months after this package expires, particularly for training and wage support?” he asked.
“It will be appropriate and timely to have a thorough review into what constitutes a living wage for a Singaporean in such critical infrastructure occupations,” he said. “What about our army of cleaners, both local and foreign, and the local small- and medium-sized enterprises and cleaning companies that operate in this space?
“Singapore owes them a debt of gratitude in this difficult period, and it is time our workers who keep Singapore clean are paid far more respectable wages.”
The PSP said it supported government efforts to control Covid-19 but asked the government to provide help to Singaporeans and local businesses in a more timely and broad-based manner. It added: “Team PSP expresses our gratitude to all frontline healthcare workers who are fighting every day to keep all of Singapore safe.” Kudos.
The SDP spoke of government missteps in handling Covid-19, including its indecision over the wearing of masks and in allowing Malaysian workers to come into Singapore to work when the Malaysian government itself had imposed a lockdown and closed its borders.
Other than these “missteps”, the SDP supported measures to suspend classes in schools and to close workplaces for non-essential services. While such a drastic move will hit businesses and income earners hard, it is a necessary and an important step to take to fight the latest spread of Covid-19, the party said.
All have adopted the reasonable line of “now’s not the time to score points and confuse the public”. This was the same line taken by ex-ruling party MP Inderjit Singh, who has been on occasions critical of the government.
Writing in The Straits Times (Saturday May 16), the former PAP MP said: “The sooner we all realise that this is society’s issue, not just the government’s problem, the faster we can bring Covid-19 under control…So instead of blaming, it is important for us to learn from this experience to be better prepared for the future. It is our collective responsibility to protect Singaporeans now and in the future.”
Nonetheless, there will be many issues for all to chew on in the months ahead in the shadow of a General Election which has to be held by 14 April 2021, and which the government seems determined to hold under the cloud of the virus. Just to name a few: the plight of PMETs, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, the evergreen CPF withdrawal sums controversy, state news media monopoly and control, how the reserves have been managed and even the amount of reserves itself, and so on.
The three Opposition parties have objected to an increase of the GST and that will be a hot item in the GE. The PSP and the SDP said now – with Covid-19 threatening lives and livelihoods – is not the time.
The WP has long objected to the raising of the 7 per cent goods and services tax because of lack of information on why it is necessary.
It cited three reasons for saying No:
- the lack of clarity on long-term projected government income and spending;
- the lack of consideration of alternative revenue streams and whether there is scope for the reserves to better support and invest in Singaporeans;
- the lack in details on the effect of the future GST hike on low-income and middle-income Singaporeans and the government’s permanent GST offset packages.
Singaporeans can see clearly that we have Opposition parties who are not fly-by-night. One has already been in Parliament for many years. These are people who want to have a say in the way the country is being run.
Covid-19 has shown that the government can make serious mistakes as it has with the migrant workers dormitories. It is neither perfect nor exceptional anymore and has to be held accountable.
Clearly, #SGUnited means much more than, heaven forbids, #SG4GUnited.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.