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OPINION | The entitled establishment, tone-deaf politicians, trading influence for cash and other stories in review

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"Has the Government lost sight of where the common man or woman stands on things like housing, taxes and wages?" — Ghui, OPINION

This week, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong underlined that building resilience comes at a price, as he fleshed out Singapore’s Budget for 2023, whose theme is “Moving Forward in a New Era.” While he acknowledged that many Singaporeans are feeling the pinch of the higher living costs, he was keen to remind Singaporeans that it was “not fiscally sustainable to rely so heavily on government support year after year to cope with inflation.”

To be fair to Mr Wong, he does have a point. The Government cannot cushion the entire country from inflation and some Singaporeans do have a tendency to believe that the Government should provide all things. Yet, it might be worthwhile for the Government to reflect upon why some citizens have come to expect the Government to be almost demi-God-like in reach. In some ways, the People’s Action Party (PAP) led Government has, in the past, consistently given the impression that it will invincibly provide all in exchange for majority vote share and intolerance to dissent.

Perhaps, Mr Wong publicly acknowledging the limitations of the Government’s ability to cushion Singaporeans from all the effects of rising global prices, can act as a wake-up call for Singaporeans to recalibrate their expectations. This recalibration, however, can also lead to Singaporeans realising that they are not beholden to vote for the PAP in the next general election. Rather, it could lead to the electorate becoming more mature and voting for the best candidate on merit (be it PAP or otherwise) as opposed to assuming that the PAP knows and does best.

Credit where credit is due, the PAP does provide some semblance of support and Mr Wong highlighted that the additional support in the form of an additional $3 billion to the Assurance Package, which now totals $9.6 billion, as well as the Enhanced GST Voucher scheme, will help the majority of households to offset additional Goods and Services Tax (GST) expenses for five to ten years. He also discussed the various bonuses, payments, and additional support that Singaporeans may expect in the coming year.

However, has Mr Wong considered that handouts are short-term in nature as they do not empower Singaporeans as a whole? While helpful and definitely necessary in some areas, it might be much more worthwhile in the long run to empower Singaporeans to take pride in their work to provide themselves with a decent quality of life without depending on handouts. For example, the Worker’s Party (WP) has long mooted for there to be a minimum wage in Singapore. In this way, people can maintain a decent living without having to depend on handouts from the Government. Calculated at $1,300, this is also relatively affordable for employers in building a sustainable business.

Yet, the Government has resolutely refused to implement this, insisting that Workfare and vouchers are good enough. But, if people could work and afford to live a basic life, we wouldn’t need so many of these vouchers and handouts, would we?

Added to this is the Government’s resolute insistence on pressing ahead with the GST hikes despite numerous requests from the WP to delay this at a time of escalating costs. If the Government delayed this by a bit, perhaps, we wouldn’t need to rely on the Government support that Mr Wong is cautioning against.

He is right that people need to be more empowered within themselves. But at the same time, the Government can also support its people to be more empowered by creating opportunities for them to be so empowered instead of just throwing money for short-term gain?

It is absolutely not the job of any Government to baby its people. However, it is absolutely its job to help ensure that there exists a level playing field for people to be self-sufficient and this includes ensuring that taxes and wages remain fair while the price of putting a roof over one’s head remains affordable.

Speaking of inflation, it might be a good time to segway into ex Nominated Member of Parliament, Calvin Cheng’s rather astonishing admonishment to food stalls that only take cash. Perhaps Mr Cheng is unaware that not every one earns enough to qualify for a credit card and that this emphasis on credit cards is elitist in nature. Has Mr Cheng paused to consider that there is also a surcharge levied on outlets to process credit card payments?

With increased prices of raw materials and rents, perhaps stall owners just can’t afford to pay extra surcharges. Besides, shouldn’t a shopkeeper or stallholder have the right to take whatever payment he or she chooses? If the customer doesn’t like it, we can go elsewhere and vote with our pockets. If enough people stop frequenting a place, the shop will naturally change its policies. Why the need to name and shame? It certainly is extremely entitled of Mr Cheng, a self-professed public figure to encourage online hate on our already hardpressed hawkers.

In other news of those within the establishment who appear tone-deaf, is the MP for Macpherson SMC, Tin Pei Ling. Ms Tin recently got mired in a firestorm of controversy over her appointment as director of public affairs and policy work at Grab Singapore. In Ms Tin’s case, Netizens on social media went to town on “conflict of interests” and “integrity” saying that there was no way she could be true to Grab and her constituents at the same time. This week, some sort of compromise seems to have been reached. Ms Tin can still work for Grab while being an MP but albeit as the hail-riding company’s lower-profile director of corporate development.

But while this does show the power of the masses, it still hasn’t solved the problem of trust. At the end of the day, MPs have access to Government figures and power brokers that mere mortals do not have. Will Grab have an unfair advantage because they have Ms Tin? And, if so, is this fair? Plus, should MPs be able to leverage their connections for financial gain?

While I appreciate that this may not necessarily be what Ms Tin is trying to do, perhaps the best way to do away with these kinds of questions is to just prevent serving MPs from having another career. After all, all elected MPs are well remunerated and besides, isn’t being an MP busy enough?

Looking at the past 50 years, the PAP has actually done a more than decent job. But with changing demographics and economics, is it able to evolve in a way that can continue to capture the trust of its citizens? Has the Government lost sight of where the common man or woman stands on things like housing, taxes and wages?

Perhaps, it is wise to close with this comment from a netizen who says that he or she “will vote against PAP until they realize housing is not for investment

“I will vote against PAP until they realize housing is not for investment” — Singaporean shares reasons for not voting the ruling party


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