Subsidies are not the way to solve the present healthcare crisis, Opposition politician Lina Chiam has stressed, noting that the Singapore’s future generations would then have to bear the cost.
In a rare blog post published on Tuesday (July 28), she said: “We cannot solve a healthcare crisis with subsidies. If the Covid-19 crisis continues for another year, we will pass on the cost to future generations.
“Neither can we close our borders because we depend heavily on international trade. This crisis taught us the importance of preparing for the future.”
She was sharing her views about how Singapore can cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic disruptions in the post. The Government has unveiled four budgets to help Singaporean families, workers and businesses cope with the current pandemic.
Mrs. Chiam, the wife of opposition legend Chiam See Tong, is a prominent Central Executive Committee (CEC) member of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP). She actively supported Mr Chiam over his decades-long political career before stepping into electoral politics herself in the 2011 General Election.
Although she lost the electoral contest, she was one of the best performing opposition candidates who could not win and was entitled to a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat. She accepted the post and drew wide respect for using her platform to speak up for ordinary Singaporeans in the 12th Parliament of Singapore.
Pointing out that the current crisis is more serious than challenges in the past, she recalled how Singapore dealt with the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008-2009 global recession.
The authorities depreciated the Singapore dollar, cut costs and raised efficiency to deal with the 1997 economic downturn and acted decisively to contain the fallout of the 2008-2009 recession within the financial sector.
In a post entitled ‘Change is necessary’ on her blog, chiamseetong.com, Mrs Chiam wrote: “The current crisis is more serious than previous ones. I recall the Asian financial crisis when the Thai baht crisis caused a domino effect on currencies in our region. We also had job losses.
“We depreciated the SGD to mitigate the loss of competitiveness. We cut costs and improved efficiency. For the next decade, Singapore became more competitive. Similarly, in the 2009 crisis, we were able to contain the spread of the subprime crisis to within the financial sector.”
Dwelling on bringing the importance of preparing for the future to the fore, she pointed out how the current crisis was accelerating digitalization, and even offered to help those who needed help to digitalize.
“For years, we urged Singaporeans to take care courses on e-commerce, and to go digital. This means businesses can no longer depend on physical locations for businesses.
“If you are selling food, you must be on an electronic channel. We are not young anymore. Even for us, we keep up to speed with delivery services. If you operate tuition centres, you must be able to deliver lessons online. If you need help to digitalize, write to me. I can link you up with volunteers.”
Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic is a ‘black swan event’ – a rare, unpredictable catastrophe – Mrs Chiam said that the crisis had shown how vital it was for businesses to have crisis management plans. She said:
“Of course, I understand this is a black swan event. Nobody can predict a crisis like that. Hence, business owners need a plan in times of crisis. Businesses with longevity have plan Bs. For those affected, Singapore will create second and third chances for most. In your new attempts, we need to strengthen our businesses.”
Mrs Chiam asserted that there was a need for a crisis management plan in politics as well. Pointing out that change was inevitable, the former NCMP asked whether Singapore would be protected when change occurred:
“We apply the same logic in politics. We need a plan B. Our economy, and our nation has seen success. But even the PAP knows change will come. Can we work together to protect Singapore when the eventual change comes? As leaders, we need to be responsible for Singaporeans.”
Expressing her worry over the economy, Mrs Chiam reiterated her goal to groom the next generation of leaders. She concluded her post by expressing confidence that Singapore would emerge from the current crisis and reiterating that her party would continue to serve Singapore to the best of its abilities.
“I worry for our economy. I am no longer young. My focus is to groom the next generation of leaders. We will get out of this crisis together, and hopefully soon enough. We will continue to serve Singapore in whatever capacity we can, together with our elected government, and other party leaders.”
In her first blog post, published just ten days before her latest message, Mrs Chiam called the current crisis an “economic plague” and said, “We have to be pragmatic. During our days in Parliament, Mr. Chiam and I (later as NCMP) also debated bread and butter issues. We cannot lie to Singaporeans that life will be a bed of roses, especially with Covid-19. I urge Singaporeans to move forward from the recent elections, work with the government to transform their businesses.”
Expressing concern that Singapore would be especially impacted by the economic downturn since it was a globalised economy, Mrs Chiam added, “My concern is that Singapore, being a globalised economy, will be impacted more than our counterparts in ASEAN. If you are a Malaysian business owner, you have a large enough domestic economy. If you have a farm, you are unlikely to starve.
“This does not apply to Singaporeans. We do not have a safety net like that, albeit we have a CPF system.”
Pointing out that other global concerns like the US-China trade war and the protectionist approach many nations were taking would hurt Singapore which depended on international trade, Mrs Chiam called on citizens to work together to uplift the nation. She wrote:
“You can be a powerful source of help for Singapore. Together, we can urge businesses to take up digital channels to resist the dampening economy. We can also take up courses to fit new job scopes. This can be done even as we urge the government to give us better preferential treatment in the employment market.
“We must align to minimal standards of social distancing, urge fellow citizens to put on masks. Singapore has a track record of defying odds, recall the independence from Malaysia, the setting up of our first generation armed forced, our struggle with Malayan communists. We are better than we think we are.”
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