Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh highlighted the people’s confusion over the way the Government handled the COVID-19 outbreak, in his parliamentary speech on the Fortitude Budget.
Mr Pritam said that the WP does not intend to publicly criticize the Government on how it handles the COVID-19 crisis in ways that would undermine the national effort, echoing his earlier remarks that the WP is committed to letting politics take a backseat so that Singapore could single-mindedly overcome the coronavirus challenge.
He, however, pointed out that the party has a duty to communicate the feelings of Singaporeans on the ground in Parliament given its position as constructive opposition.
Asserting that “Singaporeans have the right to expect a thorough review and accounting on the response to this public health crisis” and that this review could possibly take the form of a Commission of Inquiry, the Aljunied GRC MP set out some sentiments on the ground pertaining to the way the COVID situation was managed.
Mr Pritam said that there is a perception that the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis was not clear or decisive.
Alluding to the Government’s initial recommendations that Singaporeans should not wear masks if they are not sick, only for citizens to discover through a leaked recording that this directive was issued due to supply constraints of masks, Mr Pritam said:
“For example, there is a broadly accepted view that the public should have been told early and clearly, and not through illegal recordings behind closed doors for example, that universal masking would prove to be a challenge in view of supply constraints, requiring the Government to prioritize our healthcare and other essential workers.
“To this end, straight-talk – especially on Singapore’s limitations and shortcomings in managing the crisis – did not always define official government communication on COVID-19.”
The opposition leader also highlighted confusion on the ground over the “many piecemeal announcements, U-turns and positions that did not gel intuitively, like limiting the number of visits to parents and grandparents to two individuals when public transport safe distancing rules had already been lifted.”
Mr Pritam was referring to questions on the Government’s seemingly contradictory virus prevention measures, like allowing MRT trains to be crowded while barring people from gathering with relatives or friends.
Responding to such questions on Monday (8 June), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong urged members of the public to understand the spirit of COVID-19 regulations. Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry COVID-19 taskforce, went on to qualify public transport journeys as “transient risks” for coronavirus while claiming that social interactions “are of a different magnitude of risk all together.”
In his parliamentary speech, Mr Pritam highlighted other regulations that seem to clash – like one rule that bars certain beauty treatments that last over 30 minutes while another measure allows hair treatments to go on for hours. He said: “For some Singaporean businesses, at times, it felt as if no one in Government was taking ownership of how COVID-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted or understood on the ground.”
Mr Pritam spoke about how the Singapore Government seemed to resist requisitioning mask supply lines like other nations were doing and speculated that it could have made this tough call to maintain Singapore’s image as a reliable place where international corporations can do business.
Whatever the reason, the WP chief asserted that the Government should have engaged the public instead of leaving them in the dark about why it made certain decisions. Mr Pritam said, “…rather than getting the public to speculate about these decision-making trade-offs – such as whether the possible shortage of reagents to ramp up COVID-19 testing far more quickly was a problem – the public was largely left to infer positions that ought to have been unequivocally made by the Government.”
The parliamentarian went on to say that the coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on how reliant Singapore is on foreign sources for manpower and supplies. Urging online commentators to keep this in mind “when they speak ill or run down our neighbours,” Mr Pritam asked:
“Malaysia closed its borders before our circuit breaker, resulting in difficult adjustment for many Singapore companies – both public and private – reliant on foreign labour. Can we imagine the psychological impact on Singapore had Malaysia stopped food supplies like vegetables as well?”
Mr Pritam continued that the COVID pandemic has highlighted gaps in public crisis preparedness that weren’t there in the days of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations: “Public crisis preparedness – such as a lack of understanding of emergency terminology, like DORSCON – also revealed gaps that need to be plugged in future.
“A belated explanation of Singapore having raised its DORSCON level to orange in 2009 as a result of H1N1, ostensibly to temper panic-buying and a jolting of memories about the existence of a rice stockpile, could not overcome a distinct lack of understanding and preparedness about emergencies amongst many segments of the public.
“This is unlike the mind-set of many Merdeka and Pioneer Generation Singaporeans who would recall emergency preparedness such as water rationing exercises.”
Mr Pritam called on the Government to better engage Singaporeans and reintroduce public emergency preparedness for psychological resilience in the future. Calling on the Government to take stock of the entire economy – particularly at sectors that need greater self-sufficiency and buffer – he said that such a thorough review could perhaps even provide more job opportunities for Singaporeans.
He said: “Engaging more Singaporeans on the need to better compensate for, if not overcome our limitations in key areas, and reintroducing public emergency preparedness for psychological resilience has been exposed by the crisis and significant focus would need to be placed on this in future.
“To that end and critically, we must take stock of the entire economy and relook at sectors where greater self-sufficiency and buffer is required, especially essential jobs and services. Such a thorough review could potentially become a source of more job opportunities for Singaporeans, pegged at more respectable wage levels in some cases. I hope this is something the National Jobs Council can look at.”
Watch his full speech here:
WP Sec-Gen Pritam Singh Fortitude Budget speech covered the economy, the Government’s communication efforts during COVID-19 and engaging Singaporeans especially critics to envision better policymaking in future. Referring to DPM’s Heng Speech where it had been stated that Government could not “carry business forever” and that tough economic times were expected ahead, Mr Singh called for rebates and reliefs for businesses and companies that offered traineeships and opportunities for mid-career Singaporeans to learn new skills and embark on new careers.A major plank of his speech, Mr Singh noted the public’s perception that the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis had “certainly not included adjectives more common associated with the Singapore Government – such as clarity and decisiveness.” Providing examples, he added that the public were confused with many piecemeal announcements and U-turns. This lack of clarity was also felt by many Singaporean businesses, and many felt as if no one in Government was taking ownership of how COVID-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted or understood on the ground.Finally, seeing that COVID-19 crisis had resulted in many Singaporeans responding positively and volunteering to support those in need, Mr Singh called on the Government to work more closely with critics and NGOs for better policymaking, citing the lobbying of groups that had highlighted concerns about migrants workers in the past. He called for Government to open more avenues like Parliament for citizen engagement, greater data-sharing and the empowerment of institutions like think-tanks and the mainstream media as Singapore traversed the post COVID 19 volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.Read Pritam's full speech here https://www.wp.sg/framing-the-fortitude-budget-economy-engagement-and-empathy-by-pritam-singh/Vid Credit: CNA
Posted by The Workers' Party on Saturday, June 6, 2020