Thursday, 31 January 2013

Population White Paper was rejected in recent Punggol East by-election, should it go ahead?

An acid test was carried out in Punggol East by-election for the Population White Paper.  There is a clear result that voters there reject the Paper’s recommendations.  Should the PAP government implement the recommended policies or give it a second thought?  Will it be another misguided 20/20 foresight?   
The PAP government should think twice before implementing policies and measures in the Population White Paper.  This is because the Paper was rejected by voters in the recent Punggol East by-election directly or indirectly depending how you read it.

First, DPM Teo Chee Hean openly challenged and criticised Workers’ Party for its silence on key issues, namely foreign workers and population. WP chief Low Thia Khiang gave his reply in front of 8,000 rally participants on 23 January 2013 and Today newspaper had the following report:

<It is not true that the Workers’ Party (WP) has not taken a position on major issues; rather, it is the People’s Action Party Government that has turned a deaf ear to its views and suggestions, said party chief Low Thia Khiang as he hit out at Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean’s charge that the WP “has avoided taking a stand” on national concerns.
 In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Teo, the PAP’s First Assistant Secretary-General, said the WP had stayed silent on important issues such as “population or foreign workers where tough trade-offs are needed”.
 At the WP’s final rally yesterday, Mr Low pointed out that he had spoken on the foreign manpower issue during the Manpower Ministry’s Committee of Supply debate last year. He had called for the tightening of the Dependency Ratio Ceilings for foreign workers to be industry-specific so as to minimise the fallout for small-and-medium enterprises in sectors that fewer Singaporeans want to work in.
 The WP had also devoted a chapter in its 2011 party manifesto to population and immigration, Mr Low said, reiterating his party’s stand that immigration policies should be aimed at improving the lot of Singaporeans.>

And now majority of voters in Punggol East say NO to the PAP.  Punggol East may be just a single constituency but at least it is representing the desire of many Singaporeans who are not happy with the population and foreign workers policies. 

In fact, when you look at the points raised by the PAP candidates Dr Koh Poh Koon and the supporting and last minute policies announcements by the government, one can conclude that the PAP is bringing the Paper to voters in advance.  These policies include property cooling measures, new MRT lines, more marriage and family subsidies and leave for husband, elderly care etc.

Three pillars and three values

From his campaign, Dr Koh might have access to the Population White Paper before many of us. He talked about his three values: Hope, Family and Action in his first rally.  

In the white paper, you will find three pillars for a sustainable population: Hearts, Hopes and Home.  Comparing to Dr Koh’s “action, hope and family”, it looks similar.  Perhaps, this is the message the PAP wants to bring to voters before releasing the white paper. If Dr Koh won the by-election, the PAP can then claim some recognition and acknowledgement from the by-election. Unfortunately, it failed. Not to forget the person chairing the press conference for the release of white paper is no other than Teo Chee Hean.

If we look back at the debates and issues raised in the by-election, many of them are covered in the white paper:

Chapter 2 Sustaining a core Singaporean population

Marriage and parenthood policies: improved and enhanced packages for married couples and for husbands were announced.  We also saw better housing policies for married persons.   

Chapter 3 Creating Good Opportunities for Singaporeans

“Creating opportunities and good jobs for our people” was questioned in opposition rallies and campaign.

“Helping businesses restructure and move up the value-chain” was another topic criticised by the oppositions.   

“Helping low-wage workers and older workers” was also raised by the oppositions. The present framework is not working and needs change.

“Bringing Singaporeans home” is an effort of Contact Singapore but it is not getting desired result.

Chapter 5 A High Quality Living Environment

What is “best place to live”?  There is no more mention of Swiss standard of living.

During the by-election campaign, the PAP government announced several new and important transport, housing, and health care changes.    

Many of the key points and suggestions in the Population White Paper were brought forward to hopefully improve the winning chances of Dr Koh.  However, it did not materialise.   

Implementation of white paper against people’s wishes   

Now the white paper is out.  Punggol East voters had rejected it but the PAP still wants to implement it. (The PAP still controls 80 of 87 parliament seats).

Should the PAP review and improve the white paper or just goes ahead without considering the voters’ decision?  How many more times can the PAP ignore the wishes of Singaporeans?  

Perhaps, they want to wait until 2016 General Election to make some changes and say “I am sorry” again.  Will the sorry work in favour of the PAP in 2016?

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