Chair Sylvia Lim, members of the Central Executive Committee and colleagues,
It gives me great pleasure to speak to you at today’s WP Member’s Forum 2020. After the Parliamentary exchanges on jobs for Singaporeans earlier this month, I decided it was a good opportunity to speak today about why the public should vote for the Workers’ Party. In doing so, I also hope to share more details with members of the public about what the Workers’ Party brings to Singapore politics.
Before that, a reality check is always a good place to start. The Government has significant financial resources at its disposal to implement effective policies for our people. The PAP has also timed its policy tweaks to coincide with the political calendar, with more to come at Budget 2020. Let me give you a few examples.
From this month, about 60,000 members on the CPF Retirement Sum Scheme have seen an increase in their monthly pay-outs. My father is one of them. He received a letter a few days ago, stating that he would be receiving $856 instead of $711 a month. Of course, some Singaporeans wonder why the age cap for the scheme was not lowered from 95 to 90 years of age much much earlier, but that’s a story for another day.
Like my father, my mother is a member of the Merdeka generation. Some weeks back, she paid no cash to get her teeth checked and cleaned at the polyclinic although she had to draw down her Medisave balances. At the other end of the age spectrum, subsidies and qualifying income ceilings for infant care, pre-school and kindergarten programmes were also enhanced this month. Some 30,000 households stand to benefit.
On this note, I was informed by a resident in East Coast GRC just last month that the government engaged Rysense, a Singapore-based research organisation to conduct a door-to-door survey. The general thrust of the questions went like this, from a range of 1-10, how much do you trust the government, how much do you trust the President, and this is significant, and critically, do you think the Government is caring? At the end of the survey, a $10 NTUC voucher was given to the respondents.
I narrate these facts because traditionally, there has been a knee-jerk instinct from some Singaporeans to frame the PAP as an uncaring government. In view of the PAP’s shift to the left after GE 2011, that position is unlikely to sit with our fellow Singaporeans, many of whom acknowledge tweaks and improvements to some policies enacted by the Government. Referring to the PAP as uncaring so as to persuade some of our fellow Singaporeans to consider casting their vote for the WP will be self-defeating for us. The call instead has to be for a better balanced Parliament with elected opposition MPs serving as a realistic and meaningful check on the PAP, raising concerns of our citizens to Parliament, while at the same time building up public sector experience so as to be effective Parliamentarians and Town Councillors.
The WP is not in control of the national purse strings, purse strings which the PAP have chosen to loosen in this term of government with introduction of investment returns from Temasek inducted into the reserves formula from Budget 2016. That constitutional change was supported by the Workers’ Party. We decided that moving forward, the Government needed to commit greater expenditure for healthcare, infrastructure and our aging population. What the additional monies also do however, as we have seen, is give the PAP a significant amount of latitude to do what all political incumbents do – calibrate and maximize the impact of any policy for political success. So the question some of you hear during house visits from some Singaporeans, especially those who see politics as a transactional exercise is – what can the opposition do for me?
The direct answer is no opposition in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world can for example, pass Bills to introduce a minimum wage for low-income Singaporeans or directly ease cost of living burdens for the middle-class. An opposition also cannot release data and statistics on the number of PRs in the economy and what the Government’s track record been in ensuring that skills are transferred to Singaporeans over time and getting that $10,000 job.
The opposition’s role, in a democracy like Singapore or anywhere in world, is different – it is to make sure that the ruling party does not have a blank cheque to do whatever it wants. More NCMP seats will not perform the checking role to induce the PAP to change its political course. The opposition’s role is meaningful when voters elect an opposition with an elected mandate to speak for Singaporeans. An unelected opposition in Parliament cannot change the PAP. GE 2011 and the Government’s response to shift to the left proved that.
In October, last year in comments to CNN, the Prime Minister said that Singapore’s key test in the next decade or two is whether it has competent leadership that works for Singaporeans, rather than achieving the “right numerical balance” in Parliament. At last year’s member’s forum, I spoke of the Workers’ Party aiming to contest and win 1/3 of the parliamentary seats in the medium term.
The numerical balance that the Prime Minister dismisses, on the contrary, absolutely counts because the PAP cannot change the constitution at its pleasure unless it has more that 2/3 of the seats in Parliament, like it can today. So the right numerical balance is not just random number, it is an inherent checking mechanism in our parliamentary democracy against any ruling party that chooses to put its political interests first.
If it has less than 2/3 of the seats in Parliament, the PAP will have to rationally persuade Singaporeans, for example that a rotation of races for the Elected Presidency is an urgent necessity that cannot wait. From my conversation with many minority Singaporeans when the Elected Presidency was amended in this term of Government – particularly those from the Malay community – the demand for a Malay President was not a particularly pressing concern. Most were in fact more enthusiastic about Malay MPs taking up ministerial appointments in high-profile Ministries than the Elected Presidency. In my opinion, the urgency to amend the Elected Presidency was politically manufactured by the PAP. The real risk appeared to be Tan Cheng Bock’s potential participation in the last Presidential elections, and the election of a President who was unlikely to be the PAP’s preferred choice.
So the numerical balance in Parliament counts – a lot in fact. The one-third minority and two-third majorities are an inherent design features of our Constitution and by extension, our democracy. Democracy – a national value represented by one out of five shining stars in our national flag.
But we cannot control how the PAP choose to act politically or vouch for its political judgment. Should the PAP choose to do its worst, the Workers’ Party must focus on doing our best. Workers’ Party members are better off retaining our sights on our own political conduct, and to reflect and act with circumspection and thoughtfulness. The public may want an elected opposition in Parliament, but we have to earn our place and work hard both in our Town Councils and in Parliament to retain the confidence and support of our people. So we cannot just rest by performing our institutional role as a check and balance against the PAP by filing Parliamentary Questions no PAP MP dares to file – for example, questioning the Government on the Keppel corruption scandal or asking about the political pressures that led to the construction of the Bukit Panjang LRT and hundreds of other PQs filed over the years.
We must always strive for greater heights at the Town Council level to continue building the public’s confidence in alternate political leaders. The Aljunied-Hougang Town Council has performed well in this term of parliament. Under the leadership of Faisal Manap, Sylvia Lim and Png Eng Huat, and thanks to the tireless efforts of the AHTC staff, the Town Council has recorded an operating surplus in excess of $7m for this parliamentary term. We have decided to park around $1m of that to improve connectivity and amenities in the town including more linkways, drop-off points and amenities for residents. I am also proud of the AHTC staff because they have internalized the direction of the Town Council leadership and its town councillors by committing to serve all residents, regardless of which party our residents support.
To conclude, I believe the Workers’ Party has an important role to play in shaping how a responsible opposition party participates in Singapore politics. Focussing on the facts, not taking the PAP’s word as the gospel truth but pursuing answers that the PAP may seek to fudge or give a superficial answer to, and having a single-minded determination to improve the living environment of the community and homes of our residents.
For the upcoming general elections, we will field candidates that the public can envision to become competent MPs and Parliamentary backbenchers and who will manage their Town Councils well. The focus will be on quality candidates from a range of backgrounds and life experiences. It is my firm belief that they will do Singapore and our people proud, in Parliament and as elected Town Councillors. I ask the party members to work together as one to make them all succeed and to strengthen the Workers’ Party to better serve Singapore and Singaporeans. Chair Sylvia Lim and I look forward to taking your questions later during the Q&A.
Majulah Singapura and Berjaya WP!
19 January 2020