Delivered in Parliament on 31 August 2020
Mr Speaker sir, I would like to start by thanking the residents of Hougang for giving me the chance to serve them as their elected MP. God willing, I will certainly do my best to serve each and every constituent and to perform all my duties as their MP in these difficult and uncertain times our nation is facing.
Even as we are battling the crisis of a generation, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the opportunities that is before us today. I rise today to speak of seizing the opportunities for our politics, our social safety nets, our manpower policies, and our transport policies.
The importance of good politics
Mr Speaker, sir, 2020 is a watershed year in Singapore politics for many reasons.
We have been through a General Election that has many firsts in our political history: a GE with many restrictions and additions imposed on campaigning and the polling process including the first GE without physical rallies, a deeper focus on online campaigns, a much more vocal electorate willing and able to make their voices heard online and not letting the ruling party to impose its narrative on election issues.
It was notable that many voters rejected gutter politics and embraced the need for a diversity of viewpoints. The President talked about evolving politics in her speech, adding on to the discussion of good politics by her predecessor in his speech in the opening of the 13th Parliament.
Good politics must entail mutual respect between members of the ruling party and other parties, whether in Parliament or back in our constituencies.
I myself had some experience with petty and bad politics in this election which makes me wonder whether the ruling party has gone backwards in time in the way its campaign has been conducted in Hougang.
During the GE, two complaints were made to ELD about our election posters. Part of the first complaint included 13 allegations of my election posters being below the requisite height of 2.2m. With respect, my experienced volunteers were puzzled as they were all very sure that they had installed the posters at the right height. The complaints were made 2 days apart. After the first complaint, my volunteers inspected and made the necessary rectifications. 2 days later, a second complaint was made which comprised, among other things, a repeat of 12 of the 13 allegations made earlier. This was even more puzzling. During the election, one resident told me that she had witnessed the PAP team pulling down our posters from their original height. She showed me where they allegedly took place. I have no reason to doubt what she said.
Separately, in the middle of the campaign, the PAP team planted their flags in front of some of my banners effectively blocking a clean sighting of the contents of my banners. The PAP team also planted many flags around some of our Hougang coffeeshops.
Back in 2015, I remembered I had a much different experience contesting at Fengshan SMC with the honourable Ms Cheryl Chan. I didn’t have these negative experiences with Ms Chan. It was a fair and honourable fight, full credit to Ms Chan and her team.
Given what has happened, would that mean that the PAP should now also expect and allow WP to do likewise in constituencies where PAP are the incumbents? I should think not, lest a tit-for-tat culture manifest itself and create a divisive political culture that only hurts Singaporeans.
Instead, we in this House have a golden opportunity to evolve our politics positively. Even as we contest our ideas in this chamber, we can do so in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding, knowing that even if we differ in our ideas, we are in the end, one Singapore. I hope the ruling party can start to accept that.
Helping those affected by Covid
Mr Speaker, sir, 2020 is also the first year in our nation’s history where we had more than not just one Budget, but four Budgets.
While many businesses and individuals have received assistance through the above, times are still tough for many Singaporeans. Many have lost their jobs in the last few months.
Individuals that are still employed see the slow business and fear they will lose their jobs. For the self-employed, poor business conditions continue to put a strain on their financial situation. Jobseekers have difficulty securing jobs, be it the fresh graduate looking for their first job, or the middle-aged worker seeking to find a replacement position.
Many residents have sought help to appeal for assistance under the various schemes set up by the four Budgets after the GE eg Covid-19 grants and SIRS. Not all have succeeded as they fall foul of the criteria.
Many have been doing well until early this year, earning incomes as either employees or as self-employed. They have also been sensible with their financial commitments. However, many of them are now with considerably less income, and in some cases, zero income. Paying for the same financial commitments becomes an issue as they dig deep into their savings. They get into trouble if their savings are relatively limited. Selling their property may not be an option.
As a resident told me last week, unsubsidized childcare fees and even the cost of diapers and infant formula all add up to the pressure when one has no income.
While the Government has to draw a line when dispensing assistance, the challenge remains as to how to help more of such people in the sandwiched class, especially if the crisis is going to go on for longer.
While efforts at re-training may be helpful in the medium or long term, many still need help to tide them over until they find new jobs. They need the breathing room to pick themselves up to overcome the fall they have experienced. Can the present schemes be extended to help more of such people, especially if these difficult times are here to stay for some time?
Mr Speaker, sir, in Mandarin.
议长先生，今年是我国有史以来第一次通过 4 个预算。虽然许多 业者和国人从中得到了许多帮助，但是, 还是有许多国人面临困 境。很多人在最近几个月丢了工作，而还保有工作的国人则因为公司业务减少而担心会失业。在自雇人士方面，目前的情况给他们的财务状况带来压力。各阶层和年龄层的求职者都面临一职难
许多居民都向这 4 个预算下推行的冠状病毒 19 津贴和自雇人士收入补贴计划 （ SIRS）等援助措施寻求帮助，但是， 有的人却因为无法符合条件而没有办法获得帮助。这些居民中有许多直到今年年初，都在以员工或者自雇人士的身份赚取收入，也在财务承诺方面相当小心。但是，他们其中许多人现在的收入大大减少，有些人甚至是零收入。当他们的储蓄只能够维持几个月时，还要支付相同的财务承诺便成为了一个大问题。
Sir, in English again.
Re-looking our employment pass policies Sir, as retrenchment and unemployment increase, we must not be afraid to seize this opportunity to ask ourselves whether the Government should take greater steps to ensure Singaporeans are given a fair share in the workplace.
As the competition for scarce jobs heats up, relooking at our employment pass policies is necessary. I therefore welcome the announcement revising the minimum salary requirements for Employment Passes (EPs) and S-passes. However, are the new revised salary requirements sufficient to address the concerns of Singaporeans PMETs and other workers losing their places to EP and SP holders?
We have heard much anecdotal discussion, online or in the coffeeshops, about the notoriety of the finance or IT industry having a relatively higher numbers of foreign workers or how many managers have recruited people from their own countries.
By way of example, I know of a small to medium size insurance outfit, with a UK head office and an international ownership. It had established its Asian office in Singapore more than 10 years ago, dealing with largely Singaporean and Asian customers.
From the beginning, a large number of its employees were expatriates from its UK head office, who variously ran the office, and took charge of various business functions such as claims and underwriting. These expats were on expatriate packages. The people who ran the office or were heading the various business functions here were mid-levels executives, with qualifications and experiences comparable to their Singapore PMET counterparts.
In my view, there is no lack of local talent in Singapore who can run this outfit and its various business functions. However, the manpower situation in the company has not changed much till today.
I am perplexed to learn that businesses like this can continue to operate in Singapore for such a long time without making any serious effort to have or to increase the Singaporean component at its management and senior levels. Should we not challenge ourselves to take advantage of this opportunity to reexamine our assumptions behind employment and economic policies more holistically so as to better encourage or incentivise or if necessary, ensure that companies make a greater effort to engage a Singaporean core at different levels of their company?
Improving our public transport policy
Mr Speaker Sir, even as we deal with the pressing needs on Covid-19, there remains a need to relook at policy areas and ensure sustainability in the medium term. With lighter loads on our public transport system now, there is an opportunity to review our public transport policy to better serve Singaporeans.
Singaporeans are highly dependent on our public transport system as we seek to build a car-lite society. Our starting point must then be to put our commuters first over other stakeholders and be world-class leaders in areas such as reliability, affordability and quality, a point I made before in the previous term of Parliament.
However, the furore that has erupted over an announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on planned changes to certain bus services in Bukit Panjang has illustrated the underlying tension between what the authorities perceive as prudent fiscal spending and the proper provision of public transportation to our commuters.
The Minister for Transport has mentioned on social media the subsidies needed for maintaining the affected MRT and bus services. While I see the need to ensure a degree of sustainability of our public transport, without those subsidies to build the connectivity required for a car-lite society, how can Singapore achieve the goals to reduce the reliance on cars and properly connect Singaporeans to the places they want to go in a reasonable and efficient manner?
We should also not forget that Singaporeans have underwritten through their tax dollars the necessary improvements and expansion to our public transportation system.
Singaporeans should rightly expect that the public transportation system must serve the public good, without the need for profit-seeking behaviour after the improvements that Singaporeans have paid for and maintain that high level of performance.
We in the Workers’ Party will support Singaporeans in demanding the high standards they should expect for our public transport system. Can there be more buses servicing areas in need that are not yet connected by our MRTs? Is the Bus Contracting Model able to cater for sufficiently flexible deployment of bus services in growing estates?
As there look to be less short-term pains for our public transport, we must review the medium-term vision of our public transport system. Maintaining the sustainability of our public transportation system must not be viewed in isolation, line by line, but as a holistic policy objective to ensure the society at large is well-served. And if the Government’s position is that the taxpayers and commuters must contribute more to achieve this, it should provide detailed figures and arguments for better public debate and understanding so that the public can decide where they wish to draw the line.
Mr Speaker, sir, former US President John F. Kennedy famously said in his speeches that when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’, or ‘危机’ , represents both danger and opportunity. There is wisdom about a crisis yielding unique opportunities that we can seize. We must be aware of the danger but recognise the opportunities in this crisis, so that we do not just overcome the crisis, but truly emerge a Singapore we can all be proud of.