Madam Deputy Speaker,
I rise in support of the motion, thanking the President for her Address.
The President’s Address points to the urgent need to refresh our Social Compact. This includes helping Singaporeans with more job support, strengthening the social safety nets, broadening the definition of meritocracy, and promoting a strong sense of shared identity where every Singaporean feels that they have a stake in our country.
These are noble aspirations which the PSP strongly supports. However, to refresh or redefine our Social Compact, PSP thinks we need to first rethink fundamentally some of the more important policies on jobs, public housing, education, and work, and ultimately, what it means to be a Singaporean. PSP has vigorously debated the Government on some these issues, especially jobs and public housing, in the past three years.
Hazel Poa and I have demonstrated what PSP as a responsible opposition party will do to allow the voices of Singaporeans be heard. Among many other actions, we have asked more than 300 Parliamentary Questions, tabled two full motions on jobs and public housing, and three adjournment motions questioning Vaccination Differentiated Measures, Public Expenditures on the Sports Hub and SPH Media Trust, and the SERS at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3. We have proposed serious alternative policies as a responsible opposition party does. But regrettably, the Government does not generally seem to be prepared to consider our proposals seriously. The DPM’s message yesterday confirms this one more time.
Based on our debates with the Ministers, we believe that the policy changes advanced by the Government are inadequate to address the problems on hand for example, the job security of Singaporeans and the surging HDB prices.
Notwithstanding that, PSP is committed to working with the Government and all political parties as One Singapore Team to empower our people, renew our social compact, and secure a brighter future for ourselves and our children.
From my very first speech as an NCMP in this Parliament, I have raised the concerns of Singaporeans who believe that the current socio-economic policies are not working for them.
Many Singaporeans are very concerned that the benefits of job growth and economic growth are mainly accruing to the foreign workforce in Singapore, rather than Singaporean workers, even though our workers are well-educated, well-skilled, and hardworking.
We raised the widespread anxiety experienced by Singaporeans regarding their jobs and livelihoods during the debate on our foreign talent policy in September 2021. Regrettably, during that debate, instead of answering our questions directly and allow the debate to deal with the more substantial issues, the Government tried to paint the PSP as a xenophobic, nativist, and even racist political party.
We categorically reject such allegations. The PSP has always maintained that for Singapore to achieve greater economic success, we will always need the right foreign talent to complement our Singaporean Core. We welcome the right foreign talent.
However, when the quality, number and concentration of work pass holders affect the job security of the Singaporeans, we must speak out. Singapore is a global city-state. Unlike the Americans in New York or the Chinese in Shanghai, our countrymen have nowhere else to go if they cannot afford the cost of living or are displaced from their PMET jobs in Singapore. There is no hinterland for these Singaporeans to retreat to. They will have to leave Singapore and go to another country. We must treasure our citizens and cannot let this happen.
That is why, over the past three years, I have continued to ask so many questions and focused so many of my speeches on our foreign manpower policy, the wage and employment situation of Singaporeans, and workplace discrimination.
Some of the specific policies that we have proposed in the last Session of this Parliament include an EP levy of $1,200 per month, increasing the qualifying salaries for EPs and SPs in stages over three years to $10,000 and $4,500 respectively, and diversity quotas that limit the total percentage of a company’s workforce from any given nationality.
These are rational and constructive policy alternatives to level the playing field for our Singaporeans. They are not meant to close our doors to foreign talents or targeted at any nationality or race. We have merely sought to advance the interests of our Singaporean workers and give voice to their persistent anxieties and concerns over our immigration policy and their livelihoods. It is disingenuous and dangerous for the Government to misconstrue our concerns as being motivated by nativism, xenophobia, and racism.
In this Session of Parliament, let us live up to the President’s exhortation last week for us to have constructive, respectful, and responsible political debates that are based on facts and sound analysis. At the end of the day, we are all doing our best for Singaporeans, and a Parliament that is a fair arena for all Parties is one that will further earn the respect of its People.
In the last Session of Parliament, MOM has introduced many policy initiatives under the leadership of Minister Dr Tan See Leng, such as the new workplace fairness legislation, COMPASS, and increase in EP Minimum Qualifying Salaries. However, the many exemptions granted undermine the effectiveness of these policies as the MOM is given large discretion on how to enforce these policies.
To be effective in restoring the balance in our local job market and levelling the playing field for Singaporeans, PSP thinks that we need policies with hard targets like the ones PSP has proposed.
We hope that the Government will continue to strengthen support for unemployed and underemployed workers, and raise the wages of low-income Singaporeans at a faster pace. PSP has proposed a minimum living wage to do this. We also look forward to contributing to the debate on the new workplace fairness law next year.
We have also pushed for improvement in the financial security of Singaporeans, which is most affected by the affordability and accessibility of public housing. We had a substantive debate on this issue for some 12 hours this February, initiated by Hazel Poa and me.
The public housing debate is yet another example that shows the value of having Opposition Members in this House. We have reflected an issue that many Singaporeans are deeply concerned about, advanced Singaporeans’ interests, and aired their doubts on the Government’s narrative about affordable housing in Singapore.
Despite our very limited resources, the PSP has put up two key policy proposals to reset our housing policy: the Affordable Homes Scheme and the Millennial Apartments Scheme.
We have researched and thought through these policies before raising them in this House. They are rational alternatives that we believe will better achieve our desired outcomes of affordable housing and family formation, while de-linking retirement adequacy from housing prices. I welcome the Government to provide statistics to substantiate their rhetoric that our alternative policies will cause a crash in the housing market.
During this Session of the Fourteenth Parliament, we will continue to scrutinise the Government’s housing policies and keep check on the Government’s moves to stabilise prices in the housing market. In particular, Singaporeans are anxious to know what solutions the Government has to resolve the lease decay problem.
For a government which prides itself on efficiency and not shying away from politically difficult decisions, it is hard to understand why the Government has not announced further details for VERS or other solutions for the lease decay problem in the past five years.
We will continue to ask the questions that Singaporeans want to ask, but which may not be asked by Members of the ruling party. That is our duty as a responsible and rational Opposition party.
We will also continue to put up alternative housing policies that we believe will be in the interests of all Singaporeans. As always, we expect that these policies will be robustly challenged by the Government. But we hope that these policies will not simply be brushed off as “raiding the reserves” or “crashing the housing market” just because they do not fit into the Government’s framework for the reserves or finances, or challenge the Government’s “sacred cow” policies like home ownership.
I hope that the Government can refrain from such posturing so that we can have a more productive debate in this House. Like I mentioned earlier, a fair arena for one and all.
The Meaning of Being Singaporean
During her Address in 2020, the President said that “as masters of our own land, Singaporeans must have confidence in the rights and privileges of citizenship.” Last week, the President spoke about deepening Singaporeans’ sense of shared identity. These two issues are interlinked.
All Singaporeans should identify with the notion that we are masters of our own land, and our shared identity should be grounded in the rights and privileges of citizenship.
PSP welcomes foreigners to complement the Singaporean Core, but first and foremost, PSP will do all it can to protect the position of Singaporeans as “masters of our own land”.
PSP understands and empathises with many Singaporeans who feel like they are “second-class citizens” in Singapore today. Life is tough for many. Singaporeans feel like they are draining their resources just to stay afloat, instead of being empowered to swim towards a better life. Naturally, they feel resentment when they see an influx of wealthy new immigrants setting up family offices and driving up property and COE prices.
During my walkabouts, many Singaporeans have expressed to me that they are aggrieved that many naturalised Singapore citizens who arrived in Singapore comparatively recently enjoy most of the benefits of citizenship, and can gain from the resources that past generations of Singaporeans have accumulated, without having to serve National Service or even volunteer service in the SAF Volunteer Corp.
18-year-old Singaporeans make immense contributions to us being “masters of our own land” by serving National Service. To recognize this, the PSP has supported lowering the voting age to 18 since our party was founded, and I repeat this call today. This is also the stance of the Workers’ Party, and Ms Sylvia Lim has just reiterated that in her speech today.
In addition, we must do more to prioritize Singaporeans and redistribute the economic gains so that these perceptions can be corrected and we can empower those Singaporeans who feel like “second-class citizens” today.
While we support an open economy with the free movement of labour and capital, such movement must be carefully controlled and calibrated. In the labour market, the interests of Singaporeans must be prioritised. In the housing market, we must ensure that public housing remains affordable and accessible and that rising land prices due to an influx of wealthy foreigners who are allowed to purchase private property do not cascade down into the HDB resale market.
PSP will continue to fight for these during this term of Parliament.
Madam Deputy Speaker,
The urgent need for a refresh of our Social Compact means that we must rethink and may even have to discard many of the old policies in order to bring Singapore to greater heights.
PSP believes that we need to have a new set of alternative policies that will serve us better going forward. In the last Session of this Parliament, we have proposed some of those alternative policies for providing good jobs and affordable public housing to Singaporeans.
As Members of a responsible Opposition party, Hazel Poa and I will continue to propose more alternative policies for the rest of our terms as NCMPs. We hope the Government will notice our serious alternative proposals this time.
Singaporeans deserve better.
For Country For People. Thank you.