Singapore’s economic growth is as real as our Swiss standard of living.
There is an inherent danger in our economic growth model because it is accompanied by very little productivity gains and mostly boosted by a liberal immigration policy.
Real economic growth leads to a higher standard of living. PAP’s ‘growth’ has resulted in public housing prices increasing by 78% over the last decade with resale flats priced out of reach of most ordinary citizens, stagnant/negative real wage growth for hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans, locals losing jobs to foreigners, appointment at public hospitals stretching to more than a year, majority of citizens unable to retire, etc. link
In an interview on 14 Jan, PM Lee tells us to “Get used to more gradual pay rises as economic growth slows”. PM Lee seems to be aware that our phenomenal ‘growth’ can no longer be replicated without a political backlash.
This also begs the question – if our ‘growth’ slows and is similar to other countries, then shouldn’t political salaries be similar?
PM Lee considers an achievement of “2 to 3 per cent” annual growth for the next 5 years as “we’re doing well”. However, this is conditional upon “if we are successful in our policies”. PM Lee has hedged himself – if things take a turn for the worse, we have already been warned. Again, economic growth is meaningless to the majority of Singaporeans who are struggling or living from hand to mouth.
PM Lee says the government is “succeeding in keeping the tax burden down on middle-income Singaporeans considerably” and that “low taxes are important” when making a comparison with Hong Kong and Australia. In reality, taxes for middle income citizens are not as low as PM makes them out to be.
Let’s take the example of a middle income citizen who earns $70,000 a year. The income tax amounts to about $2345 (after $10,000 reliefs, CPF contributions and 30% tax rebate). The effective tax rate of 3.35% on a $70,000 gross income may seem low but that’s because PM Lee has conveniently ignored all the indirect taxes levied on every item in Singapore.
A middle income Singaporean is likely to own a private vehicle and pays an average of $7,000 per year for a COE. Assuming he spends the entire disposable income of $39,000, that will attract a 7% GST, amounting to about $2,730. There are indirect taxes such as ARF, excise duty and not forgetting the road tax. Excluding all other indirect taxes, such as the FDW levy of between $1,200 and $3,180 per year, a typical middle income earner pays at least $12,000 or 17%. Perhaps, under the PAP, middle income earners are not supposed to own a private vehicle and have a lower standard of living than in other countries?
If what PM Lee claims is not a half-truth, the PAP should provide supporting statistics.
Another half truth
PM Lee then mentions the importance of pushing for productivity increase. He said “Improving productivity, however, “is not something that can happen quickly, (it) is something which we have to continue working on”.
But low productivity is not a recent issue. Since the last election in 2011 till 2013, productivity figures for the 3 years were 1.3%, – 2.7% and ZERO %. For the first 9 months of 2014, PM Lee gave the figure as NEGATIVE 0.5% in his 2015 New Year Message. The issue of low productivity growth did not crop up yesterday.
According to the MTI, productivity growth averaged 1.6% between 2008 and 2013 and 1.1% between 2003 and 2008.
10 years after becoming the PM, PM Lee has failed to improve productivity and with it, real wages for low income citizens. But the failure to improve productivity is not even a decade-old issue; the drive for productivity growth started decades earlier.
The National Productivity Board was set up in 1972. After 43 years, 2 name change and numerous throw-money-at-the-problem solutions such as PIC scheme, PIC Bonus, etc, productivity improvement is nowhere to be seen. It is disingenuous of PM Lee to claim that productivity improvement ““is not something that can happen quickly”. Does PAP need another 43 years?
Be wary of PAP’s pseudo growth
The PAP is totally dependent and addicted to importing cheap labour to improve productivity. Because it has been doing so for the last few decades, its addiction is so serious that there will be a withdrawal symptom of sorts. In 2011, minister Lim Hng Kiang said that “one third of the workforce (foreign workers) is a very severe limitation to us”. Lim was still adamant that PAP’s pseudo growth model would still work.
In his parliamentary reply 2 months ago, Lim confirmed the PAP has still been growing the foreigner workforce by 7.6% in 2011, 5.9% in 2012 and 4.2% in 2013. Left unchecked, the PAP will continue to grow the foreigner workforce, never mind all the issues created for Singaporeans and what Singaporeans think. Why? Because the PAP has committed tens of billions of our reserves to infrastructure construction to meet the demands of a 6.9 million population in its PWP. Our economy will stall once the PAP stops inviting foreign workers for lunch.
Contrary to what it claims, the PAP is still trying to grow the economy by increasing the population.
Real growth should mean the creation of higher-paying jobs for locals, with the majority of the low wage jobs going to foreigners. But look at the banking sector where there are 5-figure jobs which ‘cannot be filled’ by locals and Indian graduates from unknown universities are better qualified than those from NUS, Asia’s top university.
If the PAP did create good jobs for locals, why are foreigners supervising locals in the F n B industry? Why are ITE graduates paid starting wages which qualify for government handouts even after working for 10 years? It should be clear the PAP has used our educational institutions to train and provide cheap labour to attract foreign investments.
The PAP has been too dependent and addicted to growing the economy by growing the population for decades. There will be severe repercussions if it weans itself off the addiction. Singaporeans have to bear in mind the danger of allowing the PAP to continue with its pseudo growth model where even more Singaporeans will lose out to foreigners. Never underestimate PAP’s flawed policies because the next job lost to a foreigner could jolly well be yours.
Singaporeans should open their eyes and see clearly what has really been happening around us. We should not accept everything the PAP says because most of the time they are half truths. PAP’s pseudo growth model have already hurt too many citizens. Continuing down the same path will only doom our country.
Let’s give credit where credit is due to Tony Tan, present president of Singapore. In 1985, then-MOF minister Tan warned about our growing dependence on foreign labour and economic restructuring. He said: “The solution to our labour shortage cannot be an indefinite and ever-growing dependence on foreign workers (pg 3). The experience of countries, which have indiscriminately allowed large numbers of foreign workers to settle permanently, shows that this gives rise to social and political problems of such a magnitude as to threaten the cohesiveness and stability of their societies.”
That was 30 years ago and unlike Lim Hng Kiang who has continued to insist on importing foreigners, Tony certainly had 20/20 foresight.