Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang circulated a document in Parliament yesterday detailing the policy differences between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the WP. I must say that the WP’s paper cannot be further from the truth. The WP has grossly misrepresented the PAP, and such wrongs must not go uncorrected.
Before I begin, let me state that I have my own reservations about the PAP’s policies as well, but that does not preclude me from criticising weaker alternatives and setting the record straight on what the PAP has put forward. It is one thing to pick a side, and it is one thing to completely present a distorted version of policies.
Low Birth Rates
The WP stated that the PAP Government relies solely on monetary incentives ‘to entice young couples to have more babies and hope birth rates will improve’.
I don’t see it this way. But let me state clearly that I do believe that there are limits to incentivising childbirth. Barriers to birth must be tackled as well.
In fact, many people have cited the costs of having and raising a child. Responding to such concerns, the PAP Government has stepped up the amount of funds for young parents to cope with the costs. Is the WP trying to say that such a method is immoral?
Also, it must be noted that the PAP is in fact devising a multi-prong approach to tackling the problem of declining fertility. If Mr Low had paid attention to what Minister Grace Fu was saying in Parliament on Tuesday, he would have realised the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood (M&P) package includes paternity leave, shared parental leave, priority in housing, medical and healthcare support, and better work-life measures among many others.
Hence, to merely simplify the measures as throwing monetary incentives is incorrect.
The WP said it believes in ‘institutional reforms’, but if speeches by its members are anything to go by, details on what these reforms entail are at best patchy and unclear.
Shrinking Citizen Core
To be fair, I like the WP’s proposal of ‘recovering citizen birth rates’. It’s a more careful approach than granting new citizenship status annually. Other than suggesting that foreign spouses be granted citizenship, the WP is very much silent on how it intends to do so. And for the record, foreign spouses are granted citizenship status after a period of being Permanent Residents.
However, the WP has once again misrepresented the PAP’s measures on tackling a shrinking Singaporean core. Again, if Mr. Low had listened, Ms. Fu stated that ‘the most important way to strengthen the size of the Singaporean core is through encouraging marriage and parenthood’.
This is where I think the perspectives of both parties should simply come together.
The PAP Government is extremely reliant on the People’s Association (PA) and has set up Integration Committees (INCs) led by grassroots leaders for this express purpose. Surely, having a grassroots approach is better than having no approach at all.
The WP, on the other hand, believes that integration through family ties and educational institutions should be key. I don’t dispute that either.
So, is it that difficult to have the best of both worlds and simply integrate both methods? Harmonious integration is win-win for both newcomers and locals alike. No one loses from better and stronger relationships and understanding.
On this count, I believe the WP to be guilty of painting the PAP as an uncaring political party, which obviously I don’t believe to be the case. My suspicion of the WP’s intentions is further fuelled when they bold the words ‘resource’ under the WP column and ‘burden’ against the PAP column.
In other words, this is blatant politicking. Don’t believe me? Examine their wording. It’s absolutely repulsive.
Whilst I agree that senior citizens should have the opportunity to work if they want to, they must not be forced to work if their health prevents them from doing so.
It is disingenuous to say that the PAP views the elderly strictly as a ‘burden’. Has the WP forgotten that the PAP has repeatedly made the case for taking care of the elderly because they have contributed to Singapore with their hard work and it is only right that they be taken care of in their golden years?
Furthermore, is it a sin to acknowledge the fact that as human beings age, the body of the elderly is not the same as its youthful counterpart?
If we can agree that ageing does bring about its physical limits, then we can agree that some of the elderly, due to poor health, will need people to look after them. And given that our workforce will really shrink, is it then wrong to bring in immigrants and foreign workers to help out with looking after them?
By painting the PAP in such a manner, the WP is genuinely naïve if it thinks that the task of caring for and looking after our seniors, with a smaller workforce is going to be a walk in the park. The WP needs to learn how to call a spade a spade. If it doesn’t then it will really be guilty of doing, in the words of its chief, ‘kicking the can down the road’.
PAP Ministers Tan Chuan-Jin and S. Iswaran have cautioned against the WP’s stance on the economy. There was a heated exchange between the two parties on the issue of raising the labour force participation rate and the need to calibrate foreign labour.
The issue of a slowing economy goes beyond labour participation rates and it is therefore not as simple as what the WP has made it out to be. The issue of growing the economy is not limited to numbers alone.
The WP painted a rosy self-portrait by suggesting that infrastructure be developed for the ‘quality of life’ of the current population. The WP then went on to say that the PAP was building for an ‘immigration tsunami’.
Such claims are ridiculous. Immigration or no, infrastructure has to be developed. It is a necessary part of development in any modern city. The Downtown Line and Circle lines were definitely not built for immigration.
Consider this: do foreigners vote for the PAP? No. Singaporeans do. Would the PAP be so stupid as to court the votes of foreigners? Obviously not.
What this episode tells us is that the WP can and might politicise anything and everything for its own gain, even if it entails having to misrepresent its opponent’s stance in Parliament. This is hardly becoming of a credible alternative. There can be no credibility in deliberately misunderstanding and oversimplifying complex and nuanced policy positions. Yes, the PAP’s policies might be flawed in certain areas, but certainly, that is no excuse for misrepresenting what it has put forward on the record for all to see.