By: Lim Tean, Secretary-General of National Solidarity Party (NSP)
For all the incessant talk by the People’s Action Party (PAP) about how exciting the future looks for Singapore, a stasis has descended upon our country. The stench of stagnation and deterioration is everywhere one year after we celebrated half a century of independence .
Saturday’s dire economic news that Singapore is on the verge of a technical recession brings to the fore once again all that is wrong with our system of Government, economy and society.
When Chan Chun Sing proffers that it is still early days and that the government is keeping a close watch on the economic figures; when our Prime Minister (PM) was and still is an ardent cheerleader for the Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TPP) when he should have seen the writing on the wall for this secretive trade deal after Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became the presidential nominees of their respective parties; when our manpower minister recently declared that the wages of Singapore workers are too high and not in line with productivity; and when it has become the standard excuse for sluggish growth in recent years that the world economy is weak, they demonstrate how far behind the curve the PAP leadership are, and how they have lost the plot. They are stuck operating in the old ways and peddling old cures when it is a Newer World which we face.
Singaporeans, like their American and British counterparts, have every right to demand that free-trade agreements actually improve their lives.
For the last two decades, it cannot be said that Singapore has had to operate in a protectionist world. PAP governments have committed Singapore to numerous free trade deals, both bi-lateral and multi-lateral.
Yet for many Singaporeans and the squeezed middle-class, they have only witnessed stagnating incomes and rapidly rising costs of living. They have seen their jobs being taken away by foreign workers and immigrants.
For many Singaporeans, their lives have worsened because of these so called free-trade agreements. It will no longer suffice for PAP ministers to utter the words “ free-trade “ and expect Singaporeans to believe that it is necessarily good. Singaporeans will now demand specifics. Neither will it do for governments to negotiate in secret and obfuscate what the trade deals entail in documents that are thousands of pages long.
A clear, cold-eyed calculation by citizens and responsible politicians as well as economists is urgently needed on all so called free-trade agreements. The ordinary people of the world have come to realise that many of these so called free-trade agreements have only benefited the large corporations and the rich.
The PAP has squandered the two decades since the advent of the knowledge economy when the internet appeared. Numerous studies have proven conclusively that in the knowledge economy, advanced economies can only achieve productivity and growth through innovation and entrepreneurship.
The PAP has failed dismally in this respect.
Singapore today is not an innovative or entrepreneurial society despite PAP ministers talking about the subject ad nauseam . All the PAP ministers do is talk.
Singapore perennially ranks in the bottom third of the Global Innovation Index for Innovation Efficiency Output Index despite the government pouring increasingly large amounts of money into the innovation input side of the equation. But all this money spent has not produced a significant increase in ideas, trademarks, patents or in the creation of new products which are in demand by the world.
The right way forward for Singapore to achieve its economic potential in the knowledge economy is through innovation and entrepreneurship and not unrestricted free trade, which the PAP concentrates on.
Instead of promoting a truly innovative and entrepreneurial society, the PAP spent the 1990s doing so called asset enhancement, driving up the cost of assets such as land. In the process, it stifled the growth of small and medium- size businesses who had to deal with ever increasing rentals.
The promised Swiss standard of living never arrived. Small and medium- size businesses should be the bedrock of our economy and the real centres of our innovation and entrepreneurial growth.
I read with much bemusement Chan Chun Sing’s statement that the Committee on the Future Economy’s report will give guidance to small and medium- size businesses on how to stay ahead and grow in the coming years.
It is because of inept PAP policies of the last two decades that these businesses find themselves in the plight they are in today. Small and medium-size businesses cannot possibly thrive in an environment where government linked companies such as Temasek and the GLCs, with all their financial might provided by the government, take up 45-60 % of our economy.
In Japan, which is a far more innovative society than Singapore, government participation in the economy is in single digits. I, for one, will not place much faith on the report of the Committee on the Future Economy.
In 2010, a similar committee with 10 PAP ministers, issued a report in which it predicted Singapore could have an annual productivity growth of 2-3 % this decade. All the current main PAP ministers were on that committee, including the current manpower minister.
Today, more than half-way through the decade productivity growth is negative or near zero and has been throughout or for the better part of the decade.
The 2000s were no better.
The PAP government embarked on disastrous labour and immigration policies to keep labour costs down. These policies provided no incentives to businesses to innovate and move up the value chain. Rather, it encouraged our businesses to compete with other low cost countries.
For all of Lee Kuan Yew’s boasts that PAP leaders have the helicopter view and are far-sighted, the PAP have been remarkably short-sighted in the last 2 decades and have increasingly resorted to short term measures to cure our economic ills.
To believe that the PAP will continue to be the solution for the next 50 years, as they continually exhort us to believe, is to be extremely blinkered in the face of their overwhelming shortcomings in recent decades.
We in the NSP do not believe in being co-drivers with the PAP. We do not believe that the PAP car is capable of taking Singapore in the right direction in the coming decades.
Our role is not merely that of check and balance. Our proposition is to forge a New Society which offers a much better route to a better future for Singapore.
This proposition is premised on 4 big themes,which are;
- Reducing the role and dominance of government in our economy and people’s lives. Government exists to serve the people and not itself. The current government is the problem and not the solution;
- Laying down the proper social infrastructure for innovation and entrepreneurship to take hold and thrive in Singapore. This includes creating an open society which encourages the freedom of speech and expression and allowing for the free exchange of ideas;
- Electoral reform so that the will of the people are truly represented in Parliament;
- A sensible labour and immigration policy for our small nation state.