Tuesday, 7 July 2020

GE2020: Fullerton Lunchtime Rally online with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore needs capable govt with full support of people, says PM Lee
Country at critical stage in its history amid virus crisis, in high-stakes election, he says
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2020

Singapore is at a critical juncture in its history as it tackles the challenges from COVID-19 and a weakened global economy, and needs a capable government with the full support of a united people to get through the present crisis, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

"Hardly ever in our history have the stakes been higher than now. We are in the middle of a crisis, but as tough as the past months have been, our biggest challenges lie ahead of us.

"This is what this election is about - whom do you trust to get you through the very difficult times ahead?"

He was speaking yesterday at an online lunchtime rally, which the PAP has traditionally held near Fullerton Square at about the halfway point of every election campaign. Started by founding secretary-general Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, the Fullerton rally was held online this year due to COVID-19.

PM Lee's message to Singaporeans was that they should not undermine a system that has served them well.

Investors, friends and adversaries of Singapore alike will be watching Friday's election closely, he noted, and the stakes are high.

With under three days left in the campaign, PM Lee posed this question to Singaporeans: "Will we reveal ourselves to be fractious and divided, withholding our full support from the government we elect, in a crisis where swift, decisive action is vital to save jobs and lives?"



Yesterday's rally was PM Lee's seventh Fullerton rally since he entered politics in 1984, and his ninth general election so far.

In the years since, he said, the Government has had to contend with challenges such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997 to 1998; the Sept 11, 2001 terror attack, and the Jemaah Islamiah terror threat; the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003; and the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009.

"Each was a grave challenge. Each time, we worried about the worst happening to us but each time, the Government led from the front, Singaporeans rallied together, and we pulled through," he said.

He gave a detailed account of the Government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, adding that without a team of capable ministers working closely together, Singapore would not have been able to implement all the measures it took to stop COVID-19 from spreading, and would have lost the confidence of Singaporeans.

PM Lee said those involved had to decide and act urgently "in the fog of war", based on incomplete information.

"We have managed to get to this stage not by chance, but by dint of immense effort. Crucial decisions had to be made. It was the ministers who made these decisions and are accountable for them."



In comparison, he said, the opposition has said nothing about how to tackle the pandemic: "They have been completely silent on how to tackle COVID-19 during the last six months, and in this election campaign.

"What contribution will they make in Parliament, adding 'contrast' to the discussions, if they get elected as MPs? What will happen to Singapore, if they form the government?"

He also questioned their ability to get the country out of the downturn, grow the economy, or create new jobs.

"They prattle on about a minimum wage, or a universal basic income. These are fashionable peacetime slogans, not serious wartime plans," he said.

"How will a minimum wage help somebody who is unemployed? It will just add costs to employers, and pressure them to drop even more workers.

"Do you really want to vote for parties who in a crisis come up with nothing better than old recycled manifestos?"



In comparison, the Government has rolled out four Budgets since February totalling nearly $100 billion, and drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.

It has given help systematically, such as through the Jobs Support Scheme which subsidises wages so that firms can retain workers, and extra support for households and the self-employed.

Emergency legislation was also passed for rental and contract waivers - an "unprecedented move", said PM Lee.

But the emergency relief cannot be sustained indefinitely, and the more fundamental solution is to turn around the economy and attract more investments, so that more jobs can be created.

To do so, maintaining companies' confidence in Singapore is critical, he said, adding that everything the country has gone through since the beginning of the year has made clear just how important a good government is to fighting the virus, supporting the economy, and getting out of this crisis intact.



He pledged that he will steer Singapore through the current crisis alongside senior Cabinet colleagues and the fourth-generation ministers, even as the PAP ensures there is continual leadership renewal.

"You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like (Senior Ministers) Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as the 4G ministers, I will see this through," he said.

"I am determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team."



But to get through the crisis, he would need the help of the strongest team he could muster to work with him, as well as with Singaporeans.

"I also need full support from all of you."

He concluded: "At this critical moment, Singapore needs a capable government, with the full support of a united people, more than ever."

Monday, 6 July 2020

Report symptoms of COVID-19 to a doctor

Singapore wasn't the first country to ease COVID-19 restrictions; we took our time and cautiously entered into phases one and two of our reopening only after being sure that we were ready.

This will help us as we can learn lessons from other societies that have reopened, such as Beijing, Melbourne and Seoul.

I believe a second wave of infections is inevitable. If we accept this premise, we can then look into the potential causes of this second wave. I posit that the most likely cause of a second wave is residents being infected with the coronavirus and not reporting their symptoms to a doctor, perhaps fearing that if the number of cases in the community suddenly goes up, Singapore will reinstate circuit breaker measures.

People may mask their symptoms with over-the-counter drugs to quell their fever and herbal remedies to soothe their cough. This will trick the system in place to prevent sick individuals from spreading the virus, but will not trick the virus.



Some of them may never know they have the virus and continue to spread it in the community - this is not what we want.

I urge individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 to seek medical care immediately.

It takes maturity to cancel plans with friends and family to prevent the virus from spreading to our loved ones.

It's imperative that we remain socially responsible and keep our community safe from this unforgiving virus.

Harsh Hiwase, 19
Full-time national serviceman
ST Forum, 6 Jul 2020


Sunday, 5 July 2020

GE2020: Half-time-report

Singapore GE2020: 6 key election issues, from jobs, COVID-19 to population
Insight looks at six issues that have surfaced as the campaign for GE2020 enters Day 6 today, 5 July 2020






Safeguarding Singaporeans' jobs in a crisis
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2020

With a global recession looming, political parties made their case for how they would keep Singaporeans in jobs and tackle unemployment.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has put jobs front and centre of its election messaging, making it a key prong of its manifesto titled, Our Lives, Our Jobs, Our Future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out that the Economic Development Board was able to attract $13 billion in new investments in the first quarter of this year, which will generate several thousand jobs over the next few years. In a video message on Wednesday, he said this was possible because investors know the Singapore Government has strong popular support and can get backing for "policies that will grow the economy, attract talent and investment, and eventually create jobs for Singaporeans".

"In a crisis, it is even more critical for us to reinforce these fundamentals, in order to attract more investments and jobs to Singapore," he added.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo disclosed last Friday that 12,000 have been placed in new jobs under the SGUnited Jobs Initiative since March, as part of the Government's efforts to create more opportunities for work and traineeships amid the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

Jobs was also a central topic in a live debate last Wednesday.

Workers' Party (WP) candidate Jamus Lim highlighted the party's proposals for a national minimum take-home wage of $1,300 a month for full-time work, as well as a redundancy insurance scheme.

The scheme would see workers pay $4 a month, matched by employers, into an Employment Security Fund, and retrenched workers would receive a payout equivalent to 40 per cent of their last-drawn salary for up to six months, capped at $1,200 a month.

Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Francis Yuen said Singaporeans have to get priority in jobs, by freeing up jobs held by foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

"We believe that we need foreign PMETs to complement, but we need to believe that there is opportunity for us to slow it down," he said. On small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he highlighted the need for them to thrive and prosper, to keep jobs available to Singaporeans.

MOM's Mrs Teo later said that the Government has taken pains to ensure Singaporean jobs are protected, by tightening foreign worker policies over the years. The schemes rolled out in the recent Budgets were specifically targeted to offer wage support for Singaporeans, signalling to employers that they should hold on to their local workers, while shedding foreign workers if need be.



FOCUS ON JOB SECURITY

The PAP's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, said job security is at the forefront of PAP's campaign. Citing the Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises wages so that firms can retain workers, he said the Government was in effect paying three-quarters of the median wage of Singaporeans during the circuit breaker.

He also pointed to measures such as the income relief scheme for the self-employed and the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package that will create 100,000 opportunities in the form of jobs, traineeships and paid skills training places.

He said: "(We have provided) emergency treatment and are looking beyond the horizon. And that's what we have been focused on - jobs, jobs, jobs."

How to have a good, long life with CPF

Those who put more in CPF LIFE and defer payouts till 70 will have more cash each month
By Tan Ooi Boon, Invest Editor, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2020

The longer you keep your money in the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the more you will earn because of its high interest rate. This is why more Singaporeans are trying to keep their funds for a longer period in this safe haven.

No wonder the CPF Board has to do more to get eligible members to start collecting payouts when they hit 65. At that age, members can start receiving monthly payouts under CPF LIFE, the Board's longevity insurance scheme. But many choose not to ask for the payouts.

Although members get reminders six months before their 65th birthday, about 60 per cent let their funds stay in their CPF accounts.

And even after four more rounds of yearly reminders, half of those reaching 70 still do nothing.

To solve this problem, the Board now automatically disburses the funds the moment members hit 70.

While it tries to help vulnerable seniors who may not understand the scheme, many do not want to get their payouts at 65 as they will gain even more with each passing year.

Some of these retirees are likely to be savvy investors or even professionals who are still working. Indeed, a few wrote to Invest to ask whether they can pay into a second CPF LIFE account!

As they are still enjoying a steady flow of income, they choose to receive their CPF LIFE payouts only from 70. They can receive up to 7 per cent higher payouts for each year they defer their payouts.

Take a member who plans to set aside the maximum retirement amount of $288,000 in 2022. If he takes the payout at 65, he will get an estimated $2,400 a month. But if he does so at 70, he will get over $3,200.

Just like the tortoise that wins the race with the rabbit in the children's fable, members who start receiving their payouts later in life will slowly catch up and get even more.

Imagine a couple with two sets of such payments - they will have over $6,000 to spend every month just from CPF LIFE. This alone can pay for a comfortable retirement, leaving aside cash savings they are likely to have as well.



The reason CPF LIFE is the best longevity insurance scheme that money can buy is because it is backed by the Government. Unlike some other plans that may end after a number of years, the CPF LIFE payment will continue as long as you live, even beyond 100.

This is good news for future generations of seniors as their average life expectancy is likely to go up. As it is, about a third of today's 65-year-olds are expected to live beyond 90.

Also, unlike private annuities that may cost over $1 million for similar payouts, the threshold for CPF LIFE is far lower. This is possible because the "premium" that you set aside for CPF LIFE will continue to earn up to 6 per cent minimum interest.

The monthly payouts will first come out of your CPF LIFE premium. When your own premium is depleted, you will continue to receive the monthly payouts from the interest that you have accumulated within your plan, as well as the interest from the CPF LIFE pool.

You should go to the CPF website and use its very informative CPF LIFE "estimator" to see the patterns of monthly payouts based on the retirement sums you have set aside.

This interactive tool is only a guide and the results do not reflect the actual payout that members will get, due to their varied profiles.

But it does give a very insightful peek into the three CPF LIFE payout plans that you can choose to have when you hit 65.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

GE2020: Constituency Political Broadcasts







GE2020 Constituency Political Broadcast on 6 July 2020








Singapore GE2020: Global concerns, national elections

This will be a watershed election in terms of what kind of society Singapore wants: inclusive and open to the world, or populist and inward-looking under the guise of 'Singapore-first'
By Simon Tay, Published The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2020

Diverse issues are coming into play for Singapore's upcoming general election. Some concern the pandemic and responses in recent months, while others relate to longer-term issues. While there are geopolitical considerations, elections often focus attention on domestic issues.

To some, geopolitical and future-focused issues may seem somewhat abstract. But they can impact Singaporeans hard and quite immediately. What is said and done on the campaign trail could set our society on a different path. In the coming election, global issues connect more than ever to the local, and three bear close consideration.

RECONNECTING TO THE WORLD

The first is how much Singapore depends on the world. The pandemic underlined this essential truth for our small country and open economy. The virus was imported and borders must continue to be safeguarded to prevent future contagion.

But as the world shut down, many Singaporeans felt the loss of travel for business and leisure, and shocks in supply chains, even worrying about essential items and food security. Bad global conditions will result in post-election impacts on the economy and on jobs. With the unprecedented four Budgets amounting to almost $93 billion to cope with the pandemic already approved, the next government can soften the impact for Singapore but cannot avoid the global fall.



In response, Singapore must work to re-establish connections as quickly and safely as possible. The work on this has already begun with the first green lane for business travel to parts of China, and discussions advancing with Australia, New Zealand and Asean neighbours. Reconnecting as a hub for the region and the world, quickly and safely, is a critical path for Singapore's recovery.

In reconnecting, global partners will want to know that Singapore remains a steady and trustworthy partner. Moreover, as Singapore re-enters these countries, they will seek reciprocity and win-win arrangements. As such, calls to close borders have no basis for Singapore's future. Yet, protectionist and nativist arguments are growing elsewhere, and they can surface here.

FOREIGNERS AMONG US

Remember the 2011 General Election? At that time, rising housing prices, strained public transport and jobs were key issues. Underlying this was a resentment towards foreigners living and working here, and such sentiment remains with some.

In these last months, risible anti-foreigner sentiments showed up on social media when some expatriates flouted social distancing rules. Some felt the Government was too generous in providing for foreign workers when responding to the outbreak in their dormitories. Across many countries, anti-foreigner sentiments have spiked, and some candidates may well spark and fan the issue here. This can catch fire with the predicted economic hit and job losses.

Facts refute such sentiments. First, processes and regulations for foreigners acquiring jobs in Singapore have been tightened in recent years. The minimum salary for any foreign professional to qualify for an employment pass has progressively increased, while quotas for foreigners to become permanent residents (PRs) have been reduced over the last decade.

Second, Budgets in response to the pandemic give job support to companies for the employment of Singaporeans and PRs.

Third, the Government has promised to create 100,000 new job opportunities over the next year. For example, places under the SGUnited Traineeships Programme will be doubled and open only to Singaporeans and PRs.

Yet, even if wrong on the facts and bad for Singapore's recovery, nativist appeals will be all too easy to make. Voices of populism and narrow nationalism must be resisted and called out.

FACING PROBLEMS WITH A BIG HEART

No one on the campaign trail should irresponsibly tout solutions that promise to be quick and painless. The hard fact is that problems lie ahead. As seen in other countries, a second wave of infections is possible, and resolute and rapid responses will be needed. Even without this, the poor global economy will continue to impact Singapore.

But in facing these challenges, our response should not be characterised by fear and resentment. We should prefer contesting candidates to offer hope and practical action - ways to face problems squarely and find inclusive solutions for all.

Within Singapore itself, disparities and special vulnerabilities must be recognised and efforts increased to tide over hardships and adjust to the changing economy. In addition to assisting Singaporeans, more should also be done for those living and contributing here, especially the essential and lower-wage workers.

Efforts and assistance must also extend beyond our shores. Singapore should actively assist partners to respond and deal with the pandemic, so that reopening to the region is not only faster, but also safer for all and on a win-win basis. We need to evolve practical, positive and big-hearted approaches, and not turn fearful, negative and inward.

POTENTIAL WATERSHED

Some commentators suggest the incumbent People's Action Party will garner more votes because of its handling of the pandemic and the assistance doled out in these last months. I am less sure there will be a "pandemic dividend".

While many think the Government did well, others harp on every gaffe. As for government assistance, Budgets have been unprecedented in scale, but some will take help for granted and feel efforts will never be enough. There are also those who treat this election as normal, looking mostly at local issues and personalities.

The broader and future-focused perspective differs. This election is a potential watershed. This is not only because of the changes in leadership and notable retirements from government and also the opposition. Nor is it only because of the fourth-generation or 4G leadership who has been in charge of the day-to-day responses to the pandemic and is scheduled to take over.

The potential watershed change is about Singapore's social compact and our place in the world; how we will cope with the challenges ahead, both domestically and globally, as the world resets from the pandemic. The vote for different candidates matters. But so does the vote in terms of the kind of Singaporean politics and society we choose.

One path will ride on fear and offer false promises and populist policies that make Singapore turn inwards, under the guise of "Singapore-first" policies.

The other path is to have a clear-eyed recognition of the challenges ahead, and respond not only with determined and robust spirits, but also with a practical and big-hearted inclusiveness. This is the true meaning of Singapore-first - keeping Singapore an open and welcoming city as that is the best way to improve Singaporeans' lives; not walling ourselves into a small citadel.

It remains to be seen which view will prevail in the election for Singapore as home for all of us, and as a hub in our region and the world.

GE2020 Party Political Broadcast on 2 July 2020: RP, NSP, PV, SDP, WP, PSP, PAP








Friday, 3 July 2020

Phase 2 of Singapore's COVID-19 reopening will likely stay in place for months

By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2020

Restrictions such as limiting gatherings to groups of five people or fewer will likely remain for some time despite more activities resuming under phase two of Singapore's reopening, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Mr Wong told a virtual press conference that phase two, which started two weeks ago, will run for months before the next level kicks in.

"And what do 'months' mean? It's really hard to pinpoint at this stage, because we are just two weeks into phase two. It's still early days," he added.



Although the multi-ministry task force tackling COVID-19 had earlier pointed to some rules that may be relaxed during this phase, Singapore is "not moving to any such relaxation any time soon".

"These sorts of things are unlikely to happen any time soon," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. "That was the assessment earlier. It remains the same assessment today."

Large-scale events, such as concerts and conferences, will not be allowed to take place, and venues like bars and pubs have to remain closed.

Infection numbers are expected to increase as more activities resume, said the task force, which is casting a wider net around virus cases and testing more aggressively.

It does not rule out tightening some measures if case numbers rise much faster than expected or when large clusters pop up.



Mr Gan said that current numbers have "not fully reflected the effect of the opening" in this phase and cases may continue to go up in the coming weeks.

"We will continue to look at how we can confidently and safely continue our opening process and, eventually, we will reach phase three," he added.

"So we are still in the monitoring stage, and that time will come when we may announce additional relaxation, but I think it's too early for us to discuss at this point."

Attractions like Universal Studios Singapore have started reopening, with some restrictions, after nearly three months of being closed because of the circuit breaker.

Others, including the Jurong Bird Park, River Safari and Singapore Zoo, will reopen to the public next week.



The war against COVID-19 "is not yet over", said Mr Gan, urging residents to stay vigilant and not try to get around the rules.

"We want to move very carefully, very cautiously, and therefore very gradually. So please bear with us as we progressively open up bit by bit, step by step, to ensure safety for all."