Tuesday 28 October 2014

Tan Chuan-Jin explains trade-offs considered in decision-making

Coming up with right policy requires one to be hard-headed: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

THE trade-offs that society has to make were at the core of a dialogue yesterday, where Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin explained some of the hard-headed considerations the Government must contend with for a balance in policies.

There are numerous solutions to issues as diverse as foreign labour quotas and carving out more cycling paths. But each also has its own trade-offs, he said.

Mr Tan, speaking at a dialogue with residents after touring Keat Hong ward in Chua Chu Kang GRC, raised the issue of the delicate balancing needed on foreign labour as an example of the kind of trade-offs the Government considers when making decisions.

"While we want to look after the interests of Singaporean businessmen who feel the pinch... the broader situation is that you'd want to keep the growth (of foreign labour) at a more sustainable rate," he said to those seeking a relaxation of foreign labour quotas.

"At the same time, you have some Singaporeans who... want jobs for Singaporeans only. Ultimately that's a fallacy because we hurt only ourselves.

"Competition is happening whether foreigners are here or not. Jobs are being outsourced, and if the company isn't here, the jobs are not even in Singapore."

Trying to balance such diverse views and come up with the right policy requires one to be hard-headed, Mr Tan said, echoing what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech to the National University of Singapore Society earlier this month.

PM Lee had said that Singapore must be good-hearted but also hard-headed. Policies must keep facts in mind, and deal with stark realities like the rapidly ageing population and low fertility rate.

Yesterday, Mr Tan said that even on some straightforward issues, decisions are often hard to make, as resources are finite.

Citing a resident's request for more cycling paths as an example, he asked how many of the nearly 200 residents present would not be willing to give up a car lane or two to make space. Most raised their hands. They were also unwilling to give up green spaces, or do away with pedestrian walkways.

Mr Tan said: "We must care about the community. But we also have to care about the practical realities."

He challenged residents to step up and play their part where they can, to deal with such constraints.

Recalling suggestions for the People's Association or welfare organisations to hold more activities for the lonely elderly, he said: "(We) cannot absolve our own roles in this... There are not enough social workers around to do the heavy lifting."

Most present also raised their hands when asked if they were interested in serving the community. Calling this a good starting point, he said: "If everyone is able to contribute to his constituency in whatever way he can, the country will undergo real change."

Earlier, Mr Tan was the star attraction at a family carnival when he abseiled 11 storeys down a Housing Board block. He did so with Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad and Residents' Committee zone leader Alex Seo to promote an abseiling interest group.

He also launched "Care on Wheels", a programme where volunteers ferry residents who are wheelchair users to hospitals and clinics for appointments. There are 14 volunteers already, many of them taxi drivers, said Mr Zaqy.

Mr Tan was also accompanied on the visit by Chua Chu Kang GRC MPs Gan Kim Yong, who is Health Minister, Alvin Yeo and Alex Yam. Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor, who is MP for Hong Kah North, was also present.

Hard-headed policies necessary to tackle challenges: Chuan-Jin
By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 27 Oct 2014

Citing the foreign manpower issue and the clamour by some for more cycling paths as examples, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday echoed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks about the need for the Republic’s policies to be hard-headed at times, as it balances between the head and the heart in addressing society’s different needs.

Speaking at a dialogue with about 180 Keat Hong residents during his ministerial community visit to the constituency, Mr Tan noted that the tightening of the foreign manpower policy has made it challenging for businesses here. He said: “While we want to look after the interest of Singaporean businessmen to (help them) build the stage … at the same time, there is also the broader challenge of congestion and numbers, and you want to keep that growth at a much more sustainable rate. What is the correct nuance?”

At the same time, some are calling for further tightening to protect Singaporeans and their jobs, he said. But this “seemingly pro-Singaporean” mindset is but a fallacy.

“The truth is, competition is happening whether the foreigners are here or not. Jobs are being outsourced to other countries … So this is a very clear dilemma of how you balance head and heart,” he added.

The Government faces a similar dilemma in expanding cycling path networks: To carve out space for bicycles, people must be prepared to forgo space for cars, pavements and grasslands, said Mr Tan.

Speaking at the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) 60th Anniversary Lecture earlier this month, Mr Lee said that while the Government of late has been lauded by people for “showing more heart rather than head”, the country must not shy away from hard-headed policies when it comes to tackling challenges such as retirement adequacy, healthcare financing, immigration and the inflow of foreign workers.

“We must never be hard-hearted, but we must never shy away from being hard-headed,” Mr Lee had said.

During the 80-minute dialogue yesterday, the Keat Hong residents made presentations to Mr Tan on topics such as helping the elderly and the less fortunate, as well as promoting community spirit. It was followed by a question-and-answer session with the minister that was dominated by municipal concerns such as the constant congestion problem at the Choa Chu Kang MRT and LRT stations.

To relieve congestion on the overall MRT network, Mr Tan pointed out, the Government is increasing the number of MRT lines, and is also looking at increasing the number of trains and their frequency.

Choa Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad, who is also Adviser to Keat Hong Grassroots Organisation, cited two factors contributing to the overcrowding: Ageing sleepers, which have resulted in trains having to slow down, thus reducing the frequency, and the fact that Bukit Panjang is currently not served by an MRT line.

The congestion will ease when the sleepers are replaced by the middle of next year, said Mr Zaqy. The Bukit Panjang MRT station — which is along the Downtown Line — will also open in the next two years or so. The Jurong Region Line, expected to be completed by around 2025, will further improve the situation, he added.

During his ministerial visit, Mr Tan launched Care on Wheels, an initiative to ferry needy residents — such as the wheelchair-bound and those who cannot afford transport — for medical appointments. The service is currently run by 14 resident volunteers, and more have signed up.

He also abseiled from the 11th storey of a block of HDB flats, as part of a new adventure interest group, Project Cliffhanger, set up by the Lam Soon Community Club.

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