Thursday, 4 December 2014

SDP's Chee 'dishonest' in calling Singapore model a failure: Govt

By Fiona Chan Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE'S Government has responded to a commentary in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, saying he has been "dishonest" to claim that Singapore's system is a failure or that the state has not acted to tackle issues like income inequality.

Even as the income gap in Singapore has widened, low-income citizens have access to high- quality education, health care and public housing, Singapore's consul-general in Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo, said in a letter to WSJ on Tuesday.

Also, their wages have been going up in the last 10 years, he added.

Mr Foo also said that while Singapore's model "is not perfect... it is dishonest of Dr Chee to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing".

Dr Chee stated in his commentary, which was published over the weekend, that Singapore's economic success has "wrought havoc" on values such as freedom, compassion and equality, leading to "Singaporeans' disenchantment with the current system".

The secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for an "alternative vision" for the Republic, in which "the wage structure should ensure that the working poor don't see their real incomes shrink even as the number of billionaires rise".

In his response, Mr Foo noted that the real wages of low-income Singaporeans have risen by 10 per cent in the last 10 years, "unlike the stagnation often seen elsewhere".

He said that while income inequality has also increased in many countries, Singapore families earning just $1,000 a month can afford to own a two-room flat.

Eight out of 10 households in the bottom one-fifth of Singapore society own their own homes, with an average net housing equity of more than $200,000 each, he added.

Mr Foo also addressed Dr Chee's criticism of government- linked companies as being the "prime drivers of growth" in Singapore's economy. Calling the charge "absurd", Mr Foo said such companies, including Keppel Corp and Singapore Airlines, make up just 10 per cent of the economy.

"Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises employ seven in 10 Singaporeans and enjoy the bulk of government support," he added.

On Dr Chee's claim that Singapore lacks a democracy, Mr Foo said Singapore elections are "free and fair".

"Every time Dr Chee and his party have contested, Singaporeans have rejected them," he said.

"He might do better to take the interest of Singaporeans to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media."

Not possible for poor S'poreans to live on $1,000 a month

IN ITS reply to my Wall Street Journal op-ed ("A new vision for Singapore"; Nov 28), the Government, through its consul-general Jacky Foo in Hong Kong, accused me of not sticking to facts ("SDP's Chee 'dishonest' in calling Singapore model a failure: Govt"; Dec 4).

It stated that, like many other countries, income inequality has increased. What it does not say is that income inequality in Singapore is one of the highest among comparable economies. In addition, this inequality is almost wholly a creation of government policy and inaction.

For instance, while the Government rewrites banking laws to attract high-net-worth individuals from across the world (Singapore has the highest proportion of millionaires globally), it refuses to legislate minimum wage.

And while we are, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the most expensive city in the world (much of which is due to land prices controlled by the State), we still have families, to cite the Government's letter, "earning just 1,000 Singapore dollars a month".

The Government asserts that these families are able to afford their own apartment. It forgets that they still need to eat, transport themselves to work, send their children to school, seek medical treatment when they fall ill, and save for retirement.

Singapore has one of the highest household debt-to-gross domestic product ratios in Asia at 77 per cent, steadily increasing from 64 per cent in 2007.

I should not be the one accused of being out of touch with reality.

The Government concludes that I "pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media". For the record, I offered the piece to The Straits Times, but it was not accepted.

Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
ST Forum, 18 Dec 2014

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