Monday, 7 September 2015

GE2015 Campaign Day 6: Singapore needs strong government to shape its future: Ng Eng Hen

Voters should ask if weakening the PAP is in their interests, he says
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

A strong government is in Singapore's interest as it would be able to shape and implement flexible policies to meet the diverse needs of Singaporeans, said Dr Ng Eng Hen yesterday (Sept 6).

The organising secretary of the People's Action Party (PAP) said this is why the party is seeking a strong mandate from voters in the Sept 11 elections.

The party's vision is one where every citizen has a quality of life that is among the best in Asia, and where all segments of the population are taken care of. A strong PAP government with all hands on deck is needed to achieve this, he said.

"We need capable office-holders and Members of Parliament that can tend to the ground as well as help us shape policy," he said.

Weakening the PAP - the only party capable of forming the government - is not in Singapore's interests, he argued.

"A strong PAP government is in the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, because no opposition party has come out to say that they want to form the government.

"Singaporeans need to ask: If a PAP that everyone expects to be the ruling government is weakened, is that in the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans?"

He was speaking after a community event in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, where he leads the PAP team contesting Friday's General Election.

He outlined two significant changes in the PAP's style of governing. First, the party is bigger on collaboration, to better engage the younger generation. To that end, about 50,000 people took part in the Our Singapore Conversation feedback exercise in 2013, and 40,000 national servicemen and members of the public were consulted by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, said Dr Ng, who is the Defence Minister.

"That, to me, will be a constant feature. The Government has to involve more institutional links with groups, whatever the outcome of this GE," he said.

Second, policies must become more flexible as society becomes more diverse.

He highlighted shifts on the housing front like the new Fresh Start Housing Scheme to help second-timer rental households own a two-room flat.

Similarly, the Central Provident Fund savings scheme must evolve and be more flexible in catering to those who fall ill and cannot work, or need financing because they buy their homes later in life.

"These are clear examples where you need flexibility. I don't think you want to weaken the core of a good scheme, but what you need to do is expand the options."

The Government must also tackle the significant economic challenge of zero local workforce growth as of 2020, he said.

Workforce growth is a significant driver of policies, and if no new local workers are added to the economy, businesses will have to poach workers from other companies in order to expand.

A strong PAP government is needed in the light of these trends and challenges, said Dr Ng.

MPs play a crucial role, he said, because they pass residents' requests back to ministers and let them know if a particular policy does not meet their needs.

Dr Ng's remarks appeared to be in response to the main campaign line from the Workers' Party, which has been arguing that what Singapore needs in the next stage of its development is more opposition MPs in Parliament.

Taking up this theme at a rally in Simei last night, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said that leadership renewal is an issue not only for the PAP, but for the WP as well. She called on voters to back the party's young candidates to help build up an alternative to the PAP.

"The only way for Singaporeans to protect ourselves is buy an insurance policy - build up another party who can take over if the PAP fails," she said.

Right balance needed on population issue: Eng Hen
Population policy is complex and trade-offs are involved, he says in response to WP candidate's criticism
By Marissa Lee and Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

There are no simple answers to the complex issue of Singapore's population size and make-up, People's Action Party (PAP) organising secretary Ng Eng Hen acknowledged yesterday.

But in a response to Workers' Party (WP) East Coast GRC candidate Daniel Goh's criticism of the Government, he said the issue was not simply about the overall population number. It was also about what trade-offs Singaporeans were willing to accept given the slower growth of the local workforce and lower fertility rate.

His comments yesterday followed those of Dr Goh, who said the Government should stop sending mixed signals about its immigration policy, and clarify if its projection of 6.9 million by 2030 stands.

Echoing the WP's view, he said the Government should also stop focusing on using immigration to drive economic growth and look instead to boosting the quality of the Singaporean workforce. Referring to the 2013 Population White Paper, which projected the population could grow to 6.9 million by 2030, Dr Goh called for scrapping the use of population figures as planning parameters.

"I don't think there is a need to commit to any number. That is precisely the point. (Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say) said, and I agree with him - don't focus on the quantity, focus on the quality of the workforce," the WP candidate said at a walkabout at Bedok South.

And this quality, he said, should come from Singaporeans.

His team is contesting East Coast GRC against a PAP team led by Mr Lim. In his comments, Dr Goh said that since the Population Paper was debated in 2013, Mr Lim has reiterated that the Government has cooled the pace of immigration.

"So the question is, is the 6.9 million (population) planning parameter still valid? Why is it still there if you're cutting back on foreign manpower?" asked Dr Goh, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore.

The issue of population has been raised at election rallies of opposition parties. Each has criticised the 6.9 million figure, which they see as a target, although the authorities have made clear that the figure is the top end of a forecasted population.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang also did so, saying the party had asked for a slowing of the influx of foreign workers during the debate in Parliament, to stop Singaporeans from facing unfair competition for jobs.

In separate comments yesterday after a walkabout in Bishan-Toa Payoh, Dr Ng took issue with the tendency of opposition parties to "bang away" at a single issue - such as population - hoping "to rile up anger" without considering its inherent trade-offs.

"The trade-off is how do you accept slower growth when your local workforce will stop growing by 2020, after 2020? And when your fertility rate is down, what are the trade-offs?" he said.

"We can accept 1 to 3 per cent growth and we want to be more productive. But that requires... economic restructuring. So we can't only look at the population as a whole.

"You also have to look at what proportion of your workforce is ageing, what proportion will retire, what proportion can support your ageing population - and you have to ask yourselves, who do we get to man our nursing homes, take care of our elderly, build our homes, help our mothers take care of their children at home, drive the economy?"

He noted that businesses have been squeezed as foreign labour inflows have been tightened over the years, resulting in job losses for Singaporeans as firms struggle with higher costs. "These are not simple questions that you can 'sloganeer' away. You have to deal with really hard issues and ask ourselves really difficult questions," Dr Ng said.

"But I am confident that if the Government works with the people, we can find a balance that Singaporeans can live with."

The humble, hard-working but low-profile PAP Aljunied team and I were energised by the warm reception yesterday. But...
Posted by MParader on Sunday, September 6, 2015

ESM Goh's advice to Aljunied voters
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

Aljunied GRC voters struggling over which party to vote for in the General Election received this advice from Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday: Pick the team that will serve you best.

After two hours in the Workers' Party-held area yesterday, he said many residents told him they wanted to vote for the People's Action Party, but they did not want to see WP leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim and their opposition team-mates lose their seats.

Rather than say vote for the PAP, he preferred to urge voters to "look at their own interests".

"When you vote for somebody, you must vote for a candidate whose values you appreciate - values like humility, sincerity, hard work, integrity, honesty," he said. "They are very important, so try and align your values with the values of the candidates."

People should also vote for their future and their children's future and, here, the question is: "Who can help you better in future?"

If voters think about these issues, they will come to a decision. "It's your choice," he said. "If you ask me, I'll say vote PAP, but it's a biased opinion. So just make up your own mind."

He likened choosing a party to choosing a cruise ship to travel on.

"If you go with the PAP, you're embarking on a cruise ship with a definite destination, you know the path it will take, you know the captain, the crew members, you know the quality," he said.

"The other choice is, take my ship to nowhere. There are cruise ships that go on a journey to nowhere. Gambling ships, casinos. Very exciting. You take these ships, you can gamble, but you go nowhere.

"If you're a gambler, then of course you take the casino ship. But if you're not a gambler and you worry about your children's future, you'll take the other ship."

Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. The PAP cruised over fifty years under three captains. All onboard are safe  --- gct
Posted by MParader on Monday, September 7, 2015

He said the General Election was not about the future of the PAP or any opposition party, but about the future of Singaporeans.

To voters who worry about the WP team being ousted, he said Mr Low and his team-mates could lose the elections, yet still go to Parliament under the Non-Constituency MP scheme for best-performing losers at the polls. "They can write long speeches with great rhetoric if they want," he said.

Asked if his and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visits to Aljunied GRC would sway voters to the PAP's side, Mr Goh said yes, for those they had met. "But it's always the people who are not here, the silent majority (who also vote), so we can't take things for granted."

Many issues and challenges have been raised during the election campaign thus far. For the remaining campaign period,...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Polls 'not just about raising issues'
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

An election is not just about raising issues but also about putting in place a team that can plan for the future, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

And besides having plans and implementing them, the team also has to unite people and rally them to overcome challenges in the future, said Mr Chan, as he urged voters to examine proposals by the various parties and candidates closely.

"Over the last five, six days, we have heard many people raising different issues," he said, without naming any party. "It is all right and good to raise all these issues so that Singaporeans are more aware of the challenges facing our country."

But it is also critical for Singaporeans "to sit back and analyse the different proposals by the parties and candidates, and see whether they work and whether they are in the best interests of residents now and in the future", he told reporters after visiting Tiong Bahru Market.

The former army chief is leading a five-member People's Action Party team contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC, which is seeing its first contest since it was formed in 1991.

The PAP team faces a Singaporeans First (SingFirst) slate led by former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, who charged at a rally last Saturday that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had betrayed Mr Lee Kuan Yew's ideals, citing Mr Lee's warning in 1979 against having too many foreign workers.

Responding, Mr Chan said: "At every stage of our development we have different challenges. Policies are never static. We will always have to evolve our policies to (address) what we have to tackle today and what we have to tackle tomorrow."

On the allegation that foreigners take away jobs from professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), he said the Government, unions and employers are working together to help PMEs boost skills and remain competitive in Singapore and overseas. "Maybe (Mr Tan) is not fully aware of the things being rolled out by the Manpower Ministry and National Trades Union Congress."

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah responded to SingFirst's claim that the GRC has not served Malay voters in the ward well as it did not have a Malay candidate for many years. "There have been many programmes that we have done and all you need to do is to speak to our Malay residents."

When asked whether he is bothered by his opponents calling him a "paper general", Mr Chan said: "No. This is part and parcel of what we expect. Our focus has always been on working with and for our residents. We prefer not to respond to baseless name-calling."

Incomes 'have risen faster than cost of living': Tharman
Any debate on more inclusive society should recognise Singapore's unusual success: Tharman
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

Incomes of middle- and lower-income households in Singapore have risen much faster than cost of living since the global financial crisis, unlike in many other countries where these groups have seen their real incomes stagnate or even decline, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Mr Tharman noted that any debate about creating a more inclusive society should take into consideration Singapore's unusual success in lifting incomes amid the "new reality of a highly uncertain world". The median household income in Singapore has grown 18 per cent over the last five years after adjusting for inflation and the cost of living, said Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister and a candidate for Jurong GRC.

"To realise how unusual this is, we must understand that we operate in a world where very few countries have seen real wage growth in the middle-, let alone for the low-income group," he said during media interviews at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre yesterday.

In advanced countries like the United States, Europe and Japan, and even among Singapore's regional peers Hong Kong and Taiwan, real-income growth has been stagnant or negative since the global financial crisis despite generally low inflation and, in some cases, deflation.

"We should start off any discussion by being factual and objective about where we stand relative to other countries in the same world as us," said Mr Tharman.

He noted that Singapore has done unusually well in an increasingly volatile and fragile world, where uncertainties are mounting over the outlook for key regional economies like China, Indonesia and Malaysia, and the recovery in advanced countries like the US remains tepid.

"I say this not to spread fear but to underline the confidence that investors and businesses still have in Singapore in this very uncertain environment," he said.

In order for this unusual outperformance to continue, Singapore must find the right balance in its economic strategies and continue creating opportunities for people at all stages of life, said Mr Tharman. "We can't go for a strategy of wiping out businesses by suddenly over-tightening labour policy, but neither can we stick with the status quo (where a large segment of small and medium-sized enterprises are stuck in low-productivity activities, struggling to survive)."

Restructuring the economy will be a lengthy process and involves working with businesses, unions and workers to incentivise greater efficiency and promote innovation. "That means not being simplistic about things and going for a strategy that just wipes out a large segment of businesses in the hope that somehow or other productivity is summoned up," Mr Tharman said.

The restructuring effort is already starting to yield results - productivity growth measured by value-added per actual hours worked was about 3 per cent per year between 2009 and 2014, he noted.

"We're making progress but we've got to see this through. We will not be able to sustain the very unusual income growth we've seen if we don't persist in restructuring our economy."

'Balanced approach' on manpower policy to continue
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

Workers and companies affected by the ongoing economic restructuring will get more help to cope, but there will be no U-turn on the policy of keeping a lid on foreign worker numbers, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

This means companies must make the most of middle-aged and older workers by helping them to upgrade their skills, and not practise ageism and discrimination.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister and a candidate for Jurong GRC, was speaking to the media at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre yesterday.

He reiterated that the Government will continue to take a balanced approach towards manpower policy and not tighten the tap too rapidly. "I can think of labour policies which will wipe out businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, en masse, within a year or two.

"But that's a bad strategy, because it will also wipe out jobs."

Instead, "we have to find a balance, we have to be practical, and we have to think of ways to help our businesses upgrade", he said.

"We should push ahead, and keep up the pace of restructuring, and never let businesses think we're doing a U-turn."

The Government will do more to help middle-aged Singaporeans, including professionals, managers and executives, who are often hit hard when they lose their jobs, Mr Tharman said.

But employers have to play their part. "There can be no ageism in Singapore, no discrimination against Singaporeans because they're past 45 - get rid of that. That's how we go forward.

"Employers have to get real, and recognise that we have a permanently tight labour market.

"They have to recognise the value in every middle-aged Singaporean, develop them, take advantage of the government schemes."

This approach is necessary for Singapore to continue creating opportunities and jobs for its citizens, and ultimately raise real incomes, not just for the rich but also for those in the lower- and middle-income groups, he said.

"We need to build opportunities, not just for the people at the top, but opportunities across the board for all Singaporeans. That's at the heart of an inclusive society."

Elected candidates must uphold values of honesty and integrity. Equally important is their commitment and the heart to...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Friday, September 4, 2015

WP aiming to form future government: Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

It is clear that the Workers' Party (WP) has its eye on forming the government in the future, two Cabinet ministers from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) said yesterday.

"If you look at what Ms Sylvia Lim has said, what Mr Png Eng Huat has said, they're talking about forming the government," said Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, referring to the WP chairman and the MP for Hougang, respectively.

"So it's really a choice between the Government as it is and an alternate government. If you look at the speeches, they're quite clear that they want to form the government, in not too distant a future."

Ms Lim had, at a rally last week, said if WP forms the government, it will get rid of GRCs and the Nominated MP scheme, among other moves.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked his view of comments by Mr Gurmit Singh, a WP candidate in Nee Soon GRC, who told a rally last Friday that a foreign minister "can be dispensable" - a reference to how the WP unseated then Foreign Minister George Yeo in Aljunied GRC in 2011.

Mr Shanmugam, who leads the PAP team in Nee Soon GRC, said: "I suspect if you ask Mr Gurmit Singh, he will tell you that all the ministers in the different GRCs... are all dispensable. And I think that's a matter for Singaporeans to judge."

Similarly, Defence Minister and PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen rebutted the WP's comments that giving the PAP Government a strong mandate at the ballot box would give it a licence to be a bully.

"Why in the world would we be a bully when we've worked so hard to win voters' confidence?" he asked.

Referring to WP chief Low Thia Khiang's comment last week that a minimum of 20 opposition MPs was needed to check the PAP Government, Dr Ng said: "The WP says they want 'X' number of seats and when they reach there, they're going to stop? These are cat-and- mouse games during... the general election. Everyone sees through it."

Vivian: 'Zero' offering from SDP at local level
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

At the local level in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has done little for residents, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said.

"We are the incumbents, we've worked (here) for many years," he told reporters during a walkabout at Adam Road Food Centre yesterday morning.

"The residents know we've transformed the town and appreciate it,'' said the anchor minister, who is leading a four-member People's Action Party team against the SDP.

"I would also daresay that there is overwhelming support for the new plans that we have offered," he added, referring to better transport connectivity and upgrading of housing estates, among other things.

"So at a local level, there really is no contest. In fact, the SDP has offered absolutely zero at a local level," he concluded.

Dr Balakrishnan and fellow incumbents Liang Eng Hwa, Sim Ann and Christopher de Souza are up against SDP's 'A' team of party chief Chee Soon Juan, Prof Paul Tambyah, Ms Chong Wai Fung and Mr Sidek Mallek.

The minister was also critical of what he called the SDP's so-called policies and plans which, he said, "are downright dangerous, reckless and irresponsible".

He said his team and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam have "effectively demolished" these policies.

Last Saturday, Mr Tharman attacked the policy proposals of opposition parties, including the SDP, warning that free healthcare and other social services would impose a higher tax burden on middle-income families.

The Singapore Democratic Party's plans will hurt the middle class.
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Sunday, September 6, 2015

SDP's economic proposals include a minimum wage, raising the personal income tax rate for the top 1 per cent of earners, and increasing social spending, particularly on public healthcare.

Dr Balakrishnan, however, acknowledged that Singaporeans continue to be anxious about national issues such as the cost of living and job prospects.

His team intends to address these concerns in the remaining days of their campaign, he said, adding that they will also focus on Singapore's future challenges.

"We want to look forward and we want to focus on how Singapore will get to SG100 in a stronger position," he said, pointing out that there may be trade-offs.

"Unlike the opposition, we don't wave a magic wand and say, 'I can solve everything painlessly'."

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