Thursday, 3 September 2015

GE2015: The key issues

Foreign worker numbers likely to be a hot topic
Opposition parties blame foreigners for competition for jobs, places in good schools, crowding in public transport
By Aaron Low, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

Immigration and the large number of foreign workers are likely to be among the hottest topics the opposition parties will raise during the nine days of election campaigning that started yesterday.

The ruling People's Action Party's policies on immigration will be scrutinised and criticised by opposition parties looking to capitalise on the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore, said analysts.

This is because the issue of immigration "is most visible and directly experienced by Singaporeans", said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

There were some 1.6 million foreigners in Singapore last year, making up about 29.3 per cent of the 5.47-million population.

Many opposition parties blamed this large contingent of foreign workers for taking away jobs from Singaporeans, raising competition for places in good schools and the overcrowded public transport system.

Among the most vocal of the parties is SingFirst, whose secretary- general Tan Jee Say said at a press conference last week that the influx of foreigners is "a very sad thing".

SingFirst wants to "take back our country from the Government that has given the country away to foreigners", he said. The party did not have firm plans on how it wants to do this, nor did it have a manifesto to elaborate on solutions.

The Workers' Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) took a more measured approach, calling for policies to be tweaked, and offered alternative policies.

The WP, for instance, said that it is not "anti-immigration or anti-immigrant" but instead wants to strengthen the Singapore core by raising birth rates.

It proposed a zero-growth strategy in foreign workers if the local resident labour force can grow by 1 per cent every year.

It also wants to introduce a 10-year through-train programme for schoolchildren from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 so as to remove the focus on big examinations.

The SDP, in its manifesto, blames the immigration policy for having led to massive overcrowding in Singapore, which in turn has caused property prices to escalate and COE prices to skyrocket.

To prevent the foreign worker contingent from growing, the SDP wants all foreign workers to be assessed based on a point system and put into a pool.

Only those short-listed for this pool can be hired by firms, which also have to prove that local workers do not have the skills these foreign workers have.

Other parties are saving their ammunition for issues relating to CPF, housing and building a stronger social welfare net.

The Reform Party is gunning for more transparency in the way the CPF funds are used.

It also wants to give an old-age pension to older Singaporeans and a fixed monthly child-benefit cash grant for all children under the age of 16 years.

Where major parties stand on key issues
The nine days of campaigning will see parties sparring on issues they consider as the most important for voters to consider. The Straits Times takes a look at the major parties' manifestos to find out where they stand on some hot-button issues.

The People's Action Party


At the heart of this general election is the decision by voters on where they want the country to head, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Voters are not only choosing who will lead the country for the next five years but the vote will also determine where the country will be headed over the next 50 years.
- Next PM will likely come from those elected at this general election, said PM Lee.
- Several potential political office-holders were drafted in this general election. Former chief of defence force Ng Chee Meng will stand in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, while former senior civil servant Chee Hong Tat will contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Ministers have repeatedly stressed that for Singapore to succeed, the economy must continue to grow. To this end, the PAP will push ahead with its plan to restructure the economy and invest in Singaporeans. Among the initiatives launched:
- A decade-long economic restructuring which is aimed at raising productivity and transforming the economy.
- Push to help equip Singaporeans with skills to prepare for the future through the national SkillsFuture programme.
- Job assistance to PMETs, through training and job matching services such as the Singapore Jobs Bank.

To help nudge Singaporeans to have more babies, it is promising to make it easier for young couples to have children.
- The PAP will work to increase the birth rate. Last month, the Baby Bonus cash gift for children of married couples was increased by $2,000, bringing the amount they will receive to at least $8,000. It also introduced longer paternity leave and gave extra financial grants to help families move closer to their parents.
- Expand childcare and pre-school support.

The Workers' Party


The WP has said that it is not against immigration but believes that relying on foreigners to boost Singapore's economy and fix population woes is not the solution.

Instead, it wants to:
- Increase birth rates by creating a less stressful education system.
- Help boost flexiwork arrangements and family care leave, and create a better work-life balance.
- If the resident labour workforce can grow at 1 per cent a year, WP is proposing to cap foreign worker numbers at the current level, or introduce a zero foreign worker growth policy.

The WP wants to improve the retirement adequacy of Singaporeans by tweaking the CPF system. Among the things it is proposing to do:
- Lower the CPF Payout Eligibility Age to 60 from 65.
- Delink the Payout Eligibility Age from the Retirement Age and the Re-employment Age.
- Give full transparency on how CPF funds are invested and refund the difference between the investment returns made on CPF funds and the interest payable on CPF balances.
- Introduce corporate pension plans and peg CPF Life payouts to inflation.

The WP wants to move the education system away from the current focus on exams and help equip Singaporeans with critical thinking skills and values.

It aims to do this by:
Reducing class size to 20 students and moving away from an exam-focused system.Introducing a 10-year through-train school programme from Primary 1 to Secondary 4.Giving neighbourhood schools additional funding to narrow the gap between neighbourhood and good schools.

The Singapore Democratic Party


The SDP blames high property prices, rising COE prices and overcrowding on the loose immigration policies put in place by the Government.

To correct this, it wants:
- Firms to show that foreigners they intend to hire have skills that Singaporean workers lack before being allowed to hire them.
- Foreigners who want to work here to be screened and placed on a point system. Only those shortlisted from this pool may be hired.
- Non-Singaporeans to be retrenched before locals.

The SDP proposes to overhaul the healthcare system.
- Do away completely with the "3M" - Medisave, Medifund and MediShield - system. Monies in Medisave get refunded to the CPF members.
- Replace it with a single pool of funds to which the Government contributes 84 per cent. Singaporeans to pay an average of $400 a year to the National Health Investment Fund, depending on income levels. Individuals earning less than $800 are exempt from paying.
- Build new hospitals and medical infrastructure while hiring more doctors and nurses. Budget: $1.5 billion a year.

The SDP is proposing a different model of economic growth. It wants to:
- Replace gross domestic product as a measure of the economy with a Genuine Progress Indicator that also takes into account Singaporeans' quality of life and overall happiness.
- Legislate a minimum wage to combat the rising wage gap.
- Divest of government-linked companies such as Singtel and grow local small and medium-sized enterprises to encourage entrepreneurship.

The Singapore Democratic Alliance


The SDA believes that with the increase of foreigners here, "true blue Singaporeans" will be in the minority. It defines a true blue Singaporean as being locally born.

"We will preserve a 'Singapore for Singaporeans' value strongly, where in everything essential and beneficial, it will always be 'Singaporeans first'," said SDA in its manifesto.
- It will spell out what a true blue Singaporean is in the Constitution and ensure that the highest political offices can be held only by local-born Singaporeans.
- New schemes to take care of mothers. Build new childcare centres and give more incentives to families with children.
- Extend the same benefits, grants and welfare to single parents.

SDA believes the CPF system is flawed and does not provide enough for retirement.

It wants to change the system:
- Prevent CPF monies from being used to pay for education, housing and healthcare costs.
- Excess returns earned by investment firms investing the CPF monies should be shared with CPF members.

The cost of owning a public flat today is too high and should be immediately fixed, said SDA.

It wants to put in place several new policies:
- Build more rental units and allow people, especially younger couples, to rent them without rigid application guidelines.
- Build flats that are sold to lower-income Singaporeans who cannot afford a flat under the current Build-To-Order scheme or the resale market. These flats can be sold back only to the HDB and not on the open market.

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