An ideological change
Elections are not due soon but the ruling party has embarked on radical moves to win back voters. By Seah Chiang Nee.
April 20, 2013
(Important shift: Since
this writing, DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam has told Straits Times that
the cabinet has ideologically shifted to the left from the centre -
with more social goals.)
WITH election three years away, the problem-besieged government is striving hard to win back votes lost in
quick succession, it announced several measures in response to rising
complaints of Singaporeans, including the high costs of public housing
and new cars as well as congested public transport.
was poor planning of these issues that forced Prime Minister Lee Hsien
Loong to apologise to the nation in the 2011 election campaign.
most radical proposal involves resolving the spiralling costs of public
housing that may cut prices of new homes in non-mature estates by 30%.
said that if it could pull it off without damaging the confidence of
the whole property market, the ruling party could regain a bit of its
was the mass building of cheap flats that helped put the People’s
Action Party (PAP) in power in the 60s, but the current housing
setbacks are threatening its downfall.
a recent interview with The Straits Times, Minister of National
Development Khaw Boon Wan announced a critical policy rethink to make
it cheaper for young Singaporeans.
minister wants to target new flats in non-mature estates to cost around
“four years of salary” – instead of the current 5.5 years – which could
reduce prices by 30%.
was followed more recently by the Transport Ministry’s announcement
that from June 24, mass transit commuters to the city area before
7.45am on weekdays will travel free of charge.
It will be a one-year trial to reduce congestion by staggering travelling during morning peak hours.
made people sit up because it is very rare to see the profit-minded PAP
government provide free service even to the neediest of causes.
addition, Transport Minister Liu Tuck Yew announced that the government
is looking into opening up competition for bus routes over the next two
public buses are run by only two companies, both government-controlled.
Allowing outsiders into the trade would mark a new milestone.
an earlier related move, the authorities increased the down-payment for
the purchase of a new car by up to 50%. The loan period was also cut
from 10 to five years.
forced down the value of a COE (certificate of eligibility) that is
needed to buy a car, and therefore, the price of the vehicle.
the government has pledged that it will not be changing its decision on
the tightening of foreign manpower policies for the foreseeable future.
affected companies close down, assistance will be provided to them and
their workers to find alternatives, said Manpower Minister Tan Thuan
far, the details of the change in public housing policy have not been
released. As a result, many people regard it as merely a definitive
statement of intent, rather than achievement.
Singaporeans are generally giving the ruling party credit for trying,
but preferring to wait for the results to materialise before passing
recent years, the level of trust that Singaporeans have placed on their
leaders is low compared to that accorded to the first generation PAP
were other praiseworthy efforts, like Finance Minister Tharman
Shanmugaratnam’s Wealth Tax announced in his 2014 budget, which
included higher registration fees for high value cars and additional
levies on foreign workers.
revenue raised was partly used to subsidise 40% of pay hikes that
employers may give to low-income workers. It was aimed at narrowing the
gap between the rich and poor.
These problems are among the most serious faced by Singaporeans, next to excessive immigration.
are giving the republic the dubious distinction of being one of the
most expensive cities in the world – as well as contributing to the
extreme reluctance of young Singaporeans to have children.
list of problems the government faces today is long and will take a lot
more efforts than the present ones – and political will – to resolve.
top of the list is excessive immigration, especially the admission of
more than 140,000 S-Pass professionals and middle-ranking managers to
work in the city-state and thus undercutting locals.
people are cynical about the effectiveness of the new measures on
housing and transportation as long as mass import of foreigners
now make up nearly 40% of the population. A recent White Paper on
Population projected a 6.9 million population by 2030, up from the
current 5.3 million.
has suggested that the authorities may even do away with the income
ceiling for Build-To-Order public flats for first-time buyers.
would make them open to all first-time Singaporeans. He declared that
“their Singapore dream of owning their own homes, like their parents’,
who is also chairman of the PAP, said to do that, the Housing and
Development Board (HDB) “will no longer be a price follower, but
instead act to be a price setter”.
This set off a chorus of public complaints from people who had suffered from high prices all these years.
housing prices should never have followed the trend of the
free-wheeling private market,” said a writer. “But past ministers in
charge – with an eye for profits – just turned a blind eye to it for
of that, another added, resale HDB prices had increased by 80% over the
past six years, putting them out of reach of many new buyers.
“You are the story or you are also writing the story,” he said.