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PAP MP Inderjit Singh: Not every Singaporean's life is better

AsiaOne | Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SINGAPORE - Mr Inderjit Singh said in a lengthy post on Facebook that "things have become tougher for some middle and low income Singaporeans" over the last three years.

The PAP MP asked in his commentary: "We must ask ourselves, are all the amenities and entertainment places we built in the last 10 years being enjoyed by mainly Singaporeans or by new arrivals and foreigners?"

In the Facebook post he put up on Monday night, he looked more closely at the disconnect between Singapore's wealth and well-being of Singaporeans, as well as how policies are made here.

sinsh@sph.com.sg

His post on Facebook:

Response to the President Address At the Re-Opening of 2nd Session of Parliament May 2014

Introduction

1. Parliament is debating the President's address this week. I wanted to share my thoughts on what the government has achieved in the past 3 three years and what more it can do in the remainder of this 12th term of parliament. Since I am currently traveling and not in Singapore, I decided to share my thoughts through this post instead.

2. Post GE2011, the government got a very clear signal from Singaporeans about the issues that affected them most and the government spent considerable time fixing these problems, which were created as a result of a decade long series of policy misjudgment linked to its "growth at all cost" economic strategy. We must all agree, that the government has done well in many areas, particularly the manner in which it sorted out issues in the housing, healthcare and even transport to some extent.

3. The icing on the cake has been the Pioneer Generation Package, which is unprecedented in Singapore on many counts and shows that the government is taking an effort to move beyond dollars and cents, to inculcate care and compassion in policy making. But, really though, beyond the Pioneer Package, if someone were to ask me honestly whether the lives of all Singaporeans have become better in these last few years, I would not be able to do that.

The disconnect between the country's wealth and Singaporeans' well being

4. Yes, I would agree that Singapore as a country and as an economy has improved. Yes Singapore has become richer, but not all Singaporeans have seen an improvement in their daily lives. I mean it is really a noteworthy achievement that while most of the developed world remains mired in an economic crisis that can be traced back to more than 5 years ago, Singapore has emerged relatively unscathed, grown from strength to strength and even restructured and repositioned its economy in the meanwhile. But did every Singaporean benefit from this? I would say there is still a significant section of our society who didn't. Did every Singaporean's life become better? Sadly, not every Singaporean's did.

5. In fact, things have become tougher for some middle and low income Singaporeans. While wages may have risen, the cost of living outpaced the rise in wages and therefore life has become tougher for some unless they adjust their lifestyles downwards to live comfortably in their own country. If this is the message for Singaporeans as has been suggested by some, I think it is a sad thing because for many years since independence Singaporeans had expected and also achieved better and better standards of living and aimed higher and higher had their aspirations met or exceeded. The growing income disparity coupled with stagnant wages at the bottom and a sudden increase in population has put undue pressure on lower income Singaporeans. Of course the rich are very happy - high end restaurants and places of entertainment are always busy and full. We must ask ourselves, are all the amenities and entertainment places we built in the last 10 years being enjoyed by mainly Singaporeans or by new arrivals and foreigners? I really wonder whether this is what we want as a nation.

6. We progressed from 3rd world to 1st world in just 1 generation - a great success. So where is the disconnect between the country's wealth, which has grown tremendously, and Singaporeans' wealth. While indicators may seem to indicate most Singaporeans are richer, I believe they may be so because of things such as assets enhancement, which may not mean everyone's life became better because they actually have less disposable income. While the government wants to solve this through unlocking asset wealth for retirement spending at old age it may not be the best way.

7. I would caution against overly emphasizing the role of the home in providing for retirement adequacy. To achieve this goal of a home being a source of retirement funding, asset appreciation would be beneficial. However, the appreciation of housing prices can cause serious anxiety among the young who are looking to settle down and start a family. Asset appreciation can, very simplistically, be seen as an intergenerational transfer of wealth - the young working Singaporean is paying the elderly retiree an inflated price for their home.

8. Asset appreciation through increase in property prices also has an illusory effect on a person's wealth. Even though my home price has increased constantly over the years I am not any richer till I dispose of my property. But in that instance, I would have to purchase a replacement home, which would of course be more expensive. Constantly increasing property prices, in my opinion, are not a good thing for our country. With our limited land space, a meltdown of the property mar-ket like that seen in certain American states in 2008/09 may be unlikely, but the fear is still real and justified.

9. What worries me most is how our young see their future in Singapore. Are they seeing a good life becoming more difficult to achieve or do they see a sense of hope and opportunity in Singapore? The most important task ahead for the government and this parliament is to improve the lives of the average Singaporean and to show our young that this is their home where they will benefit most from the opportunities that arise and that this country is their best hope of finding a good life.

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