Mr Speaker, the Government’s direction as encapsulated by the President’s Address continues in the same vein from the last term of Parliament. A significant part of the information contained in the addenda to the President’s Address have been made known previously even before Parliament was prorogued.
The Workers’ Party MPs have therefore raised issues that remain at the top of the public mind – such as HDB matters, the cost of living, issues that affect seniors and the young, and matters of fairness and inclusivity.
For my part, I will cover three broad points:
First, I will speak about foreigners in Singapore and restate my call to the Government to ensure that our foreign talent policies translate to tangible benefits for Singaporeans. Secondly, I will revisit my call for proficiency in English as a requirement for PRs and new citizens;
Third, I will address the Deputy Prime Minister’s (DPM) remarks on the Workers’ Party as an opposition that seeks to chip away at the people’s trust in Government. I will also address the DPM’s questions to the Workers’ Party concerning the Goods and Services Tax and list several policy proposals made by the Workers’ Party which have been adopted by the Government.
Foreign Workers and Foreign Talent
First, foreigners in Singapore.
Workers’ Party MPs know from our engagement with the public that a unique Singapore identity – proud and distinctive – has formed, but it continues to evolve. Insofar as a new social compact is concerned, Singaporeans seek a fairer, more inclusive and more caring society. The Government recognizes this and my colleagues have signposted areas where these objectives can be operationalised.
In his addenda, the Minister in charge of the Strategy Group under the PMO, DPM Lawrence Wong has committed to carefully manage foreign worker and immigration flows, to ensure that these translate into tangible benefits for Singaporeans, and separately, to help newcomers integrate better into society.
With respect to tangible benefits for Singaporeans, the Workers’ Party has made that specific point repeatedly, and we continue to see it as an important requirement to ensure society remains welcoming of foreigners.
The Workers’ Party has also made calls for a report card on the Industry Transformation Maps and job outcomes for Singaporeans. The publication of outcome-based indicators of Government policies would be useful tools in ensuring continued public support or at least understanding of the government’s foreign talent policies. Providing evidence of how foreign talent policies help Singaporeans in concrete ways will help prevent xenophobia, something we must always guard against.
To this end, it is useful for me to restate the point that the Workers’ Party made on the parliamentary debate on Free Trade Agreements and specifically, the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement or CECA in September 2021, a point Minister Ong Ye Kung brought up yesterday. As that debate proved, getting the PAP Government to reveal information on the number of Intra-Corporate Transferees from India that worked in Singapore upon the introduction of CECA was like squeezing blood from a stone. Parliamentary questions had been filed by the Workers’ Party on the issue from 2016 but forthright answers were not forthcoming.
In the meantime, pressures and tensions on the ground built up as not a small number of Singaporeans became emotionally charged about CECA, using it as adjective, and in very uncharitable and downright racist ways. The Workers’ Party sought information, answers to which could have shed light and reduced heat before things reached boiling point. Unlike as suggested by Minister Ong yesterday, sometimes, filing a parliamentary question does not guarantee receiving an adequate and substantive answer from the PAP government from which alternatives can germinate.
Moving forward, another potential tinderbox that the Government should look at closely is growth of family offices, inflows of foreign wealth and how Singaporeans are taking to these developments. There are already murmurings of discontent that are led by emotional perspectives created by facts such as the mass buying spree of properties in single developments by foreigners. If the Government does not step in early and fill the information vacuum on how outcomes for Singapore and Singaporeans are enhanced, this subject may turn xenophobic and ugly too. And it would be important for the Government to be on top of this.
In future, the PAP must not see calls for information as a Trojan Horse for ulterior motives or a red herring. When there are requests for detailed figures, the PAP must not turn defensive in response to the Parliamentary opposition of the day, playing its role in checking the Government of the day.
In moving this motion, MP Murali Pillai stated that we must recognise that the nature of the electorate is changing and today, a new generation is emerging. Standing taller and brighter than the ones before. He also said, and I quote, “people’s psyche will change and, as they do, their government must change to a degree and at a speed unprecedented.” Unquote.
Likewise, the interventions of the opposition in this House, the questions it asks, and the proposals it advances must reflect this new psyche. Going forward, the 4G PAP leadership cannot be dismissive or breezily use national security or sensitivity as reasons for withholding information without good reason. In fact, I foresee that a greater openness to releasing information will be fundamental to the refreshed social compact that the 4G leadership seeks to forge with Singaporeans through the Forward Singapore exercise.
English Requirement for PR and Citizens
On the point of the PMO’s Strategy Group addendum covering better integration of newcomers into society, I had proposed an English requirement for PRs and citizenship applications in last month’s Committee of Supply debate.
A few weeks later, in a demographically representative poll of 500 Singapore-born citizens aged between 18 and 69, a CNA-Mediacorp survey reported on 3 Apr this month by Channel News Asia found that almost 80% were in favour of an English test for new PRs and citizens.
Prior to the release of this survey result, in some limited quarters, the proposal for an English requirement was incorrectly understood as a divisive one, with the implicit point being that mother tongue languages would somehow be compromised or that an English requirement was a test of Singaporeans. But these criticisms missed the key point of the proposal which was focused on integration. I am gratified that the demographically-representative survey respondents did not miss the point.
The wide support for an English requirement as shown by the survey can perhaps be traced to the historical use of English in Singapore, as established by the Pioneer generation of PAP leaders. In the 2012 publication, Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said and I quote:
“When Singapore celebrated its 21st National Day on 9 Aug 1986, it also celebrated a different sort of milestone: it was the first time emcees of the event used English to lead the audience, where before they had to use three languages – Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. The crowds likewise responded in English….Where before the different races in Singapore were like different tanks of fish in an aquarium – together before your eyes, but segregated from one another – now they had a common language linking them together. They still retained their mother tongues, whether Chinese, Malay or Tamil, but a common knowledge of English enabled them to share together the joys of the occasion. I was a proud man that day.” Unquote.
On the occasion of the 100th year of his birth this year, those words of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew are timely. The late Prime Minister Lee was clear. English would be a functional language with which to access the knowledge of the world and a “tool of survival”. The mother tongue is the cultural language, used to transmit the culture’s traditional values.
More than three decades since his words in 1986, Singaporeans understand that immigration is necessary to top up our population. But they also instinctively appreciate the importance of a lingua franca for better integration with newcomers and the signal it sends of Singapore as a multi-racial and multi-cultural nation, not just in form, but in substance. So, no one should be surprised at advocacy for our lingua franca, namely English, to binds Singaporeans together. At the same time however, we must never sever our cultural roots. All of us must remain proud and celebrate of our individual cultures, including our mother tongues.
One legitimate concern however, is the possible difficulty of an English requirement for foreign spouses who apply for PR or citizenship. Sir, the Workers’ Party in its 2020 manifesto called for the fast-track naturalization of foreign spouses on LTVP+, subject to certain conditions such as having at least one Singaporean child.
I would suggest that an English requirement for foreign spouses can be one of the criteria for fast-tracking these applications. My proposal calls for, all other things being equal, that additional points or consideration be given for PR and citizenship to foreign spouses who have a working proficiency in English. As the government has openly stated, our immigration policy and immigration intake is calibrated to preserve the racial balance, and by extension, an English requirement would not favour one racial group over the other just because applicants of one racial group already use English and the other does not.
Sir, a fast track for foreign spouses would give families with one Singaporean spouse much peace of mind. In effect, for foreign spouses, the English requirement would serve as a +1 criterion or bonus criterion. It would nudge and better align immigration policy with our bilingualism policy, which is a fundamental aspect of the Singapore system. For the record, this Workers’ Party proposal does not contradict any of the eight principles of Singapore’s bilingualism policy established by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr Speaker, the Singaporean identity continues to mature. For a young nation, this is a positive force, one that instinctively drives us towards inclusivity. It is wholly consistent with the values professed by the Government’s agenda that seeks, I quote, “a deepening of Singaporeans’ sense of shared identity and mutual responsibility towards one another.” I hope the Government can explore the best ways to reinforce the importance of English as a common language in our daily life as it makes a big difference to the lived experience of many Singaporeans. The signaling effect on the centrality of our multi-racial and multi-cultural society is immense.
Sir, let me move to my third point. I did not expect the DPM to use his speech on the President’s Address to attack and accuse the Workers’ Party of advancing opportunistic or populist ideas to chip away, bit by bit, the trust in Government.
The PAP shifted its position yesterday when Minister Ong Ye Kung conceded that the Workers’ Party had brought up many good ideas. But both Ministers were consistent in calling for the opposition to present an alternative agenda and even an alternative budget. I will deal with this point in the course of my speech.
To address DPM Wong, if all we were doing was putting forward populist, unrealistic policies, we would not see the Government actively considering some variation of Workers’ Party manifesto ideas on anti-discrimination legislation, minimum wage and redundancy insurance. If chipping away at trust in the Government was our real agenda, we would not see the Minister for National Development acknowledging the Workers’ Party point highlighting the inherent inequity of HDB taxpayer subsidies as currently applied between mature and non-mature BTO flats.
It is a most unfair charge leveled at the Workers’ Party which in reality, chips away at the integrity of our parliamentary democracy as an important platform for the exposition and contestation of ideas. In fact, we welcome the PAP taking up Workers’ Party points because the real beneficiaries are not the Workers’ Party or the PAP, but the people of Singapore.
Mr Speaker, please allow me to list just a few of our policy proposals to demolish this idea that the Workers’ Party has not put forward serious alternatives.
1. Verifying educational qualifications of Employment Pass holders
In our 2020 General Election manifesto, we called for the introduction of Employment Pass credentials assessment. We said that all Employment Pass and S Pass job applicants with university degrees and diplomas should be subject to mandatory educational credential assessments (ECAs), with costs to be borne by the applicant.
On 1 March this year, the Ministry of Manpower announced that companies in Singapore would need to verify the educational qualifications of Employment Pass applicants from 1 Sep 2023.
2. Broadcast Parliamentary sittings live
In our 2020 and 2015 General Election Manifestos, we called for live, unedited broadcasts of parliamentary sittings.
From the 4th of January 2021, Singaporeans were able to view live-streamed sessions of Parliament.
3. National hydrogen strategy
Aljunied GRC MP Gerald Giam called for a National Renewable Hydrogen Strategy in Parliament in January 2022 during the motion on a Low-Carbon Society and again during Budget 2022.
On 25 October the same year, the Energy Market Authority announced that Singapore was launching a National Hydrogen Strategy to accelerate the transition to net zero emissions and to strengthen energy security.
4. Equalised maternity leave of 16 weeks for Single Unwed Mothers
In our 2011 and 2015 General Election Manifestos, we called for equitable Support for Single Parents. In our 2011 manifesto, we stated that while having children outside of marriage should continue to be discouraged in our society, children born to single parents should not be denied the benefits that children of married parents receive. The children are innocent parties and should not start life being disadvantaged. We said that single parents should receive the same parenthood benefit packages as married parents. In our 2015 manifesto, we reiterated our call to grant single unwed mothers the full 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. In addition, we argued that single mothers should be made eligible for both the Working Mother’s Child Relief as well as the Foreign Maid Levy Relief. Excluding single mothers from these schemes unnecessarily penalises vulnerable children and single mothers. We added that the government should extend the same help to single fathers.
On the 9th of November 2016, the Government announced that from January 2017, unmarried mothers would have 16 weeks of paid maternity leave – equal to their married counterparts – and fathers would have two weeks of paid paternity leave.
5. BTO priority and forfeiture for non-selection.
In our 2015 General Election Manifesto we called for the “3-Tries BTO”. We proposed that first-timer BTO applicants on the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme be given priority up to their third try in selecting a flat, so as to minimise the waiting time for couples to buy a flat and plan for starting a family. We called for the priority to be forfeited if the first-timer BTO applicants were invited to select a flat in any one of the previous tries, but did not book a unit.
On the 2nd of March this year, the Government announced that first-time BTO applicants who give up their chance to select a flat would lose their priority status. From the August 2023 BTO exercise, first-timers who fail to choose a flat once will be deemed second-timers for a year in the computer ballot. Second-timers who accumulate one non-selection count, down from the current two counts, will have to wait one year before they can apply for a flat again.
6. Impose a charge for use of plastic bags
In our 2020 General Election Manifesto on curbing the use of plastics, we called for the introduction of a single-use plastic charge, phased in over five years, to encourage a reduction in plastic waste while looking for alternatives. This is what we said: “The value of the charge would need to be sufficiently high to change behaviours but remain sensitive to the needs of lower socio-economic groups and PWDs.” We called for a nationwide public education campaign to raise awareness of the effects of single-use plastics and other more sustainable alternatives.
On the 2nd of March this year, the Government announced a plastic charge at most Singapore supermarkets from 3 July 2023 with two-thirds of all supermarkets imposing a charge of at least 5 cents for each carrier bag.
7. One family paired to one GP
In our 2015 General Election Manifesto, seven years ago, the Workers’ Party called for the Family Doctor Pairing Scheme. We argued that pairing families with GPs would encourage patients to remain with one family doctor, who would be more familiar with their background and medical history. This would facilitate earlier detection of illnesses, provide more accurate diagnoses, reduce duplication of treatment, and improve coordination with other care providers. We proposed all resident families be paired with a GP near their home and that Singaporeans could be given the option to change their assigned GP.
In October 2022, this House debated the HealthierSG White Paper, which among other things put forward the Government’s proposal for one family physician and one health plan for everyone. Under the plan, each resident chooses the family doctor or clinic. Flexibility will be provided for residents to change their enrolled doctor if they need to do so.
8. Flexible Work Arrangements
In our 2015 General Election manifesto, seven years ago again, the Workers’ Party called for the fair regulation of mandatory flexi-work arrangements, where companies should be obliged to cater for a work-life friendly environment for workers. We suggested that employees who work for a company with more than 20 employees for more than 6 months should be allowed to make requests for flexible working arrangements. Employers could refuse the request on reasonable business grounds, but must discuss the options available with the employee. The discussion must be duly documented, and employees may appeal the refusal if there is a dispute over the grounds for refusing a request. We also called for tax breaks and enhanced Work-Life Grants to be made widely available to help companies accommodate the flexi-work arrangements relevant to their respective industries.
In the course of this debate no less, MOS Gan Siow Huang has reiterated that to entrench flexible work arrangements, MOM and the tripartite partners will introduce a set of Tripartite Guidelines by 2024. The Guidelines would require employers to consider requests for flexible work arrangements fairly and properly.
Sir, this is a non-exhaustive listing of Workers’ Party alternative proposals. There are of course proposals that were long advanced Workers’ Party MPs on criminal legal aid which were strenuously rejected by the PAP. For example, on criminal legal aid, the PAP’s long-standing position was that it could not accept the taxpayer simultaneously funding both the prosecution and criminal defence. But they shifted positions and criminal legal aid finally became a reality in the last session of Parliament. When the Workers’ Party raised the matter of anti-discrimination laws and redundancy insurance, the PAP similarly offered many reasons why it could not be done then or were unmoved and not persuaded, only to shift its position later and take up the suggestion.
One specific point which the DPM reopened in this debate was the GST and the Workers’ Party’s approach to it.
This is rather strange because the debate over the last few years has been about the GST hike, not the GST per se. Even so, as the DPM spoke on Monday, I wondered why the DPM would want to raise the GST question at this debate, because those questions ought to have come during the Budget debate. Had the question on the Workers’ Party position on the GST per se been asked then, the answer would have been obvious. Workers’ Party policy positions cannot be immutable and have to evolve with the political realities of the time. We may not have supported the GST when it was first introduced decades ago, but we recognise it as part of our system. But accepting the GST as it stands, does not mean accepting every GST hike put forward by the Government.
The Workers’ Party went into the last general elections opposing the hike in the GST. We did not ask for the removal of the GST completely, since the GST has been an endemic feature of our tax system for many years. At least from the time I entered this House, the Workers’ Party’s position concerned the necessity of GST hikes because the GST hurts the poor and middle-class the hardest.
Mr Speaker, Singaporeans know that no GST offset package lasts forever. Singaporeans are also acutely aware that a one-percent increase in GST this year, does not mean that the prices of goods and services will only rise by 1%. As we all know, for the man and woman on the street, the rise can be compounded many more times especially for basic things.
Even with the Government’s newly enhanced permanent GSTV Scheme in 2022, by the Ministry of Finance’s own reckoning, for low-income households who do not have elderly members, the GSTV Scheme will offset about half, and not all of their total GST expenses. I am aware that in February this year, the GSTV-Cash component of the GSTV Scheme was increased by up to $350. However, I have not been able to find an MOF statement that sets out in parallel how much this increase will offset the total GST expenses for a low-income family without elderly members.
Sir, the Workers’ Party’s view is that if there are options to stave off this 1 or 2% rise in GST to fend off concomitant price rises in basic things like food at the coffeeshop or hawker centre for the man and woman in the street, as a responsible opposition that has the welfare of Singaporeans at heart, the Workers’ Party has to ask, why not consider and debate them? That is what we must be expected to do in this House.
The DPM does not want the Workers’ Party to relitigate the alternatives ideas we raised to make up the GST hike by saying that the sums do not add up. I believe when he says this, he means the sums do not add up if you want to remove the GST completely. But the DPM would be acutely aware that this House was never debating the total removal of the GST in the last session of Parliament, nor have we done so as long as the DPM has been in the House. This is a distraction and the PAP should be upfront about it, since we have clearly been talking about a GST hike from 7-9% and what alternatives there are for it.
I would like to ask the DPM whether the Government still intends to proceed with the GST hike from 8-9% next year, or whether it would consider a pause first, in view of persisting inflationary and cost of living pressures, and secondly, to accommodate changes to our corporate tax receipts that will inevitably crystallize further in the wake of BEPS 2.0. This is especially since the Government has announced at this year’s Budget that it would implement a domestic top-up tax that will raise large MNE groups’ effective tax rate in Singapore to 15% in 2025, less than two years from now. Should the corporate tax revenues look respectable and sustainable for the short to medium-term without any real compromise in our attractiveness to foreign investors, it may not be necessary to introduce another hike to the GST from 8% to 9% for 2024, if corporate tax which contributes about 25% of our tax revenues today, goes up further.
Sir, the Workers’ Party’s interventions, including our proposals on alternatives to the GST hike, seek better outcomes for Singaporeans. If our agenda was rank opportunism or populism as suggested by the DPM, the public would reject that brand of politics. But many Singaporeans do not want the cause of opposition politics in Singapore to fail, and instinctively recognise the importance of a rational, respectable and responsible political opposition in this House.
For that reason, the public’s expectations of the outcomes in General Elections are not necessarily in synchrony with DPM Lawrence Wong’s point that every election from now will be about who forms the Government. What the DPM says is true in a theoretical sense – that elections are about who forms the Government; But as the PAP itself likes to tout – Singapore is unique.
The political reality in the Singapore context – a combination of the first-past-the-post system, the size and footprint the opposition parties, certain grassroots organisations manned by PAP apparatchiks, and an Electoral Boundary Review Committee that comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, amongst other factors – all these reveal that the real prospect for a change of government during general elections today, conceals the advantage of PAP incumbency far more than the DPM cares to let Singaporeans in on.
The DPM asked us to be honest about our plans, policies and intentions. On the heady dreams of displacing the PAP and of forming the Government, the reality is that the Workers’ Party is a small party and we have a long way to go. Our medium-term objective is to ensure that 1/3 of the seats in this House are not in the PAP’s hands. I said this in 2018 in a speech to Workers’ Party members, which is publicly available under the Key Speeches section in the Leader of the Opposition’s website and this was reported by the mainstream media. What is the significance of this figure of 1/3 and why is it important?
The Constitution – the highest law of our land which all other laws must take reference from – can only be changed if at least 2/3 of the MPs in this House agree. Should any political party with more than 2/3 of the seats in this House decide to change the Constitution arbitrarily, there is nothing that can be done to stop them. Today, the PAP doesn’t just have a 2/3 majority, it has a super-majority of more than 75% of the seats. If we exclude NMPs who cannot vote on Constitutional changes, the total denominator is 93 elected MPs and two NCMPs. That brings the PAP super-majority to close to 90% today.
We are not playing masak-masak when we make changes to the Constitution – these are serious matters involving the lives of Singaporeans to a very acute degree. In order to pass a constitutional amendment with a 2/3 majority, the PAP government needs 63 votes in the House. The PAP has 83 MPs today. The PAP can even change the entire Constitution at one go, with 20 PAP MPs to spare.
Let me give an illustration of how why these numbers are important. On the 21st of March this year, just last month in fact exactly one month ago, Parliament passed amendments to the Constitution. Some of the changes included amendments to Article 9 that sought to ensure that laws relating to the misuse of drugs that authorize the arrest and detention of any person for treatment and rehabilitation, remain valid under the Constitution. A separate change involved the introduction of a legal mechanism to reduce the balance of the Contingencies Fund so as to maintain discipline in how the Government manages its finances.
Unbeknownst to many members of the public and voters, there were only 67 MPs in the House present when that Constitutional amendment was passed on the 21st of March last month. These 67 MPs included seven Workers’ Party MPs.
If all the Workers’ Party MPs had not been present in the House at the time of that vote, the Constitution could not have been amended as sought by the PAP as only 60 PAP MPs were present.
I want to emphasise that the Workers’ Party’s intention is not to block all changes to the Constitution proposed by a PAP Government. Far from it. If Constitutional amendments are in the interests of our people, we will support them. But if we assess that proposed changes to the Constitution are detrimental to Singapore and Singaporeans, we will speak against them and vote against them.
Voting against Constitutional amendments is not something that PAP MPs will be able to do if their Party Whip is not lifted. They can talk all they like in this House and go to ends of the earth claiming to be making a principled stand, but they cannot vote other than how the PAP leadership dictates.
Sir, the Workers’ Party seek an evolution of Singapore politics towards a permanent presence of elected opposition MPs, so as to ensure a sufficient balance in our political system against an extraordinarily dominant PAP. We do not seek a revolution that includes a change of Government at this stage of Singapore’s political development. Based on my reading, this view is consistent with general public sentiment. But the PAP should not rest on its laurels, because this can change, and it is because of that question that has been asked before – what if a rogue government sprang from the bosom of the PAP?
The PAP knows that as long as the Workers’ Party is not in Government, it will never have the full breadth of considerations and access to detail that the PAP is privy to – cabinet briefings and papers, access to the hundreds of classified public surveys, and of course, the intellectual and operational engine of the civil service. And so, the DPM demands that we come up with a serious alternative agenda and alternative budget at this stage, knowing that there is a more than likely chance we will inevitably fall short on detail owing to the obvious information asymmetries. And come election time, the PAP can tell the public that no serious alternatives have been presented. But where we have alternative ideas, we have advanced them, and will continue to do so in spite of the political realities.
We have been open with Singaporeans and nailed our flag to the mast in the course of campaigning for the people’s votes to put us into Parliament. Our manifestos have not been an amalgamation of broad statements of purpose and glossy pictures, but specific proposals, with a view to better the lives of Singaporeans. If these proposals that I have highlighted earlier were not serious, why did the PAP take them onboard and devote fiscal resources to fund them and policy resources to implement them?
At its core Mr Speaker, respectfully, what the DPM has to appreciate is that the public expectations of the Workers’ Party in Parliament and as elected MPs differ from the PAP’s expectations of the Workers’ Party, and rightly so. For many Singaporeans, the key operative consideration in making their vote count goes far beyond, and transcends, just a change of Government. There are real political questions the voters have to consider which they are acutely aware of.
Firstly, Singaporeans want an opposition to check the PAP because in their heart of hearts, we all know that “ownself check ownself” is not realistic. The inherent nature of power makes it unrealistic. Secondly, it is in our collective self-interest that no one Party can amend the Constitution – the highest law of the land – at will, so it is wise to have at least 1/3 of the House in a party or parties other than the PAP. Thirdly, in the same vein as the Prime Minister’s alluded to in his speech in this debate, Singapore’s future is not a given. And it follows that no one can ignore the possibility of a rogue government springing from the bosom of the PAP. Our people should have real political options if or when that happens.
These are the reasons why there should be a strong opposition presence in this House even before we talk of a change of government, alternative agendas and alternative budgets.
In fact, PAP MP Dzulkarnain said, in the course of this debate and I quote, “Iron sharpens iron. The rigours of debates and contestation of ideas on issues that are important to Singaporeans can help all of us formulate new ways forward for Singapore.” (unquote) He could not have put it better. At some point, in the name of inclusivity and a united Singapore in the face of grave external challenges, I hope the PAP can rise above political partisanship and acknowledge the political contribution of the Workers’ Party towards the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans.
In conclusion Mr Speaker, just as the President has set out the direction the Government is taking, let me set out the approach of the Workers’ Party for this second session of parliament of the government’s term.
The Workers’ Party’s approach involves an acceptance that the political reality in Singapore – is the overwhelming dominance of the PAP. Part of that PAP supremacy comes from the performance of the PAP in delivering what citizens wanted, especially in the early decades of Singapore’s self-rule, then independence. Part of that dominance comes from hardball political tactics that also hosted policies with collateral purposes that suppressed the growth of an opposition, such as politicizing ostensibly community-focused organizations such as the People’s Association which does the bidding of even unelected advisors.
What is the appropriate response to such dominance? Some believe, perhaps naively, that it is best to work within the system – to change things from within the establishment. Is that a realistic possibility? Perhaps it is, if you make it to one of a handful of top positions. But even the late President Ong Teng Cheong, who was close to the very top of PAP politics as DPM, and seemingly right at the very top of our political hierarchy as President, could not get the information he wanted. How much less realistic then for those lower down the establishment pecking order to achieve substantive goals for change.
The alternative in responding to PAP dominance is to appeal directly to the people. By contesting elections and leaving it to the voters and having faith in their judgment. This is the path the Workers’ Party, its MPs, members and its volunteers have chosen.
So the direction that the Workers’ Party must take while in Parliament is to be worthy of the votes that have put us in Parliament. Just as the Government is essentially continuing its last term and also the previous session of parliament, so are we.
We will continue to raise alternative proposals within the limits of our resources and the information we have or is made available. We will be glad to the see the PAP implement policies we have suggested, whether they say that those ideas were already in their pipeline, or whether they merely adopt them without attribution. But most critically, no matter the challenge or obstacle, the opposition must be focused and continue to endeavor, work for and defend the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore, as equal and fellow Singaporeans – together in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. Be it in, or out of this House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.