Thursday, 21 August 2014

In response to Mr Shanmugam's FB post.

Singapore's Minister for Law, Mr Shanmugam, has shared a cartoon by SGAG about the slippery slope of the ageing population on his Facebook page.

While I agree with him that the ageing population is a challenge for Singapore and providing more welfare for the elderly puts more pressure on the workforce, we are not alone in this. Countries such as Korea and Taiwan, and most famously Japan, are all having their struggles with the issue. In all of these countries, reforms have been implemented to meet the challenges. While not every reform has been a resounding success, the governments in these countries seem to have shown more initiative in addressing the issue than the Singapore government, making reforms that are more far-reaching than the tweaks to the CPF Minimum Sum that the Singapore government seems contented with. 

It almost seems as though the government here is trying to avoid making reforms and keep to the status quo for as long as possible. 

Frequent arguments against reforming the welfare system here include the one about how people should be allowed to keep the money they earn, the one about how the poor are undeserving of welfare as they are lazy, the one about how we should not increase income tax to fund people who are lazy and selfish, and so on. Yet the focus on welfare and income tax is only part of the issue. 

What's not mentioned in this equation is that Singapore has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the worldThese tax incentives may not add up to much for a small company, but the savings for an MNC is likely to be in the millions of dollars.

Some have argued that the low corporate taxes are key to attracting investments to Singapore. Underpinning this argument is the belief that ultimately, Singapore needs to prosper. We need to have a high GDP, and somehow, some way, the prosperity will trickle down to help the poor.

However, there are several problems with this. Firstly, the trickle-down effect is unrealistic. A profit-minded MNC is more likely to use the tax savings to organise a large gala dinner for government officials than use the money to help the poor or needy elderly who can't help them in any way.

Secondly, the Minister's post shows a one-sided view of the issue. I feel that we ought to put things in their proper perspective. At the moment, we are underspending on social services because we have prioritised spending in other areas. It's not like we already have high social spending and people are asking for more.

Let's be fair, Minister: There are two more digits in our defence budget compared to our
budget for social and family development. (Credit: SG Budget 2014)

Before we like or share cartoons about the negative impact of providing more welfare for the poor or needy elderly, I hope we can be more socially responsible and think about this other side of the story.

Of course, there are no easy answers. For those who argue that nobody owes us a living and those who have profited should be allowed to keep their hard-earned money without having to give to the poor, I would like to clarify that I am not talking about the average rich person in Singapore or the owner of an SME. These people already pay their income taxes. This is not a case of "tax the rich to help the poor". I am talking about massive companies - some of them foreign - that make an annual profit of more than a billion dollars.

Some have pointed to the fact that Hong Kong has a low corporate tax too. Well, in Hong Kong, some elderly people live in cages. Do we want to resort to that?

Credit: Pop Up City
I agree that we need to offer attractive tax rates to attract investors. But the profit the country has earned from investments has to be given back to the workforce, which is the bedrock of our economy. The so-called "trickle-down effect" goes against the prevalent individualistic beliefs of the people in Singapore. People and profit-driven companies in capitalist societies aren't motivated to let wealth trickle down.

They think that it's their money and there's no reason why they have to contribute it to others who did not earn it. Therefore, the wealth has not trickled down. And that's why our Gini Co-Efficient went up. No doubt there was a drop in 2013, but whether it's a once-off decrease or a change in trend, we'll have to wait till next year to find out. Now, besides waiting for wealth to trickle down, shouldn't the government take more action?

A team is only as strong as its weakest link. When we don't provide more assistance to those at the bottom of the social ladder, they will become the weakest link economically. What is the impact of poverty on a country's social fabric? Will it make us more susceptible to negative influences from beyond our shores? These are some potential consequences we have to think about. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Wrongful allegations by pro-PAP Facebook groups.

Look! Who's that getting chummy with Lim Chin Siong?
I believe most people in Singapore are aware that propaganda is used here to legitimise the current government. But there's nothing so wrong in that. Propaganda is used in every country to varying extents to bolster a sense of nationhood. Actually, credit ought to be given to our current government for being more subtle than the earlier governments about promoting nationalistic feelings, and for their willingness to accept that, for Singaporeans to remain smart thinkers, some relaxation of control towards more freedom of thought is necessary.

However, as the title of this post suggests, some erroneous views put forward online are threatening these positive efforts. It's time to put a stop to the plain wrong information being presented as "facts" by the pro-PAP camp, lest we go one step forward and two steps backwards.

Here's the case in point. Recently, the pro-PAP groups have started criticising Ariffin Sha, a 17-year old, who has been vocal about his dislike of the PAP. Notably, he was a speaker at several protests at Hong Lim Park. They accused him of various things, disregarding the fact that he's just a kid. (But of course, it can be argued that since Ariffin put himself out there to speak up, he is expected to take such criticisms in his stride.)

In particular, there have been a few posts lately in which FLOP (Fabrications Led By Opposition Parties), perhaps in a deliberate attempt to justify its harsh criticisms of an outspoken kid, started associating Ariffin Sha and people in the opposition camp with Communism.

That's not all. They subsequently linked Communism to Terrorism. One of the posts even tagged the Singapore police and ISD, as if the ISD are not busy enough monitoring the pressing issue of spillover effects from the Mid-East conflicts.

I suppose Hong Lysa's meaningful post about the efforts to reconcile the left-wing with LKY's faction in the PAP has not been read enough. It looks like the pro-PAP camp are years behind in their understanding of Lee Kuan Yew and his party. This is an excerpt from Hong Lysa's blog post about the riots in Singapore in the 1950s.

The book referred to is this one, which includes a foreword by the man himself, Lee Kuan Yew. It is presumed that the ever-careful "Lao Lee" (Senior Lee), as he is called by the Chinese-educated Singaporeans of the older generation, would've checked the book himself before allowing it to be published. Therefore, the views in the book should be close to the official party line. 

Although the book makes clear that Communist sympathisers were involved in the unions, it is self-evident to any reader that the violence that took place was not engineered beforehand. It was, like the Little India riot in 2013, a situation that went out of control, too fast and too furiously.

If FLOP claims that what it presented is the factually correct version of events, then what does that make the different version of events given by LKY himself? 

It is in light of LKY's own ability to look beyond the prejudices of the past that makes the continued stubbornness of his party supporters to adhere to old narratives a surprise. 

Has propaganda been too successful? So much so that people in Singapore are now unable to move away from old modes of thinking, even when some members of the PAP have moved on? Or, is the PAP regretting the leeway that it gave to the former detainees and trying to do a backtrack via its "Internet Brigade"?

Far from providing a balanced point of view, like they claim to do, the pro-PAP camp is driving a deeper wedge in Singapore society. It is likely these people have been "conned" into thinking that their actions are legitimate because they are trying to balance the mis-information provided by the pro-opposition side. Yet they do not realise when they themselves have veered into the nebulous territory of half-truths, nonsense arguments and baseless allegations.

In what, to me, is something shameful for someone purporting to be a great supporter of our "founding father" Lee Kuan Yew, the relatively young founder of Fabrications of the PAP admitted that he cannot sing our national anthem. He doesn't seem to think that it's a problem. It is understandable that many older folks who were educated before anthem-singing became a norm in local schools may not be able to sing it, but the founder of the pro-PAP page does not belong to that older generation. In the same week, he went to find out obscure information about the personal lives of people close to the PAP, such as when Tony Tan's wedding anniversary is. And he posted about it with a touching celebratory note as though it were his own wedding anniversary, yet he neglected to celebrate Singapore wins earlier in the Commonwealth Games, such as our gold medal win in shooting.

It begs the question of whether these people who are speaking up for the pro-PAP camp are loyal to Singapore, or if they are only defending government policies to curry favour with the PAP and gain the benefits and prestige that come with supporting the party in power. Would they still support the PAP if it lost power? Would they still stay in Singapore if we were at war?

When I questioned why the wins of local athletes were not shared and celebrated, I received a snide reply from someone who works at A*STAR. Something along the lines of whether my comment meant that the pro-PAP group should be expected to post all the wins by Singaporeans in less important areas, such as winning the EVO, an international Street Fighter video game competition. (Singapore was the champion last year, but lost this year to Japan.)

Let me tell you this, it's the little things that matter the most.