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Tackling the cost of progress: MP Inderjit Singh

The rapid progress of Singapore has not come without a cost – but this can still be addressed by cultivating a sense of national ownership in all individuals, addressing low wages in some sectors, and strengthening and diversifying the Civil Service, MP Inderjit Singh wrote on Monday on Facebook.

SINGAPORE: The rapid progress of Singapore, from third to first-world nation within one generation, has not come without a cost – but this can still be addressed by cultivating a sense of national ownership in all individuals, addressing low wages in some sectors, and strengthening and diversifying the Civil Service, Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh wrote on his Facebook page late on Monday (May 26).

Mr Singh, in response to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address in Parliament on May 16, wrote: "Yes, 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."

A "significant section" of Singapore society did not benefit from the country's economic growth of the past few years, said Mr Singh, highlighting how the cost of living had outpaced the wages earned by middle- and low-income Singaporeans. This has forced them to "adjust their lifestyles downwards to live comfortably in their own country", he said.

"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?" he added.

A MINIMUM WAGE IN SOME SECTORS?

Mr Singh, who was posting on Facebook as he is overseas and unable to attend the ongoing Parliament session, recommended expanding the progressive wage model to more industries.

"I am glad that this Government has thankfully, heeded the call of Singaporeans and shifted its focus away from simply the outcome, of high GDP growth rates, towards the effort and process by which this is achieved aiming to ensure that the growth is equitable and fair," he said.

"(But) while social assistance schemes and safety nets are necessary I feel that they are not addressing the root cause of the problem – low wages.

"The progressive wage model is a good start in legislating a sectorial minimum wage, I urge this Government to further develop the model and include more sectors. Ensuring that all Singaporeans earn a decent living wage would promote self-sufficiency and reduce their dependence on the Government for assistance even to achieve a basic standard of comfortable life." 

STRENGTHENING KEY INSTITUTIONS

Mr Singh, who served as Deputy Government Whip from 2002 to 2011, also said he felt "some amount of complacency" had crept into the Civil Service.

"Whether it is the MCE fiasco, or that of the lack of hospital beds or dealing with the Little India riot, the corruption cases in the many government agencies like the Singapore Civil Defence Force, I detect a certain amount of complacency in our Government agencies in dealing with these problems and the trend is not healthy and needs to be eradicated fast," he wrote.

"If Singaporean loses confidence in these key institutions, we will face greater problems in nation building in the future."

Part of the solution, he wrote, would be to relook the policy-making process and encourage more input from all segments of society – letting it be "driven by the man in the street". The Government would benefit from bringing in "a good diverse group of people" and not just taking in the academically talented, he said.

MAKING SINGAPORE A HOME, NOT A HOTEL

The influx of immigrants has "diluted" or even "eradicated" the sense of common identity, Mr Singh wrote, with many treating Singapore "as a hotel". Such groups threaten to destabilise foundations upon which the country has built its success, he said.

"We have seen one too many cases of foreigners who have behaved in a manner that makes Singaporeans uncomfortable. We also see the effect of some of the new citizens who bring their cultures and behavioural norms that make Singaporeans uncomfortable," he wrote.

"We need to be big-hearted. For those who are committed to Singapore and treat Singapore as their own home, we should make it work; but for those who treat Singapore as a hotel to stay for a while and who use Singapore as a stepping stone for their future life somewhere else, we don’t have to bend backwards to give them citizen privileges."

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