SINGAPORE: The People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) delivered their constituency political broadcast for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC on Saturday (Jul 4).
As the incumbents, the four-member PAP team spoke first. Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Mr Christopher De Souza spoke in English, while Senior Minister of State Sim Ann and entrepreneur Edward Chia, a first-time candidate, spoke in both English and Mandarin.
For the SDP candidates, political scientist James Gomez, businessman Alfred Tan, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say and marketing communications strategist Min Cheong spoke in English.
PAP: FOCUS ON JOBS, SMES AND SUSTAINABILITY
Dr Balakrishnan said that it has been a privilege to serve in Holland-Bukit Timah for almost 20 years.
He noted that this General Election takes place during the deepest crisis confronting Singapore since independence.
“In fact, it is a global crisis. The choice you will make at this election will determine a Government that will have to make profound decisions with deep impact for many years to come,” he said.
Dr Balakrishnan added that the last few months have not been easy for everyone.
“We’ve had to focus on dealing with the immediate threat to health, with protecting jobs, with keeping companies afloat and with continuing, in fact accelerating the restructuring of our economy for future opportunities.”
He added: “Our priority remains jobs, job, jobs”.
He also pointed out that the Government launched the largest consular operation in its history to bring Singaporeans across the world home as they sought the safety and refuge of their country.
“This is a manifestation of our commitment to leave no Singaporean behind. But I am confident. I am optimistic that we will emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient, more united than ever before.”
Mr Chia, co-founder of Timbre Group, noted that small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) create opportunities for stability and success for many Singaporeans.
He recounted how Timbre’s “hawkerpreneur” incubation programme has helped budding “hawker heroes” kick-start their business journey.
In particular, he cited the story of a hawker who gave up his landscape architecture job to set up a seafood soup stall. Since then, the business has expanded, he said.
Mr Chia noted that many fellow SME owners are going through difficult times due to COVID-19.
“We understand that our people are our biggest asset and we must care for them. To my fellow SME business owners, I would like to tell you that I understand how difficult this is and I can truly empathise,” he said.
He added that he hopes to be the SMEs’ voice in Parliament.
“COVID-19 has also caused major job insecurities. For those who have lost their jobs, I would like to assure you, you are not just a statistic and you are not alone. I will spend all my energy to understand your unique circumstance to seek a new job for you,” he said.
Noting that SMEs provide 70 per cent of the jobs in Singapore, he said that one of the best ways to provide people with a better job is to “redouble our efforts to help our SMEs survive, not just survive, but emerge stronger”.
GE2020: Make ‘full use’ of jobs and skills package to keep training, DPM Heng tells firms and workers
Mr De Souza also spoke about the pandemic and its impact on residents.
“COVID-19 has been a difficult time in the constituency but we’ve partnered our residents through it,” he said, adding that community initiatives have been rolled out and would continue to be rolled out.
These programmes include laptops for students from less fortunate families who need assistance with home-based learning, food distribution in the form of rations and free food delivery services, among others.
He added: “At the forefront of our minds has been jobs. Redoubling our efforts for job-matching for our residents across the estates, retention of jobs, job opportunities and matching of jobs”.
Mr De Souza also outlined initiatives to create a “green and sustainable community”.
He said the team would continue to roll out initiatives such as harnessing solar power, by putting solar panels on more HDB blocks.
There are also efforts to build vertical urban farms and reduce electricity usage in common spaces by installing motion detectors for lights.
“But our plans do not stop there. There are green community initiatives that we will continue to roll out across our constituencies,” he said.
Reflecting on the past few months, Ms Sim said it has not only been about loss and sacrifice, but also hope and rediscovery.
She said there have been suggestions from residents about what can be done together after the pandemic recedes.
“This gives me confidence that we can build back better. I know we can build back better because we share a past. Our residents know us so well that they can recognise us, even behind face masks,” she said.
“And I know we can build back better because between us there is trust,” she said.
Ms Sim recounted how a resident had come up to her and gave her hand sanitiser to be distributed when there was a shortage in supply. ”Because he trusted me to know who they should go to,” she said.
“There were more who did the same, and I am touched beyond words by our residents’ generosity. To build back better, you will need a team that knows the ground, and knows how to work with you.”
She also talked about supporting jobseekers in the community.
“I want to focus on supporting jobseekers in the community because getting a job, or getting back into a job is the most sustainable way forward.”
In conclusion, Dr Balakrishnan said: “That extra ingredient is trust. You know us, you know what we stand for, you know we will do everything to support you, your families and your children”.
“It has been a privilege for me to have met you, to have seen your children grow up. And some of them become parents in their own right. We thank you for the years of support and relationship, and now I humbly seek once again, your support.”
SDP: PAP “MISHANDLED” COVID-19, INNOVATION NEEDED IN POST-PANDEMIC WORLD
Dr Gomez spoke about the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The PAP has mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic. They were wrong to ask us not to wear masks, they were wrong not to isolate affected workers and housing them in crowded dormitories and wrong in keeping schools open,” he stated.
“They politicised the management of COVID-19 task force by appointing themselves, not medical experts, and promoted themselves in front of the media,” he alleged.
He noted that as of Jul 1, Singapore has more than 44,000 COVID-19 infections, the highest in ASEAN.
“Now they have called for an election to legitimise their own mis-steps. By calling for an election during this time, they have made campaigning difficult,” he said.
He added that while the team wants to meet and interact with residents, they are limited by health protocols.
“Unfortunately, we are limited by social distancing, limited by those we can reach over social media and limited by the slots allocated to us in the mainstream media. While the PAP enjoys advantages of being the incumbent to spew propaganda at you,” he said.
He said that the SDP team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, if elected, would work with party chairman Paul Tambyah, who is contesting in Bukit Panjang SMC, on town council matters in order to achieve “economies of scale”.
“Thus far the PAP has only been giving excuses, saying they did not have hindsight. And making U-turns just during this election period. Their track record is poor. Yet, they are asking you to trust them,” he said.
He claimed that PAP is experiencing a “high turnover” of MPs. He characterised the current PAP as being “weak and inexperienced”.
“We need a new group of people with foresight who can be your voice in Parliament. We are confident to tackle not only the COVID-19 challenges, but also national issues and manage your town council well,” he said.
On his part, Mr Alfred Tan spoke about the need to encourage innovation in a post-pandemic era.
“That new world will be so fast-changing that it will be the creativity and the resilience of the people that will keep our nation relevant. We need to encourage innovation,” he said.
Referring to SDP’s “Four Yes, One No” manifesto, he said it is the party’s “response for the people and economy to transition and thrive in the new Singapore”.
The knowledge economy will demand people to question the status quo, to have the courage to test preconceived notions, and push existing boundaries, he said.
He added that Singapore needs to keep its economy “flexible and responsive”.
“SMEs naturally respond to changes in the environment quicker, and are able to take the advantage earlier. We need to rebuild and strengthen our SME base. We need to intentionally promote enterprise and support new ideas better,” he said.
“In the new world, we cannot keep on doing the same thing, expecting the same thing, when the world is no longer the same thing. We cannot afford to stand still. We need to press ahead, just to stay relevant.”
Mr Tan Jee Say said Holland-Bukit Timah GRC was where he first entered politics nine years ago.
He said: “Our economy will be very different in a post COVID-19 world. I advocated for job creation in stable sectors such as healthcare and education as far back as nine years ago. Today, I am once again asking for the same but with much greater urgency”.
“We need to make sure that we have stable and fulfilling jobs for the people, and not just short-term traineeships. We must ensure security in the face of disruptions that will surely happen in the future.”
He said there is a need to address fundamental issues plaguing the economy, such as the rising cost of living and the increasing income inequality.
His running mate Ms Cheong touched on the issue of “workforce wellness”.
“Singapore is not well. The nation is overworked, stressed, and struggling to survive in a climate of merciless competition amidst an uncertain future – one that is exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.
She added that people are apprehensive about the economic landscape and their livelihoods, the future of the job market and where their careers might fit in.
Many of them are also faced with personal and mental health challenges because of unsavoury workplace practices, she claimed.
“Job insecurity and the stresses of having to find ways to cope with constant change to make ends meet in a city which has been deemed the most expensive in the world to live in, puts people under great pressure,” she said.
This pressure is worsened by a societal culture that tends to place excessive weight on power and status above more compassionate metrics of what it means to be successful, she also said.
“We see this in how people are treated in so many situations. And we can endure this culture because we largely feel dispensable and undervalued. And that the powers-that-be will not stand up for us and fight,” said Ms Cheong.
“If you feel so inclined to take the first step towards a Singapore you can thrive in and be proud of, please give us the opportunity to represent you in Parliament.”