Pritam Singh rejects criticisms that WP has no serious policies or advances populist ideas
He was rebutting comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong earlier this week, who said that the opposition should provide concrete alternatives to raise revenue and not ideas that chip away at trust in the government.
SINGAPORE: Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh rejected criticisms that his Workers' Party (WP) has no serious policies or that it advances populist ideas, in parliament on Friday (Apr 21) during a debate on the President’s Address.
It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong took aim at the opposition earlier this week, saying it should provide concrete alternatives to raise revenue and “not just opportunistic or populist ideas” to chip away at trust in the government.
“If all we were doing was putting forward populist, unrealistic policies, we will not see the government actively considering some variation of the Workers’ Party manifesto ideas on anti-discrimination legislation, minimum wage and redundancy insurance,” Mr Singh said.
“It is a most unfair charge levelled 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,” he said.
To “demolish the idea” that his party has not put forward serious alternatives, the WP secretary-general listed eight examples of proposals that his party had put forth previously, which were similar to policies later implemented by the government.
This includes its calls in 2015 and 2020 to broadcast parliamentary sittings live - which was livestreamed for the first time on Jan 5, 2021 - as well as proposals to give priority to first-time applicants and those under the fiance/fiancee scheme up to their third try to select a Build-to-Order flat so as to minimise the waiting time for couples to buy a flat and start a family.
Last month, the Ministry of National Development (MND) announced that applicants who fail to select a BTO flat despite being successful at the balloting stage will face tighter restrictions from August.
Mr Singh noted that other proposals that had been “long advanced” by his party - such as providing criminal legal aid and having anti-discrimination laws and redundancy insurance - had initially been rejected by the People's Action Party (PAP) but were later adopted.
CALLS TO PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION
During his speech, Mr Singh also cited challenges of obtaining information from the government, pointing out that filing a parliamentary question may not always guarantee an adequate and substantive answer from which alternative ideas can germinate.
Highlighting his party’s experience during the debate on free trade agreements and the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, he said getting information on the number of intra-corporate transferees from India that worked in Singapore was like “squeezing blood from a stone”.
“In future, the PAP must not see calls for information as a Trojan horse for ulterior motives or a red herring,” he said.
“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, checking the government of the day.”
As the psyche of the electorate changes, Mr Singh added that both the government and the opposition must also change.
“Going forward, the 4G (fourth-generation) PAP leadership cannot be dismissive or breezily use national security or sensitivity as reasons for withholding information without good reason,” he said.
“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.”
Beyond this, Mr Singh also touched on the issue of foreigners in Singapore and said the government must ensure that its foreign talent policies translate to tangible benefits for Singaporeans.
He also repeated his earlier call to have proficiency in English as a requirement for new permanent residents and citizens.
ACCEPTING POLITICAL REALITY
During his speech, Mr Singh rebutted an earlier comment made by Mr Wong, who said on Monday that the WP does not support the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The WP chief said that at the last general election in 2020, the party had opposed the GST hike but did not ask for the tax to be abolished.
“This is a distraction and the PAP should be upfront about it since we have been clearly talking about a GST hike from 7 to 9 per cent and what alternatives there are for it,” he said.
Wrapping up his speech, he addressed Mr Wong’s calls for the WP to be honest in its plans, policies and intentions.
“The reality is that the Workers’ Party is a small party and we have a long way to go,” he said, adding that the party's medium-term objective is to "ensure that one-third of the seats in this house are not in the PAP's hands".
“I want to emphasise that the Workers’ Party intention is not to block all the changes to the Constitution proposed by a PAP government. Far from it,” he said.
“If the constitutional amendments are in the interests of our people, we will support them. But if we assess that the proposed changes to the Constitution are detrimental to Singapore and Singaporeans, we will speak against them and vote against them,” he said.
While the party does not seek a revolution that includes a change of government at this stage of Singapore’s political development, he said PAP should not rest on its laurels as this can change.
“What if a rogue government sprang from the bosom of the PAP?” he asked.
"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 this unrealistic."