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Prime Minister apologises, but nothing has changed

Prime Minister apologises, but nothing has changed

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He issues a long overdue apology for mistakes in the past 5 years, but his fundamental political beliefs have not shifted.

By Fang Shihan

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in a prelude to PM Lee’s apology, gave a dire warning. He said that Singapore, like the rest of the world, was “one shock away from another recession.” The world has not recovered from the recession he said, but because the government has done a good job, the median worker has seen incomes rise by 10% over the past 10 years, after accounting for inflation.

And with the figurative red carpet rolled out, PM Lee stepped forward, staff in hand, crown placed nicely, and… said sorry.

The economy was doing great, he said, growing at 14.5% last year because the PAP made good decisions when the opportunities arose. But this came at the expense of the people.

“[Overcrowding and limited public transport capacity] are real problems, we will tackle them. but I hope you will understand that when these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us. We are trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn’t get it quite right. I’m sorry, but we will try to do better the next time.”

And it gets better.

“We made a mistake when we let Mas Selamat run away. We made a mistake when Orchard road got flooded. And there are other mistakes which we have made from time to time and I’m sure will occasionally happen again. I hope not too often. But when it happens, we should acknowledge it. We should apologise, take responsibility, put things right. If we have to discipline somebody, we will do that. And we must learn from our lessons and never make the same mistake again.”

Eh? You got discipline Wong Kan Seng meh? If I recall correctly, he turned the situation around and accused Singaporeans of being complacent about security. But never mind, onward with the next apology:

“There are two examples where things didn’t turn out like we hoped. HDB flats: we had a sharp recession just 3 years ago. We had a surplus of flats. We didn’t expect that in the middle of 2009, after this sharp downturn, things would pick up suddenly, strongly, the wind would catch us, and suddenly the demand would press flat prices up. If we could have predicted this I think we would have ramped up our building plan earlier, built more flats earlier and we would have saved many singaporeans some angst.

Similarly with our public transport, we enjoyed high growth, higher than we expected. But with high growth, we had more population increase than we expected because we had more foreign workers come in and we had to accept them because we wanted them to fill the jobs to support the investments, the projects that were coming in. As a result we have more congestion.

We’re sorry we didn’t get it exactly right. But I hope you will understand and bear with us. Because we are trying our best to fix the problems. We’re building 22,000 flats this year. Opening one new MRT line or extension line every year for the next 7 years. Investing in our people and in our future.”

And so he begs for forgiveness, pleads for the people’s mandate so he can run the government properly and dangles some awfully yummy looking carrots in front.

One MRT line every year? Seriously? To quote Irene Ang: “Singapore got so much space to dig ar?”

I understand though, and I appreciate the apology after three long years. Better late then never. Shows the humble side of the man who’s the son of the most powerful man on the island.

But if you think that’s any indication of a sharp U-turn in policy, you’re going to be disappointed.

Even if PM Lee proclaims proudly, about the free and fair electoral system, where anyone and everyone could contest and even switch parties if they wanted to, he’s still very much the old-school guy who believes in a one-party dominant system. Having an opposition gets in the way. Period.

“[The opposition] will help the PAP to make a mess, so they will take over from the PAP. It’s quite understandable. They’re entitled to do that. we’ve asked them to admit it. Some do, like the Reform Party. Others like the Worker’s Party hem and haw but they stop short of saying that. They want to get your vote speaking softly. But is it good to have government and opposition fighting each other all the time in parliament?”

“When the Worker’s party says First World Parliament, so we ask them where’s your first world? They say ‘don’t have but its First World’. Because when you ask for the real samples, you see the sample, you know you don’t want to buy this merchandise. This is bad merchandise.”

To PM Lee, the electoral system is nothing more than a controlled theatre for the kids to watch once every five years. It’s all a performance and the best actors get to continue performing (but not participating) in parliament for the next half a decade.

To PM Lee, only the PAP are fit to govern. And boy does he work hard to make sure he hand picks the right people for the party.

“You’ve seen some of them, you’ve heard some of them. In fact several of them were here this afternoon, speaking to you. Getting practice talking to Singaporeans. I believe that they are good, and they will get better. By 2020, they must be ready to lead Singapore when my generation retires.”

PM, you’re assuming they’ll last until 2020 issit? There’s still one more election in between and we can vote them out you know? Again, we have free and fair elections, anyone can contest, but PM is able to predict that one whole generation of PAP politicians will be able to lead (even as they’re still practicing their speeches during the elections).

But if that’s not enough, PM had to pull the generation card.

“Your approach to the GE will be different from the older generation. From your parents. Because for your parents this is the 7th or 10th GE and they will vote based on gut instinct and loyalty. And long experience on what they have known, works in Singapore. And they know what can happen if you have a bad government in Singapore.”

Sir, I believe 43.4% of the voting population were in walkover wards in 2006 and if you look hard enough, there will be people your age who’re voting for the first time in 2011. And if they had grown up during Singapore’s boomtime, they really wouldn’t know what could happen with a bad government could they?

And he ends it off with the final gong.

“After this GE, we will have the mandate to take Singapore forward for the next 5 years.”

Assumptions sir, assumptions. So yes he apologised, yes I feel shiok, but don’t be mistaken. Nothing about him has changed one bit.

Jackpot revenues drive a budget of nice gestures

Jackpot revenues drive a budget of nice gestures

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Fortune God comes to town with gifts for all, Singaporeans stop frowning and feel enthralled.

By Fang Shihan

Now we know what's cooking within that polished head. Photo: RAWBEAN LADEN / Creative Commons

THE budget this year was nothing less than celebratory. After posting a 14.5% GDP growth, Finance Minister Tharman possibly had a field day just deciding who gets what share of the pie, and how. You could almost hear the champagne popping in the background.

This partying, however, came amidst a spat of unhappiness from Singaporeans over the inflation rate, which hit a two-year high of 4.6 percent in December 2010. The income gap has also widened – the gini-coefficient climbed to 0.48 in 2010 from 0.478 in 2009.

But things are changing. As most observers predicted, this budget was about slapping on some cold cream to ease inflationary pains. Cautioning that the measures cannot and should not reduce the infamous government-inculcated work ethic, Tharman opted for a one-time shot of morphine.

Workers under the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme will receive a one-off special bonus payment of 50% on top of regular workfare payment. This translates to an additional payment of $1,050 if you’ve been receiving $2100 in workfare payment. This cash payout will be distributed in 2 sessions with the first payment on labour day.

Though the bald one also warned against inculcating a sense of entitlement, the nation was really (and don’t deny it you angpao-grubbing buggers) waiting for the annual cash handout. 80% of all citizens are estimated to receive between $600 to $800 in growth dividends with low income citizens or those living in 3 room flats or smaller, receiving larger amounts. As a concession to those unfortunate enough to be drawing a meagre income but living on expensive property, such groups will receive $300.

NSmen and NSFs, including those below 21 years old, will receive an addition $100 also to be received on labour day. Altogether, the government will allocate $6.6 billlion in transfer packages.

In addition to one-time transfers, $10 billion will be spent to upgrade homes in a bid to preserve values of HDB flats and to let the flat depreciate less (vis-a-vis the rising cost of property) over time. Approximately 50,000 flat owners will benefit in 2011 and overall, 300,000 will be affected in the next 5 years.

Under the ‘remaking of the heartland’ initiative , an estimated 700,000 lucky residents in Jurong Lake, East Coast, and Hougang will enjoy the new batch of improvements. Affected opposition parties are SDP, WP, and WP respectively.

Also taking a piece of the pie, “the navy, army and air force will get S$11.53 billion to buy and maintain military equipment, for the upkeep of camps and for payment of salaries.” This was not mentioned by Tharman, but filed in a report by CNA. This will raise the national defence budget by 5.4% this year, totalling $12.08 billion and up from $11.46 billion the previous year (note from author: at this point, I would have photoshopped a picture of Tharman making a rude gesture at the SDP but that would just be….mean).

Another state arm, the broadcast media also received some assistance to remain competitive as Tharman announced the permanent scrapping of radio and TV license fees. In his own words:

“The license fees are losing their relevance. First, ownership of TVs is no longer limited to the middle- and higher-income groups. Today, most households – including 99% of lower-income households – own TVs. Second, with increasing media convergence, Singaporeans can now receive broadcast content over the Internet and mobile devices, which do not attract a license fee.”

Fans of state broadcast can now save on the $100 annual license fees for television, and $27 annual fee for vehicle radios. Tharman estimates that the revenue forgone from the removal of these license fees will be approximately $120 million per year.

Being nice doesn’t come cheap. After factoring the various tax measures and special transfers, Tharman expects a basic deficit of $2.2 billion for FY2011, or about 0.7% of the GDP. The Overall Budget Balance for FY2011 is projected to be a slight surplus of $0.1 billion. Again, considering Singapore was the fastest growing Asian economy in 2010, spending all that surplus was indeed a generous gesture.

Now let’s hope that betting taxes (estimated at S$2.5 billion last year) will make up for our declining manufacturing sector in 2011.