Singapore GE: PSP launches manifesto calling for minimum living wage, Sers for all flats

Dr Tan Cheng Bock on a walkabout with Progress Singapore Party along 302 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4 on June 27, 2020. — TODAY pic
Dr Tan Cheng Bock on a walkabout with Progress Singapore Party along 302 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4 on June 27, 2020. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, June 30 — The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) released a manifesto yesterday calling for ministerial salaries to be pegged to the median income and a living wage for all, among other things.

The proposals in its 13-page manifesto, titled “You Deserve Better”, also include prioritising jobs for Singaporeans, allowing Central Provident Fund (CPF) withdrawal of up to S$50,000 (RM153,713) at 55 years old and ensuring that all ageing public flats undergo en-bloc redevelopment.

Speaking at a virtual press conference to launch the manifesto, PSP assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai said the party’s policies focus on wage growth and helping small — and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), whereas the PAP’s policies are more focused on economic growth and attracting multinational companies.

In a foreword to the manifesto, PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock said these proposals present an “alternative vision” for Singapore, whose citizens are now feeling the strain of wage stagnation and a lacklustre economy while living in a country that has stayed on the list of the world’s top five most expensive cities for five years.

He also cited a recent survey by market research firm Ipsos, which found that nearly four in five Singaporeans agree that the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.

The Singapore government’s response so far seems to be a “patchwork of policy tweaks” that do not address fundamental factors affecting Singaporeans, he wrote.

Here is a look at its proposals:

Economic policies

Singapore has one of the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the world, yet wages only make up 43 per cent of GDP, whereas in most developed economies, the wage share is more than 50 per cent, the PSP noted.

If elected, the PSP aims to increase the wage share of Singapore’s GDP and boost real wages.

The party also proposes a post-Covid-19 resurgence strategy, which would include bolder economic stimuli and stronger support for SMEs.

Key proposals:

  • Prioritise jobs for Singaporeans by introducing a quota for Employment Pass holders, lowering the quota for S-Pass and Work Permit holders and reviewing free trade agreements such as the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca)
  • Give local SMEs a leg up by giving them priority in public sector procurements, investing in them, directly supporting their restructuring efforts and overseas ventures and cutting their business costs
  • Reduce dependence on foreign labour by moving towards a higher value-add and higher-wage model, curbing an easy supply of workers so as to push employers into investing in equipment or processes that can lead to higher productivity
  • Introduce a living wage — the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs — to all sectors when the economy stabilises

Social policies

To reduce inequality and improve social mobility, PSP said it wants to address the lease decay of HDB flats, make homes more affordable and build a strong social safety net for the needy, including retirees and the sick.

It also seeks to improve work-family balance to improve the nation’s total fertility rate, which dipped from 1.6 in 2000 to 1.14 last year, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

Key proposals:

  • En-bloc redevelopment of all old HDB flats, and allowing those who don’t want a new flat to sell their right to the Singapore government and save the money for their retirement
  • Peg new flat prices to income levels
  • Bring down housing costs for young Singaporeans to free them for entrepreneurial pursuits
  • Freeze tax and fee increases for the next five years and exempt basic necessities from Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Increase the quantum of Central Provident Fund (CPF) withdrawal at age 55 to up to S$50,000, and get the Singapore government to fully subsidise Medishield Life premiums
  • Improve financial assistance for those who became unemployed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing Comcare payouts for low-income individuals and families

Political policies

PSP is calling for more freedom of speech and expression “to weave a richer national fabric” and build a national identity and pride, which are integral to nation-building.

The need for a system of checks and balances is needed to prevent an abuse of power, it added, stressing that accountability, transparency and independence are needed to build trust with Singaporeans.

Key proposals:

  • Peg ministerial salaries to median income
  • Ensure frugal public spending and subject huge projects to greater scrutiny
  • Public service, including public transport and utilities, should not be profit-making
  • Expand presidential oversight over more key public appointments
  • Reduce the overdominance of a single party with over 90 per cent representation in Parliament
  • Review the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), which came into effect on Oct 2 last year
  • Relax the regulation of media and the arts and encourage a diversity of views

Asked if these policies meant that PSP is calling for a smaller economy, Leong, who will be a candidate in West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC), said the party is only suggesting that it is undesirable for the country to only concentrate on GDP growth.

“We want to at least give a decent level of wages for our Singaporeans so that they can lead a decent and dignified life,” he said.

As for how PSP intends to fund its proposed policies, Leong said that there are two possible ways: By cutting the Singapore government operating budget of S$80 billion, which he said the Singapore government “hasn’t been very frugal” with, or tapping the Net Investment Return Contributions (NIRC) from the reserves.

The NIRC, which is a major contributor to the Singapore government’s budget, consists of 50 per cent of the net investment returns on the net assets invested by GIC, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Temasek Holdings and 50 per cent of the net investment income derived from past reserves from the remaining assets.

In other words, the Singapore government spends 50 per cent of the estimated gains from investment, and puts the remaining 50 per cent back into the reserves to preserve its growth for future use.

“That 50 per cent should be spent more proactively,” Leong said. “At the moment the Singapore government usually saves up or puts this money into (a) fund, and then just puts it on the balance sheet of the Singapore government and the money is not immediately spent.”

PSP candidate for Chua Chu Kang GRC Francis Yuen added that Singapore government spending could be reduced if major projects such as the construction of Terminal 5 at Changi Airport and other tourism-related projects are delayed or cancelled, as Covid-19 will slow tourism.

How much will ‘Sers for all’ cost?

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in 2017 that only 4 per cent of Singapore public housing stock had been selected for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) since it began in 1995.

Under this scheme, the Singapore government buys over old flats and offers its residents a new home with a new 99-year lease, as well as a package comprising compensation and rehousing benefits.

Asked if PSP had worked out how much it would cost to fund its proposal to extend Sers to all old HDB flats, Leong said the party had done a rough calculation and found that the exercise would roughly cost the Singapore government about S$4 billion a year.

This is a price the Singapore government has to pay for drumming in the idea of an HDB flat as both a home and an asset to provide Singaporeans an important form of retirement security, he said.

“You have told Singaporeans that the asset is an appreciating asset, so there’s a political responsibility in honouring those words.” — TODAY

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