SINGAPORE, July 7 — Opposition leaders have refuted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lunchtime rally speech yesterday, in which he said the opposition has been “completely silent” on how to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, pointing out that such plans are in their party manifestos or that they have spoken about the crisis while on the election campaign trail.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock were among them. The pair met this morning as Tan joined Tambyah on a walkabout in Bukit Panjang, the ward in which the latter is contesting in the upcoming polls.
They told the media that their show of unity presents an alternative for Singaporeans, that opposition candidates do have what it takes to manage the Covid-19 if they collaborate.
Citing their professional expertise as medical professionals, Tambyah, who has been named president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID), said: “We represent both sides. General practitioners, they are really at the frontline, and (Dr Tan) has been in the Ama Keng clinic for so many years, he knows everybody in the village, he knows everybody in the town.
“I come from the specialist perspective. So we do research, we get the cases that are referred by our general practice colleagues. So we have a broader picture and a fuller understanding of how to deal with the epidemic as a whole.”
Tan added: “(The Government thinks we are) incapable of managing Covid-19, but we are going to tell them: 'Look, let Singaporeans decide whether we have the capability and also the experience,” adding that both he and Tambyah have backgrounds in managing infectious diseases.
Asked why he had joined Tambyah on the walkabout at Bangkit Road, Tan said he had known Tambyah for 20 years and that they are good friends. He added that he and Tambyah’s father were colleagues at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Tambyah said: “My father had a lot of respect for Tan, he passed away several years ago but he told me Tan is a man you can trust.”
On Sunday, both Dr Tan and Dr Tambyah had proposed a debate with Chan Chun Sing and Gan Kim Yong — both from the People’s Action Party (PAP) — on how Covid-19 should be handled post-elections.
Tambyah also noted today that opposition parties have been vocal about Covid-19 even before the General Election (GE) was called.
“If (the Prime Minister) were not so disconnected, he would have known that for the last few months we've been giving comments, suggestions,” said Tambyah. “We’ve also said explicitly that holding an election during a pandemic is very reckless and dangerous.”
Before meeting Tambyah, Tan had conducted a walkabout at 115 Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre, with PSP candidates contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC.
There, PSP candidate Michael Chua pointed out to reporters that the party’s manifesto has a “clear blueprint” of how Singapore should address the pandemic.
“Perhaps when the prime minister has the time to review our plans, they can consider looking at some ideas and incorporating that to whatever they plan to do next,” he said.
SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, who was reaching out to residents at Bukit Batok MRT station, echoed these views, saying that Lee's claim that the opposition has ignored the Covid-19 pandemic in their policies and campaign messages is untrue.
“Even just our 4Y1N (“Four Yeses, One No”) campaign — it's been geared towards really addressing both the short-term and longer-term aspects of how we are going to deal with this pandemic,” said Chee.
SDP’s campaign proposes saying “yes” to retrenchment benefits, a S$500 (RM1,535) income for retirees, putting people first and suspending the Goods and Services Tax (GST) until 2021, while saying “no” to a population of 10 million.
These policies will help by putting more money into the pockets of Singaporeans, said Chee, adding that it will then translate to more Singaporeans feeling more economically confident to spend more.
“(All this) helps businesses. And when businesses are surviving, they don’t have to retrench their workers. All these things help, so it's absolutely untrue what Lee's said about the opposition,” he said.
Singapore People’s Party (SPP) chief Steve Chia also weighed in on the matter, saying that it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to come up with a plan to deal with the pandemic, and not that of opposition parties, given that “the whole Cabinet is paid millions of dollars.”
“I'm very surprised that the prime minister expects non-elected opposition parties to come up with a solution. I thought that was the job of the prime minister,” Chia said during a walkabout in Toa Payoh today. His team is contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
Over in Pasir Ris, Singapore Democratic Alliance chief Desmond Lim said that the PAP Government should have used the strong mandate they received in the last election in 2015 to handle the pandemic, instead of asking for another strong mandate.
Lim also noted that the Opposition is not privy to the amount of reserves the Republic has, and hence are not in a position to craft proper plans.
“Before we can propose, we don't just open our mouths and talk hot air, no use. It is irresponsible. We are not in that position, because you don't open the book to us and tell us how much we have,” he said.
He also questioned why Tambyah, an infectious disease expert, was not included in the multi-ministry task force that is handling Singapore’s response to Covid-19. — TODAY