Mr.Yeoh Lam Keong’s interview by ST’s Susan Long was published yesterday. You should read this “long” interview for yourself but if you don’t have the time. Here are the extracts with some comments from me. His interview together with a what a growing number of prominent members from the establishment have expressed shows a very clear shift away from the thinking and policy approaches laid out by the PAP. – the PAP is clinging on what will be or already is be the minority view. Mr. Yeoh was the chief economist at GIC.
“Singapore’s social policies are not future-ready” – Mr. Yeoh
We end up killing the environment and stressing each other out. Perhaps as Lord Robert Skidelski, professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University said, mass consumption capitalism has outlived its usefulness
Mr. Yeoh walks the talk. This ex-chief economist of GIC stays in HDB flat at Marine Terrace and like me, he uses public transport. He also avoids holiday resorts with air-conditioning.
His social awakening happened five years ago, when he was roped in to help analyse Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports data on poverty. As he examined the grim figures, he realised serious structural problems were creating a growing underbelly of poverty in Singapore
This is growing underclass problem that has spun out from our growing income gap and exacerbated by the lack of social safety nets is probably much bigger now since Mr. Yeoh looked at the data. The income gap has grown and cost of living as escalated while the income of the lowest 20-30% has remained stagnant.
While watching football with his son at a coffeeshop, he chatted with a neighbor from a nearby rental block and found out the later, after working as a cleaner for 10 years, earned $700 a month
Today on my way to the coffeeshop I saw the cleaner for my estate. She is aged, hunched back and can only walk slowly. We are all heart broken. It is a constant reminder that something is wrong with the way the PAP govt does things.
Before long father and son had added to to their coterie of coffee shop companions, an odd-job laborer, who had been unemployed for 10 years because of a history of mental illness. The man had not eaten properly……Mr. Yeoh offered to go with him to see the MP. But the refused, fearing social workers “will bother my brother and sister”
Mr. Yeoh feels the safety net is undignified and insufficient. The poor man didn’t want to be shamed before family or for govt officials to “bug his family to look after him”. Last week a retiree by the name of Paul Tan wrote to the ST Forum to urge the govt to do more for the aged like himself because the number of suicides among the elderly has been increasing. Paul Tan explained that policies such as the Parents Maintenance Act designed to push responsibility of care for the elderly from the govt to children has strained many poor families who find it hard to take up this burden. Mr. Yeoh cited a Lien Foundation report that showed that the top-death related fear of Singaporeans is being a burden to their family.
We have extremely low taxes, such that we can afford to raise them somewhat and still remain very tax competitive
Lets not forget the last 2 GST hikes were accompanied by corporate tax cuts and income tax cuts for those in the highest brackets. At a time when the income gap was growing, the PAP govt was shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor. The PAP govt also eliminated inheritance tax – I have not heard a single person rich or poor publicly asking for this tax to be eliminated yet the PAP govt did it when nobody else was pushing for this. The question is not whether we are able to raise taxes but whether the PAP is willing to raise taxes to bring about greater social equity – this is goes too much against the ideological grain of the PAP.
…..Minister Gan Kim Yong to double health-care expediture from $4B to $8B in 2017, which will raise it from 1.5% to 2.5% of GDP. However, he points out that Taiwan was already spending 3.5% to 4% of GDP on health care in 2001…..Gan to his credit has assured Singaporeans that no Singaporean will be denied medical care if he or she needs it. “But rather than say it, why not design policy for someone to afford it, rather than have him deplete his own savings and his family’s Medisave account first? The most important reform needed is still missing is that we still do not have universal financial access to medical care for all citizens, which is politically unacceptable in most democratic developed countries”
Taiwan has a universal heath-care system that delivers care to every single citizen so that nobody needs to worry about medical bills and can focus on recovery when they get sick. Singaporeans shoulders the highest healthcare burden as a % of total expenditure vs the govt compared with all developed countries. This system amplify the effects of the income gap because this burden becomes disproportinately heavy for those in the lower middle income and below. The fear of high medical cost have spread to the middle income group as cost has risen sharply in recent years. Singaporeans have to shoulder the medical cost of their children, siblings and parents because a large number of Singaporeans are underinsured due to low wages or uninsured due to pre-existing conditions or too expensive to insure due to age.
He thinks that HDB needs to abandon its “market fundamentalist” pricing formula and revert to its original mission of meeting “social needs”.
Mr. Mah under intense pressure in 2011 let the cat out of the bag. The high prices help to fill the govt coffers at the GIC and unlinking the HDB pricing from the market will be like “raiding our reserves”[Link]. Mr. Yeoh suggests the same thing as the WP – link HDB flats to a multiple of median income.
He worries that the if the govt continues with piecemeal tweaks but do not restructure sufficiently to meet the future.
Even before we talk about the future, the govt is falling way behind the current needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens for quality healthcare, transport, housing and retirement. The problems with our public transport became apparent and well known because many Singaporeans take the public transport every day. The problems with healthcare are less apparent because a small % get seriously ill every year and have to go through the system…but over time people will realise there is something not right here. Retirement and housing have become linked as CPF funds are drained for the purchase of expensive homes causing a large number of Singaporeans not to have sufficient money for retirement unless they monetize their homes – basically you work your whole life to pay for your home, give it back when you die ….and where did all the wealth you created go? ….Straight into the GIC’s coffers.
Now here’s an ex-GIC economist with a conscience to tell you things don’t have to be the way they are today and there are more equitable models that will still work for Singapore. The problem is we have to find people willing to lead this change and we see none of them in the PAP.