After the SG50 party...

The new MPs are looking forward to the President's Address by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam on Friday. Some among them are keenly aware of the different stage of development that a more mature Singapore is now in, and want to know how to prepare young people
The new MPs are looking forward to the President's Address by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam on Friday. Some among them are keenly aware of the different stage of development that a more mature Singapore is now in, and want to know how to prepare young people for the new economy and society.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

New MPs seeking measures to deal with impending slowdown, and to help workers cope

No one can accuse the 21 new MPs of being hung over after the nation's SG50 party.

Elected four months ago and gearing up for their first Parliament sitting on Friday, the new MPs on the block are looking forward to Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam's traditional President's Address.

They are hoping for measures to address the dark clouds looming on Singapore's economic horizon, amid China's battered stock markets and uncertainty over upcoming US Fed interest rate hikes.

For example, they want to know how workers can be readied for any economic fallout.

As economist and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat points out: "We're not sure of what 2016 will bring. But if we're going into a 'perfect storm', what sort of storm weather gear do we need to be wearing?"

Others, when asked what they would like to see in Dr Tan's speech, gave a glimpse of what their pet topics might be over the term. These ranged from meeting the expectations of young people to active ageing.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David, 45, notes that most of his MP "batch-mates" are in their mid- to late-40s - "a good 20 years older than the folks who are now dealing with the reality of the job market and the price of a new flat".

  • GEARING UP

    We're not sure of what 2016 will bring. But if we're going into a 'perfect storm', what sort of storm weather gear do we need to be wearing?''

    ECONOMIST AND BISHAN-TOA PAYOH GRC MP SAKTIANDI SUPAAT

    CHANGED ENVIRONMENT

    We no longer have the comparative advantage of low-cost labour. Technologically, we're doing a lot better but, at the same time, we're not quite in a position to compete at the highest level with the most successful First World economies or cities.''

    JURONG GRC MP TAN WU MENG

    HARNESSING YOUTH'S STRENGTHS

    SG100 will be shaped by our millennials and young workers. We need to better understand and harness their strengths and help them to be equally successful at work and in raising families.''

    UNIONIST AND TAMPINES GRC MP DESMOND CHOO

    A NEW SINGAPORE

    It is going to be a new Singapore on so many counts: a more pluralistic society, with a diversity of views, and even an influx of newer citizens. All these things are coming to the fore.''

    ANG MO KIO GRC MP DARRYL DAVID

"When I talk to my younger residents, they understand that it's a different world now, but it doesn't stop them from feeling concerned. These are real feelings which should be addressed," he says.

TURNING A NEW PAGE

Indeed, some among the newbies are keenly aware of the different stage of development that a more mature Singapore is now in, and want to know how to prepare young people for the new economy and society.

"We are turning a new page in our history, with SG50 behind us," says Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling. "What do we want to be remembered for at SG100?"

The concerns at the forefront of their minds are different from the ones raised in the President's Address in May 2014, which had as its centrepiece the desire to make society more inclusive and strengthen social safety nets.

Blame the immediate challenges.

"Our economic growth will not be in the high digits," says Mr Saktiandi. He places the ballpark figure below 5 per cent, in contrast to the 8 to 10 per cent growth of the roaring 1980s and 90s. "Singaporeans have probably not fully realised the effect of going into a slower trajectory of growth over the next five to 10 years," he adds.

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam says it is important to be able to rally Singaporeans through the tough times.

Weathering such a rough patch as a nation is also the first thing that springs to mind for Chua Chu Kang GRC MP and banker Yee Chia Hsing.

In the longer term, he adds, Singapore needs to continue to reinvent itself to remain competitive and relevant to the world economy.

But, says Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Chong Kee Hiong, economic transitions in the short term will be painful. "How do we communicate all these things to the people to say that there's a rainbow at the end of it, that our economy will be better and our people will benefit?"

What makes things challenging, says Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng, is that Singapore is no longer able to compete with other countries on the basis of being cost-competitive.

"We no longer have the comparative advantage of low-cost labour," he says. "Technologically, we're doing a lot better but, at the same time, we're not quite in a position to compete at the highest level with the most successful First World economies or cities."

What all this means, say the backbenchers, is that Singapore's leaders will have to take a good, hard look at how to wean the Republic off its labour dependence, become more productive, and reforge the economy to continue creating jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.

"My concern is that our Singaporean workers are taken care of in our push to restructure our economy," says Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong.

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo is another with an eye on helping young Singaporeans navigate the future economy and attain long- term job security and job satisfaction. "SG100 will be shaped by our millennials and young workers," declares the 37-year-old unionist.

"We need to better understand and harness their strengths and help them to be equally successful at work and in raising families."

Which is not to say that older Singaporeans have it easy either.

Managing the economic insecurity arising from the cost of living and the prospect of unemployment or under-employment, especially for older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), is something Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MPs Leon Perera and Dennis Tan want to hear more about.

Another concern among MPs is that those on the fringes of society must not be forgotten.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who recently blogged about his day-long stints as a taxi driver and a healthcare worker, says he will listen out for programmes to help lower-income households. "How can we empower them and make sure they can break out from the poverty cycle? Beyond the dollars and cents, what else can we do?" he asks.

Ms Joan Pereira, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC - a constituency with more than the usual share of seniors - hopes that the President will address the increasing needs of an ageing population.

After all, one in three Singaporeans will be 65 and older by 2030.

Other MPs have their eyes on more long-term trends that cut to the heart of the relationship between the people and their Government.

Nee Soon GRC MP Henry Kwek is looking forward to concrete plans on how to continue to consult Singaporeans. "After the election, people will naturally wonder whether we will stay the course of meaningful engagement. We must reassure our people that we will," he says.

The MPs are also gearing up for their maiden speeches in Parliament during the five-day debate on the President's Address, starting on Jan 25.

The WP's Mr Perera has zoomed in on what he will speak on: A more balanced future for Singapore, with a strong state matched by a strong private sector, civil society and citizenry, he says.

Whatever the cause MPs champion, they are more than aware of the sense of new trends on the horizon and the new stage of development Singapore is entering.

"It is going to be a new Singapore on so many counts: a more pluralistic society, with a diversity of views, and even an influx of newer citizens. All these things are coming to the fore," says Mr David.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'After the SG50 party...'. Print Edition | Subscribe