Parliament: MPs focus on people affected by changing economy on Day 2 of Budget debate

(Left to right) MPs Denise Phua, Kuik Shiao-Yin and K Thanaletchimi.
(Left to right) MPs Denise Phua, Kuik Shiao-Yin and K Thanaletchimi.PHOTOS: ST FILE
The Parliament House in Singapore.
The Parliament House in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - After an opening day filled with numbers and calculations, Tuesday's (April 5) Parliament session instead resounded with the stories of people hurt and helped by policies.

In the second day of debate on the Government's Budget for the new financial year, many of the 25 MPs who spoke on Tuesday filled their speeches with anecdotes, focused on the human aspect even when discussing hard policy questions.

Economic transformation

After Monday's (April 4) calls for metrics by which to evaluate Singapore's economic transformation, Tuesday's Parliament debate instead saw suggestions that focused more on mindsets. Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) suggested that firms and workers could be profiled by their ability, attitude and vision, so suitable forms of support could be given to each group.

MPs such as Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) zeroed in on human barriers to economic transformation. Both called for small and medium-sized firms to be given more help in navigating the complexities of government grants, so that they do not need to approach consultants.

Helping workers

Even in suggesting concrete measures to help workers, MPs stressed the importance of mindsets. Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted that service buyers in contract-based, low-income industries such as cleaning and security must have the right mindset if workers are to benefit.

 

For instance, service buyers should adopt performance-based rather than headcount-based contracts, to give service providers an incentive to improve productivity, he said.

Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) was concerned about the potential human impact of economic Budget initiatives such as incentives for automation and mergers and acquisitions. Warning that they could lead to job losses, he said: "We don't want a situation where automation leads to sectors of society to feel that they are left behind by progress, being discarded after they are no longer useful."

Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi, a National Trades Union Congress central committee member, noted the need for a support network for workers who are changing careers: "A hands-on approach from the agency to offer not just training grants but also psychological support and guidance can help acclimatise workers quicker in different workplace environments."

The role of culture

Not all MPs focused on specific policies. NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin's speech took a big-picture approach, looking at two "cultural roadblocks to transformation": fear, and scarcity thinking.

 

Fear-based kiasu culture does not motivate people to create real value in society, and scarcity thinking encourages selfishness rather than care, she said.

Many MPs also picked up the theme of resilience from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget speech on March 24.

WP Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan suggested encouraging young people to join co-curricular activities such as uniformed groups or long-distance running to foster resilience, while Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) applauded the focus on outdoor adventure education, sharing his own experience with taking his children to a tree-top adventure course at Bedok Reservoir.

And even the Budget process itself could make more room for ordinary people, suggested Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC). He suggested starting public consultation on the Budget in November, rather than February, thus allowing more time to incorporate feedback.