Singapore responds to 'dishonest' commentary by Chee Soon Juan in WSJ

Hong Kong-based consulate-general Jacky Foo said in a letter to the WSJ on Tuesday that while Singapore's model "is not perfect... it is dishonest of Mr Chee Soon Juan (pictured) to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing". -- PHOTO: S
Hong Kong-based consulate-general Jacky Foo said in a letter to the WSJ on Tuesday that while Singapore's model "is not perfect... it is dishonest of Mr Chee Soon Juan (pictured) to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing". -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Government has responded to a commentary in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, saying he has been "dishonest" to claim that Singapore's system is a failure or that the state has not acted to tackle issues like income inequality.

Even as the income gap in Singapore has risen, low-income citizens have access to high-quality education, health care and public housing, and their wages have been growing over the last 10 years, Singapore's Consul-General in Hong Kong Jacky Foo said in a letter to the WSJ on Tuesday.

Mr Foo added that while Singapore's model "is not perfect... it is dishonest of Mr Chee to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing".

Mr Chee had stated in his commentary, published over the weekend, that Singapore's economic success has "wrought havoc" on values such as freedom, compassion and equality, leading to "Singaporeans' disenchantment with the current system".

The secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party called for an "alternative vision" for the Republic, where "the wage structure should ensure that the working poor don't see their real incomes shrink even as the number of billionaires rise".

In response, Mr Foo noted that the real wages of low-income Singaporeans have grown by 10 per cent in the past decade, "unlike the stagnation often seen elsewhere".

He added that while income inequality has also increased in many other countries, Singapore families earning just $1,000 a month can afford to own a two-room apartment here.

Eight out of 10 households in the poorest one-fifth of Singapore society own their own homes, with an average net housing equity of more than $200,000 each, Mr Foo observed.

He also addressed Mr Chee's criticism of government-linked companies as being the "prime drivers of growth" in Singapore's economy. Calling this charge "absurd", Mr Foo said such companies, including Keppel Corp and Singapore Airlines, make up just one-tenth of the economy.

"Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises employ seven in 10 Singaporeans and enjoy the bulk of government support," Mr Foo added.

On Mr Chee's claim in his commentary that Singapore lacks a democracy, Mr Foo said Singapore elections are "free and fair".

"Every time Mr. Chee and his party have contested, Singaporeans have rejected them," he said.

"He might do better to take the interest of Singaporeans to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media."

fiochan@sph.com.sg