Pritam calls for alternative views to be addressed

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh has urged 4G leaders to invest more energy in engaging Singaporeans on issues like rising living costs.
Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh has urged 4G leaders to invest more energy in engaging Singaporeans on issues like rising living costs.PHOTO: GOV.SG/YOUTUBE

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh has called on the fourth-generation leaders "to invest a lot more energy" into engaging Singaporeans, including on difficult or sensitive subjects such as the rising cost of living.

In his first parliamentary speech as the opposition party's secretary-general since party elections last month, Mr Singh said that alternative views should be addressed and considered thoughtfully so as to allow everyone to move forward as one Singapore.

"If the approach of the 4G leaders is to ignore, silence or ridicule alternative ideas, they will fail to galvanise and spur all Singaporeans to greater heights or, worse, they may even engender a divided society, rendering the message of inclusivity hollow and without substance," he said.

Mr Singh specifically cited how the Government can afford to be more open in addressing questions and worries about rising costs.

He said rising prices had dominated headlines in the past few years, with the impending increase in the goods and services tax to 9 per cent causing more anxiety. The hike, announced during this year's Budget statement, is to take place some time from 2021 to 2025.

While he stopped short of calling for the increase to be scrapped, he said "the picture for the immediate future does not appear to be one of a government needing money to stay afloat or needing to tax the population, as a result raising the cost of living".

He noted that the Government had accumulated a Budget surplus of $15.7 billion in the first two years of its five-year term. The move in 2016 to allow the Government to tap on up to half the long-term expected real returns on investments by Temasek Holdings also provides a stable source of income to fund public spending, he added.

Mr Singh urged the Government to be more transparent about its current estimates and underlying basis for its projections of higher expenditure in the years to come.

"This information needs to be shared so that the public are clear-eyed about the sufficiency of the budget at the Government's disposal to help Singaporeans with the cost of living today," he said.

Raising the examples of the 30 per cent hike in water tariffs and the expected increase in transport costs, Mr Singh said the Government needs to re-examine if there are other ways to raise revenue to cushion price hikes on Singaporeans.

He suggested government-linked companies and statutory boards should rethink how much surpluses they should accumulate, and look closely at whether there are alternative revenue streams. He cited, for instance, the capital reserves of the Public Utilities Board, which have increased from about $3 billion in 2007 to $5 billion in 2016.

"Getting into the details of such matters would represent a unique partnership with the people, he said. "It would represent bold leadership, but such an approach would come with an upshot. Price hikes are likely to be better understood and contextualised to the benefit of the policy discourse in Singapore."

Mr Singh also said the call for bold changes - made in President Halimah Yacob's speech during the opening of Parliament last week - should not preoccupy the 4G leadership alone.

If Singapore is to thrive, boldness must be part of the "national character", he added, urging Singaporeans to think about how they can help the country improve.

"At its core, the transition from 3G to 4G leaders must be accom-panied by a transformation of our society which creates the conditions to engender a confident people," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Pritam calls for alternative views to be addressed'. Print Edition | Subscribe