Singapore GE2020: PAP's Liang Eng Hwa promises to review country's reliance on foreign labour if elected

Mr Liang Eng Hwa says he will seek to join the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower if he gets a fourth term as an MP. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

SINGAPORE - Mr Liang Eng Hwa, the People's Action Party candidate standing in the single seat of Bukit Panjang, has promised to focus on manpower issues and help review Singapore's reliance on foreign labour if elected.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance, Trade and Industry and three-term Member of Parliament said he will seek to join the GPC for Manpower if he gets a fourth term as an MP.

"We have made some headway on restricting foreign labour but Singapore's limited land space means this needs to be further reduced, especially in the construction sector," he told The Straits Times on Tuesday (July 7).
"We need to balance the economic and social effects."

Mr Liang said the concern was not a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic or inspired by talking points raised by opposition parties.

"I have spoken up on these issues in Parliament, and asked if economic growth benefits foreigners more than Singaporeans."

His other priorities include institutionalising flexible work arrangements, improving health insurance plans for locals, pushing for the wider use of electric vehicles, as well as job creation.

"The severity of the global recession means that the economic downturn will be quite prolonged so it will have direct implications on jobs," he said.

Mr Liang made these promises in his manifesto to the voters of Bukit Panjang and has suggested to them during his walkabouts that they keep the manifesto for the next five years so that they can check if he makes good on his word.

The 56-year-old managing director at DBS Bank is at the centre of what is shaping up to be a closely watched contest with Professor Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), who has grabbed the headlines in recent days for his criticism of the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked about this on Sunday (July 5), Mr Liang said that Prof Tambyah must be prepared to back up his allegations with evidence.

He said: "If he wants to make those claims, he better be answerable for them. I will not presume to tell him what to do and will leave it to him.

"But I will say that it does not really directly concern Bukit Panjang residents and I want my message to be directly to them."

On his part, Prof Tambyah, together with Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock, has challenged the Government to a debate over the health crisis. Prof Tambyah, an infectious diseases expert, has also published scientific papers on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Liang said there is much he wishes to do on behalf of his residents, whom he has been meeting every day, as the coronavirus has led to greater concerns about cost of living.

The cost of doing business was also a concern.

"If we move our goods better and make sure our local supply chain is more efficient, there is potential to lower business costs. Right now, it's a bit inefficient because goods go around Singapore before they end up where they need to," said Mr Liang.

He added that the pandemic should also prompt people to rethink how they consume and distribute food, so as to make sure that everyone has enough.

"After Covid-19, we really have to look at our food sources and think about how we can consume the right amount of food. There is still too much food wastage and we can change social norms and behaviour to reduce that," he said.

With the contest heating up in Bukit Panjang, both Mr Liang and Prof Tambyah have brought in additional support from other constituencies for extra firepower.

Over the weekend, the PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team, which includes Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth, joined Mr Liang in Bukit Panjang for a walkabout. They tipped Mr Liang to be the chairman of the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council if elected.

Ms Sim also said there will be differences that "residents can feel" if Bukit Panjang is won by the SDP and the PAP retains Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, as the joint town council will have to be split.

On Tuesday, the PSP's Mr Tan accompanied Prof Tambyah in Bukit Panjang. Both have refuted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks at his Fullerton rally on Monday that the opposition did not have plans to deal with the coronavirus.

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Prof Tambyah told The Straits Times on Monday evening: "We have done nothing but talk about Covid-19... The plan is new and in response to the coronavirus.

"The scale of retrenchment is going to be way out of proportion to anything that has happened since independence, excepting maybe the British withdrawal. The PAP are the ones recycling SkillsFuture and all the same old issues."

On PM Lee asking for Singaporeans to give the PAP "a strong mandate", he said: "The only countries that only consider 100 per cent a strong mandate are China and North Korea, and we do not want to be in the state North Korea is. The PAP already has a strong mandate.

"(Investors will not flee as) most of the people in North America and Europe and even Japan are puzzled by how we can continue with this situation. A system of checks and balances is going to be much more attractive to investors."

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