Budget debate

Day 2 of Budget debate turns focus to people

Speech of the day: From Bubble Tea shops (above) to Hipster Cafes.
Speech of the day: From Bubble Tea shops (above) to Hipster Cafes.
Speech of the day: From Bubble Tea shops to Hipster Cafes (above).
Speech of the day: From Bubble Tea shops to Hipster Cafes (above).

Many MPs' speeches centre on the human aspect when discussing hard policy questions

After an opening day focused on numbers and measures for companies amid a challenging economy, yesterday's Parliament debate resounded with stories of people who were helped but also hurt by policy.

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

Singapore's economic transformation remained a major topic, but suggestions now focused more on mindsets than metrics.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) suggested that firms and workers could be profiled by ability, attitude and vision, so support could be tailored for each group.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) zeroed in on human obstacles to change. Both called for small and medium-sized firms to get help in navigating the complexities of government grants, so that they do not need to approach consultants.


The kiasu entrepreneur is driven by the anxiety to make short gains rather than a mindful desire to win at the long game. So he will only take the risks that everyone is already taking and innovate what everyone else is already innovating.

And that's why entrepreneurship here tends to lack originality and is really just copy-and-paste work of little worth. Yesterday's bubble tea shop is today's hipster coffee joint and cat cafe.

We have a ridiculous number of entrepreneurs in F&B and way too few in industries like marine and construction, which have far more opportunity, profit and need for new blood willing to go where nobody else wants or dares to go.

The other habit that has cost us plenty is our scarcity mindset - the belief that the giving of any advantage to someone else is stupid because it comes at the cost of our personal survival and happiness. ''

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin, a social entrepreneur, who made an impassioned call for Singapore to ditch two key "cultural roadblocks to transformation" - fear and scarcity thinking.


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

Workers' Party MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) was concerned about the potential human impact of Budget initiatives such as incentives for automation, saying these could cause job losses.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, a National Trades Union Congress central committee member, raised the need for not just training grants, but also psychological support for workers changing careers.

Hard policy aside, some MPs also looked at softer cultural issues.

NMP Azmoon Ahmad shared how his father would dismantle parts of his Vespa scooter engine for him to clean. It sparked his inquisitiveness and got him interested in innovation, which he said ought to be nurtured from a young age.

NMP Kok Heng Leun spoke on the importance of art, while fellow NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin identified two "cultural roadblocks to transformation" - fear and scarcity thinking. Ms Kuik said the fear-based "kiasu" culture does not drive people to create value, and scarcity thinking encourages selfishness rather than care.

MPs also picked up on the theme of resilience from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget speech on March 24. Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan suggested encouraging young people to join certain co-curricular activities such as uniformed groups to foster resilience.

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. He was one of many MPs who related real-life tales, from stories of mature workers successfully changing careers, to residents' demands at Meet-the-People Sessions.

No ministers spoke yesterday. Today, Mr Heng will respond to MPs' comments when the Budget debate continues. MPs will then vote to approve the Budget. This will be followed by debate in the Committee of Supply, in which MPs file "cuts" that give them time to speak on each ministry's spending plans.


 'Kiasu' culture is stifling originality in business: NMP
MPs call for more help for working mums
Sustained help for low-wage workers needed


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Day 2 of Budget debate turns focus to people'. Print Edition | Subscribe