Workers’ Party Policy Paper
BY KEN KWEK AND AARON LOW
MR LOW Thia Khiang last night again rejected calls by the People’s Action Party (PAP) to revise his Workers’ Party (WP) manifesto and invited the ruling party instead to release its manifesto.
This time, however, the WP secretary-general also issued a point-by-point rebuttal of Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen’s accusations that his party’s manifesto contained four ‘time bombs’ that would destroy key pillars of Singapore’s stability and success.
In an interview with The Straits Times at his party’s headquarters in Syed Alwi Road, Mr Low went on to challenge the PAP to engage the WP on other points raised in its 52-page manifesto.
‘There are many other issues that are deserving and should be looked at, besides these four points,’ he said.
The four ‘time bombs’ the PAP accused the WP of planting in its manifesto were its calls to scrap grassroots organisations, ethnic integration policies and the elected presidency, and to raise subsidies.
In the interview, with party chairman Sylvia Lim by his side, Mr Low stood by these four proposals that Dr Ng had twice urged the WP to reconsider. But throughout, he studiously refrained from using the phrase ‘time bombs’.
Mr Low explained why the WP thought the ethnic quota for housing was no longer necessary. Singapore has progressed from the situation of the 1960s when each race lived in its own enclave, he said.
People of different races have reached a better level of understanding with one another.
‘It’s a matter of confidence level. I think we have to go beyond… using policy as an instrument, to artificially make sure that there is contact between races,’ he said.
‘We should allow people to choose where they want to live. In the process of the policy, there were also cases of people being caught and not being able to sell their flats because of the racial quota. We have to look at whether it is necessary to have the policy in place to achieve the purpose,’ he said.
It was also time to move beyond grassroots organisations such as the residents’ committees and citizens’ consultative committees. While these groups had played a useful role in the past, there should now be room for more ‘spontaneous’ activities and civil society was also developing.
‘I believe that we should allow people to develop, and not to underestimate that without CCCs, we will not have activities,’ said Mr Low.
The second reason to scrap them was that they ‘serve a political purpose of the PAP’, he said.
Mr Low said he believed that even without grassroots organisations, Singaporeans would still be able to get together and deal with crises that arose.
On the elected presidency, he said there was no need for such an institution in a parliamentary democracy where the legislature should be the check on the government.
‘We are operating a parliamentary democracy system, inherited from the British, which functions very well in Britain. So what’s wrong with that?’ he said.
Mr Low added that there was generally ‘not enough transparency’ in the present Government. ‘What is the best way to check against corruption? Put it on the website, better to have so many people checking, instead of one elected president right?’
As to Dr Ng’s suggestion that ‘maybe the WP wants to go on a spending spree itself’, Mr Low denied that his party had ever suggested throwing the country’s money away carelessly.
On the contrary, he outlined three major areas – namely employment, health care and housing – in which his party had proposed possible financial solutions.
In terms of employment, Mr Low said his party was proposing an unemployment insurance plan, to be introduced when a worker was still in employment. The premium could be covered by deducting 1 per cent of earned income, with the employer contributing another 1 per cent.
In terms of health care, the WP was proposing a basic hospitalisation insurance policy, with the Government co-paying ‘to have universal coverage’.
‘We are also not objecting to proper means testing, where we can actually target subsidies at the correct level,’ Mr Low added.
In the area of housing subsidies, Mr Low said that he was not proposing to ‘bankrupt the Government’, but that because of globalisation, there would always be people with problems.
‘As a government, it is important to commit themselves to helping these people so that they have some security.’
Dr Ng to WP chairman Sylvia Lim
SERIOUS MATTER: Dr Ng questioned chairman Sylvia Lim’s understanding of political realities on the ground concerning racial harmony, among other things. — CHEW SENG KIM
Before you signed statement as chairman of WP…
‘Sylvia Lim signed the Workers’ Party statement as the chairman of WP. But does she seriously or personally believe that the multiracial and multi-religious harmony that we have achieved today is strong enough to dismantle the policies that have worked?
Has she seen the actual situation on the ground, the problems in our society, in housing estates? Is she familiar with the intense public debate over the issues? Has she read up what issues were debated over the elected presidency?
And how the Constitution was then amended? Does she know the implication of just saying ‘spend’, and ignore the question of where the money will come from? As she signed the statement, is this a carefully thought out and sincerely held position, or is she just regurgitating ill- conceived positions and fronting for the party?’
Study matter seriously, spend time on the ground.
‘I must confess that before I became an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, I too took many things for granted. So, it’s understandable if you don’t run a constituency and see the practical problems on the ground, you may not understand the full implications of removing these four cornerstones.
I advise Ms Lim to study the matter seriously with an open mind, discuss it with others, and spend time on the ground finding out how our society works. If after that she is still convinced that the manifesto is right, well, explain – we are prepared to listen.
Or, she may conclude that the WP line is misconceived, and hopefully persuade the WP to modify its line. Surely she should at least be prepared to consider the possibility that the WP has made a mistake.’