Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PAP, Opposition members cross swords on TV

Dapated from Todayonline

SINGAPORE - As Singapore shifts into higher gear for the General Election (GE), the Opposition voiced doubts on the Government's aim of increasing real income by 30 per cent over the next 10 years.

On Channel NewsAsia's Talking Point programme, which was aired last night, Opposition members also claimed that the Government had plagiarised its stance on productivity - a notion that was swiftly rebutted by PAP MP Indranee Rajah.

The programme brought together PAP MPs - Ms Rajah and Mr Michael Palmer - and Opposition figures Workers' Party treasurer Eric Tan, National Solidarity Party (NSP) secretary-general Goh Meng Seng and Reform Party (RP) secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam. Apart from the changes to the electoral boundaries, the panellists spoke on a range of issues - such as cost of living, immigration and income inequality - which would dominate the hustings.

Mr Goh said his party doubted that the Government could meet its stated target in raising Singaporeans' real income. He pointed out that, in spite of the strong economic growth in the last decade, the Government was unable to raise the real income by 5 per cent for households in the 20th percentile.

But Mr Palmer stressed that it is work in progress: Apart from raising productivity, the Government has also embarked on a push to increase the skill levels of the workforce.

Said Mr Palmer: "We've been consistently doing that ... So I think that if Mr Goh gives us a chance, we can raise that income level."

Pointing out that the RP "wants to focus on raising the real incomes of Singaporeans", Mr Jeyaretnam said: "Notably since I suggested this, I noticed the Government has been adopting much of the same language."

Mr Jeyaretnam also claimed that Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in a recent speech, "seems to be talking about exactly what I've been saying - the need to focus on raising the productivity of our own workforce, rather than relying on cheap labour from abroad". In response, Ms Rajah said: "I thought that back in the '70s, we had launched the productivity movement; we had the productivity and standards board. That was something like a good 30 years or more ago ... before the RP came up with its recent statement."

On addressing the income gap, Mr Tan felt a bigger cash component in the Workfare Income Supplement scheme would be "better" for the lower income families, instead of serving "so many purposes like Medisave, forced savings or retirement". Said Mr Tan: "We should just focus ... to give them more cash in their hand."

Mr Palmer reiterated that the Budget will benefit lower income families. For example, the increased income ceiling for the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme and Centre-Based Financial Assistance Scheme for Child Care "will have a significant impact", he said.

Turning to election strategy, Mr Palmer said that he would be reaching out to younger voters via new media, while the NSP's Mr Goh said the party will match the profile of voters to its candidates. For instance, if 30 per cent of voters are young, NSP will field a candidate between 26 and 27 years old.

Mr Jeyaretnam also weighed in on Opposition unity - saying that the practice of "lumping everyone together actually lowers the image" of the Opposition. He said: "We're different parties with different ideologies."

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