Sunday, February 14, 2010

Upping productivity in S'pore is absurd

I find the latest obsession with raising efficiency in Singapore as a "new economic strategy" rather absurd.

Productivity is such an elusive concept, and can be used as an excuse to shed more labour in place of machinery (to "increase productivity"), or make people work longer hours (not shorter) because the spreadsheets need to show that the department can now do 5 projects in one month instead of just 3 in the previous month.

In the end the segment of society that will lose out most are (as usual) the working class, blue collared, less skilled workers (and now increasingly the middle class skilled workers too) because they've been made redundant by machines and technology. But that's the whole point, because the government says it wants to make Singapore a service and financial hub, right?

The government also says they have a solution for that, which is more training and reskilling. Hmmm...That'll work just perfectly because a machine operator can totally be "reskilled" to be a service personnel or financial adviser. And by the way, you will be paid as poorly as before, if not worse, cos you'll have to work longer hours, and you don't really have the relevant working experience. But you'll have a nicer title and get to work in an air-conditioned room.

This productivity solution to Singapore's lack of competitiveness is a clear sign of the lack of innovation in policy thinking and an obsession with micromanaging the citizenry.

Now for my second gripe - the media.

I find it even more disgraceful that the papers went on for over a week, wasting page space singing the same government tune and reproducing the party line without giving alternative perspectives or any form of questioning whether this is what Singapore really needs.

It's not about criticising for the sake of criticism, but showing both sides of the coin like any good journalist would do. Where was the counter argument to this whole policy in the one and a half weeks of coverage? Who are the potential losers in this kind of policy and what do they have to say about it? What do the sociologists and political scientists have to say about it?

If the straits times wants to stop being seen as a government newsletter then it needs to stop acting like one. Or maybe that's just how it wants to be...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Homeless in Singapore - the real story

So while our dear mainstream newspapers went on about how much people have to pay for welfare housing last Sunday, they conveniently skirted about the bigger more pertinent question of why the hell there's been more homeless people in this country when the government's been boasting about fabulous growth rates.

The truth is, Singapore is one of the most unequal countries in the world! Our gini coefficient (the measure of inequality in the country) is even worse than China (reported in The Economist some months back)!!!

Anyway, The Temasek Review wrote a way more perceptive piece on the homeless situation in Singapore (attached below). Hopefully we will all be more informed about what's really happening in our society and not be so easily taken in by all the talk of "increasing productivity" and "securing healthy growth rates".

The Temasek Review, Singapore - 31 Jan 10

MCYS: Increase in number of homeless people in Singapore not linked to financial crisis

Written by Our Correspondent

More and more Singaporeans are becoming homeless, but there is no direct evidence to link this with the financial crisis, said the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

As of last year, 253 homeless people were picked up by MCYS officers, up from 123 in 2007 with more than half of them found sleeping in the void decks of HDB blocks. Most of them were sent to destitute homes where they get free shelter, food and clothes with curbs to their freedoms.

The actual number may be higher. Homeless Singaporeans, especially the elderly are ubiquitous throughout the HDB flats in Singapore.One need only take a tour at night to find them sleeping at the void decks, parks and even in the open:
The increase in the number of homeless people in Singaporeans coincided surprisingly with its high growth rate of between 5 to 8 per cent over the last decade which is fueled largely by the relentless influx of cheap foreign labor.

At the same time, the median wages of ordinary Singaporeans have remained stagnant at $2,600 monthly and the income gap between the rich and poor have widened. Singapore now has the highest income gap among the thirty most developed nations in the world.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, the ruling party’s liberal immigration policies have depressed the wages of ordinary Singaporeans, increased the cost of living, especially that of public housing, lowered labor productivity and led to an overall decline in the standard of living. (read article here )

While the poor has become poorer in Singapore, Singapore’s ministers have given themselves a big pay rise for their managing of the Singapore’s economy. A significant proportion of their multi-million dollar salary package is pegged to Singapore’s GDP growth – the higher the growth, the more money they take home.

When asked about the widening income gap in Singapore during a ministerial forum last year, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew dismissed it as an “inevitable” consequence of globalization and that it “matters little” so long the government continues to create jobs for Singaporeans.

Though Singapore is the second richest country in Asia after Japan and its two sovereign wealth funds Temasek Holdings and GIC can afford to lose millions of dollars overseaas, its citizens enjoy few social welfare benefits from the government.

Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy wrote famously in 2001:

“There are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated, not through an entitlements program (there are virtually none) but through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives. The state acts as the catalyst-matching financial support, sponsoring preventive and social care, and ensuring that basic needs are provided for.” (read here )

It is about time he retracts his statements and re-orientate himself to a new reality in Singapore.