It’s Not Just About Political Agendas

Read with interest the latest saga over Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) candidate, Vincent Wijeysinga, and how he was touted at a gay forum to be a potential “first gay MP” rallying for more rights for homosexuals.  The People’s Action Party (PAP) asked SDP to clarify its position on the matter and SDP came out to clarify that they are not pursuing the gay agenda and none of their MPs will.

I think the issue goes beyond “pushing political agendas”.  I believe the choices/ stance/ position that a person takes is intrinsically linked to his beliefs & values.  For example, many Christian MPs spoke out against having casinos in Singapore and this was based on their religious beliefs.  Another example might be if there is an MP who is very concerned about shark conservation, should any bills be tabled about banning the import of sharks’ fin, the MP is then highly likely to support this.  In the same vein, even if a homosexual MP doesn’t actively pursue gay rights in parliament, I think it’s only logical that this MP will make decisions based on his belief/ values.

This may be good for people in support of gay rights, and not so good for people who want things to remain status quo.  My point is, voting for a candidate is not just about what “political agenda” they say they have, or don’t have.  It’s also about voting for a candidate who shares the same beliefs & values as you.  Since it is often said that an MP is the people’s voice in parliament, then we should remember that “out of an overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”.

Engaging Discussion – Singapore Elections 2011

I had a really interesting discussion over Facebook’s private messages with a friend who supports the Opposition.  Some of the points she brought up… and my view of these points:

1. Ministers’ Salaries

Her point: One sign of PAP’s corruption is that they pay themselves the highest salaries in the world, and they do it because they can.  For e.g. Lee Hsien Loong earns approximately USD 2.8mil annually whereas the US President US$400,000 annually, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 non-taxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment

My view: it’s our ministers who get paid well, not PAP. Should the opposition parties one day show that they are capable of running Singapore, they will be entitled to the high pay too. Sure, politicians in other countries, e.g. US, are paid lower than in Singapore. But the non-cash perks they have (housing, security, private jets, etc) are way more than what our ministers are paid.  For e.g., it costs a whopping US$181,757 per hour to operate Air Force One!!  Given the amount of travelling the US President does a year, do you know how much that works out to?

I thus don’t think it’s fair to just use salaries as a basis of comparison. I think we should look into the overall amount it costs taxpayers to support a politician.

Perhaps more importantly, a lot of overseas politicians do not stay to serve the country longterm. They come in for a term or two, then they move back to the private sector knowing that that short pay "sacrifice" while they are in public office will be easily recouped once they rejoin the private sector with all their political connections.  I don’t think this sort of high turnover is beneficial to the country.

2. Casinos

Her point: Allowing casinos to be built has ruined PAP’s moral standing.  She personally knows 3 people who have been financially ruined by gambling.

My view: I believe an individual must take responsibility for his own actions. Many people are also ruined from playing the stock market. Should we then remove SGX? And I’m not saying this from a bystander point of view. My dad has lost over a million in shares in the past. But my dad just worked harder to make back the money. It may be tough, but definitely possible.

3. Not Upgrading Non-PAP Wards

Her point: Not upgrading non-PAP wards is morally wrong as these people also serve NS, pay taxes, and this would never happen in other developed democracies.

My view: I think we have to be clear that PAP didn’t say their flats would never get upgraded. But there’s a queue for all the flats to be upgraded and so they were placed at the end of the queue. From a PAP voter point of view, I think that’s fair. U can’t have your cake & eat it. If I supported the ruling party at the last elections, then I expect to have certain "priority" when it comes to things like HDB upgrading. I would certainly be annoyed if a non-PAP ward got upgraded before a PAP ward.

4. Workfare Bonus

Her point: Workfare bonus goes into CPF & not our pockets so it’s all for show.

My view: CPF pays a much higher interest rate than banks so this sort of forced savings for retirement is not a bad idea. It provides a basic safety net for the masses when they retire. The financially savvy would know that they should not put all their eggs in one basket.  I think the last global financial crisis has shown you never know what may go wrong. So why shouldn’t a diversified portfolio include CPF (together with stocks, fixed deposits, unit trusts, etc)? For those who are not financially savvy, all the more they need more $$ in their CPF when they retire.

We finally agreed to disagree…politics is like religion – you can never convince or persuade someone to come round to your point of view, but I certainly enjoy an exchange of views.  Smile

Singapore Elections 2011

Someone told me that when Margaret Thatcher visited Singapore, she made a comment that she & Lee Kuan Yew were similar in the way they ruled a country, however, LKY was more fortunate because he had many more years to roll out his policies.  I am unable to verify the authenticity of that comment, though, even if taken as a parable, I still see the point it is trying to make. 

I believe that one of the reasons why Singapore has moved from being a Third World country to First World so quickly is because the same party has been in power for the last few decades.  Think about it.  Elections have to be called every 5 years.  If the ruling party changed every time, it means that the newly elected party has only 5 years to implement whatever policies it has for the country.  It will probably take about 2 years for the newly elected party to run off the policies implemented by the previous government, by which it only has up to 3 years to implement its own policies, plus plan for the next elections.  Given the short frame of time, it is almost practically impossible for the ruling party to do any real long term planning for a country.  Will the government be able to do any sort of 5-year & 10-year blueprint?  For long term plans that are midway in execution, what happens to them when the ruling party changes?  Do these plans get abandoned?  Modified?  How effective & efficient will the country be if long term plans get disrupted all the time?

People have jokingly called Singapore’s ruling party a dictatorship.  But I think how Singapore’s political system has differed from a dictatorship is that although the same party has been in power for many years, there has been proper succession planning & renewal at the top ranks.  As a thought, is it necessarily bad that the same party has ruled for so many years?  Having the same party in power has ensured that plans and policies have been followed through.  Sure, there may have been some wrong decisions made, or opportunities missed.  What’s important, however, is that the people who made those decisions were also around to rectify & improve things.  I feel that that’s way better than having new politicians come in all the time, give their 5-year shot at running the country, then either moving back to the private sector to earn big bucks leveraging from their political career, or running off because they screwed up.

People talk about our ruling party having “group think” but I think the herd mentality is more applicable & evident in people who bash the government, just for the sake of complaining.  There will always be opposition parties in Singapore and there is merit in that.  What I hope is that Singaporeans will cast a meaningful vote.  Vote for the party that can take our country forward, not for the one who makes the greatest noise.