Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Speech by Minister Tharman: 27 February 2008

Minister Tharman delivered his round-up speech today, on the debate on the Budget statement over the past couple of days. The text of his speech is available here, while the video will be available here for a limited time. I have reproduced his response to my speech below (from the prepared text, not checked against delivery).

I have always maintained that my speeches must speak for themselves, must stand and fall on their own. So I will only make a few short comments:
  • Minister Tharman did not say anything about the first part of my speech, about the benefits of GDP (not) going to Singaporeans.
  • Someone (whose views I respect) told me that this was not one of my better speeches, that it was not constructive or different. Well, I think there is nothing constructive that can be said here about compassion -- either you believe in the idea of what I said, or you don't. It is about the idea, not about specifics.
  • I did not advocate completely ignoring waste, deadweight loss and disincentives to work. Instead, I believe that in some situations, some wastage of public funds should be tolerated, if the overall benefit outweighs that wastage. While the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, not all good intentions lead to hell.
  • I did not say anything that could possibly be construed as not caring about creating wealth at all, as the Zaobao columnist seems to have suggested. That is a strawman argument, and it's easy to debunk a strawman argument. Indeed, I do believe in and applaud the Budget measures aimed at our long-term competitiveness -- I merely chose not to include it in my speech.
  • Finally, I suspect that as these things go, I got as mild a rebuke as I possibly could have. And I appreciate that.

Speech by Minister Tharman
27 February 2008

5.1. Mr Speaker Sir, the most important debate in the last two days has been about the basic ethic that we want to sustain in our society.

5.2. We all aspire to help and uplift the less fortunate members of our society.

5.3. Mr Siew Kum Hong made an impassioned speech. He says that the Government is only concerned about not eroding the work ethic, rather than caring for Singaporeans, and so we tend to provide the bare minimum to Singaporeans in need such that they have just enough to survive.

(a) His description does not square with the reality of Government interventions to support the lower income group. Through Workfare, through our housing subsidies, through our CPF subsidies and top-ups, through the support we provide the poor with Medifund and through the many flexible schemes that ComCare offers, we are providing substantial support for lower income Singaporeans.

(b) His desire to see nobody left behind is noble and shared by us all. But his exhortation that we should ignore waste, ignore deadweight loss, ignore disincentives to work is quite reckless.

(c) As Chew Chu Ching pointed out in his ZaoBao column today, commenting on Mr Siew Kum Hong’s speech, “if a country does not care about creating wealth at all, it is big question whether it could survive in the real world." [cartoon from ZaoBao to the same effect]

(d) To be able to help the poor, we must first create wealth, grow our GDP and provide every incentive for Singaporeans to strive and work to improve their lives and that of their families.

(e) If our policies harm that, for the noblest of reasons, we will be in serious trouble, as many other countries have found. Instead of helping the people we all want to help, we will be doing worse for them.

5.4. The real issue is how we can keep our economy productive and vibrant, and how we can keep our society resilient and caring, not just now or for a few years, but for many years to come. Will it be achieved by Government giving more and more and handing out more and more goodies, which MPs like Mr Sam Tan, Dr Ong Seh Hong, Mr Baey Yam Keng and Dr Lim Wee Kiak cautioned against?

5.5. As Chua Mui Hoong put it in yesterday’s Straits Times, “it is timely to recall that the Finance Minister is not the God of Fortune, and that not all calls for spending have merit. Even if there is a $6.4b surplus”.

5.6. Our basic philosophy has been and must remain what Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Dr Lily Neo, Ms Lee Bee Wah, Mrs Josephine Teo and Dr Lim Wee Kiak expressed – we must keep alive the incentive for every Singaporean to strive and maximize opportunities to do better for themselves and their families.

5.7. This Budget has given Singaporeans something to tide over their present difficulties. But far more important is what we do to help every individual upgrade himself through education and training, to stay in a job and keep advancing his skills, and to save for retirement.

5.8. We have embarked on new initiatives, and there is much more work ahead. We will stay focused on this central task. As Mdm Halimah Yacob summed up, it is what we have to do so that this continues to be a place where everyone has the opportunity to fulfill his dreams through hard work and can look forward to the future with hope.

5.9. This is the philosophy which will keep Singapore going through good years and bad, which will ensure that prosperity will last more than 3 generations as Mr Seng Han Thong hoped. And above all, which will make this a society where every Singaporean can be proud that they are playing their part, not just by doing better for themselves, but by contributing to Singapore.


george said...

Dear Mr Siew,

I read your speech. To my mind, you said what has to be said in parliament on behalf of the vast majority of Singaporeans.

Good job. Keep it up!

LuckySingaporean said...

Dear Sir,

I appreciate the good work you have been doing for Singaporeans.

I have a few questions.

You know our defense budget increases every year and exceeds or is comparable to the sum total of the defense spending of our nearest neighbors combined. I'm no expert in this area and I'm not questioning the level of spending needed but the govt has objective experts in defense who will recommend the correct level of spending needed so that sufficient defense is provided for the citizens and money is spent to protect our nation and not for the benefit of those in the defense industry.

I would like to ask if the govt puts the same level of effort to determine how much is needed for social spending to assess how much is needed to address the needs of the poor.

family man said...

wah - today in parliament Mr Wong say sorry leh. Wonder when the others will apologise for the screwed up GST increase. Or the investments screw ups. Wonder how much we have lost so far.

family man said...

In his speech he said "His (Mr Siew) desire to see nobody left behind is noble and shared by us all. But his exhortation that we should ignore waste, ignore deadweight loss, ignore disincentives to work is quite reckless."
This is the same minister who sits as the GIC director. How many deadweight loss is there in GIC / Temasek investments, eg shincorp, Suchou, Citibank, UBS. All thiose money piled in in to prop those ailing foreign entities? All these losses are messy BUTacceptable to these cabinet ministers, but they will not allow any old man or old woman to ever lose the incentive to peddle and sell old cardboards, cans. Or to give him money but hold his 3 room HDB flat as ransom money, so his sons and daughters will not have a decent house to hold on to when they die. This is a great incentive, as Lily Neo mentioned, to ensure we keep running uphill, so that we do not fall backwards, while the cabinet ministers maintain that GST was the right decision, never mind the lessons from HongKong.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Kum Hong
You have done what you can in the circumstances.
You have been a very effective MP!
Keep up the good work.
Altho on principle I am not in favour of the NMP scheme ( as it is), I make an exception for you!
Keep plugging at them!
Best wishes.


ahblabla said...

Dear Mr Siew,

I have been reading your blog since the Section 377 issue and I have felt your speeches to be reasonable and passionate.

Your latest one is no different. I just wish to congratulate you on a speech well delivered, and hope that you, along with our other MPs continue to speak up for Singaporeans, especially for the minority.


family man said...

Dear Mr Siew. Regarding the terrorist escape, I am sure that everything will be under control with our million dollars cabinet. After the bill for CPf compulsory life annuity scheme is passed, and glossed over by the press, I am sure he will be apprehended by then. However, I hope that opposition members and NMPs will press for the voluntary opt in/ opt out scheme (like eldershield) to protect our citizens, and allow our poorer citizens the option to choose to opt out if it suits their lifestyle.

family man said...

Dear Mr Siew,
omg! I read Sunday Times and there was a full page advertisement on CPF Life. Has it been passed as law already? I thought the 12 options were up for discussion only. Was Prof Lim Pin and Dr Ng Eng Hen a law unto themselves? Should we not have a chance to 'vote' for this scheme by opting in / out ?
Mr Siew, please advise. Is it a done deal where my CPF money is concerned? I did not hear any parliamentary debate on these 12 options.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To all: Thank you for your encouragement.

To luckysingaporean: I am sure that the Government's position is that it applies the same level of effort, attention and care to both defence and social spending.

To family man: Obviously, I don't believe that my comments were reckless. As for the government investments, I think my own views are clear, from my PQ in January.

As for CPF Life -- the committee headed by Professor Lim Pin made its recommendations, and those recommendations have been accepted by the Government. MOM's budget is due for debate later this week (should be Wednesday, but the schedule is dynamic), and a number of MPs including myself will be speaking on CPF Life. Please feel free to leave your comments or drop me an e-mail on CPF Life.

family man said...

Just read Khaw Boon Wan's post about means testing. I am married with 3 sons. And now I am being penalised because I earn more than $3200. Why?
Tt is messy to have zero GST rating for food and necessities, it is just as messy to have means testing. Why are we going ahead with this and not the other, and such a blunt instrument using personal income instead of per capita household income.
This place is so screwed up.
Mr Siew, like you said, there is no longer any compassion in this place. The cabinet has taken an extra step to increase our inflation with MEANS TESTING, does not any MP SEE THAT?

This is just a start, and the government will surely reduce the subsidy in the future. A rich country, where all the revenue are passed to citibank, UBS, but not its citizens.
And tomorrow ST will feature this in some small column so that the Mat jamban excape case gets a bigger coverage.

Weiliang, Kelvin. said...

Mr. Siew,
I would like to illustrate a simple calculation to show that some people do not need to buy annuity at all.
At year 2013, the Min Sum at age 55 will be $134,000.
This amount will grow from age 55 to 65 (10 years) at 4% for to $198,000.
So starting at age 65, I will be able to get $7,900 interest from the $198,000 at 4%. That is $660 per month.
(To be conservative, I ignore the additional 1% for the first $60,000. so the figure should be higher)
So why force me to buy annuity?
Should one dies, the annuity will forfeit all the interest earned from age 55 till the year he dies. Only the balance of the Principal Sum will be refunded after deducting all previous withdrawal.
We really need someone like you to fight for us for this injustice of denying our rights to the use of our own money.
For goodness sake, at 55 we are still treated as if we are unable to think.
Put up a petition should it be necessary.

family man said...

Amazing that CASE was on the issue of fast food, instead of the compulsory CPF annuities which is really like a cartel thing. I really wish the govt would heed the call of the public now, instead of regretting during the next elections.

I read this :

I quote : 'However, an informal Channel NewsAsia poll taken in October 2007 showed that when readers were asked if they wanted the option of having higher premiums and a payout age of 80 instead of 85, 15% out of a total of 743 readers voted “I don’t mind this option as I think the spare funds will be of better use when I am 80″, whereas 85% voted “I disagree with the whole idea of compulsory annuities in the first place“.

family man said...

ohhh boy. The more I see DPM wong's spin on Mas Selamat on TV and newspapers, the more I want to vote the opposition. I hope he leaves the political scene as soon as possible to prevent doing more damage to the PAP image.

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