Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kelvin Teo's interview

Kelvin Teo, the main ex-writer of Kent Ridge Common, has requested to interview me and I gladly obliged. The following is the link to the full interview.

I will reproduce the interview here:

Kelvin: How did your previous experiences especially during your student days and all that prompted you to step into politics?

GMS:Before answering this question, a quick introduction to my background. I was born in the era of “White Terror” whereby even a whisper of discontentment of the ruling party PAP would be sternly cautioned by the elders. That was the reality in 1970s whereby the ruthless detention of political opponents by PAP was met with fear and apprehension. Anyone who dare to include phrases or words which could suggest links to communist literature will be called up by ISD for coffee or face detention ultimately. Singapore, the jewel city of Southeast Asia Cultural Renaissance has turned into a total cultural desert overnight.

My late father used to be a member of an opposition party, United Front. Although he didn’t have much formal education but his upright character and political views have tremendous influence on my youthful mind. I used to read the Chinese newspapers with him. Back then, there was still Nanyang Shangbao which was more independent and critical about the ruling party before it was forced into merger with Xinzhou daily and under total control of the government. My father was pretty critical about some of the policies and political repression that the ruling party exercised back then. The impact of the forced closure of Nanyang University and merger of the Chinese newspapers still lingers in my mind up till this day.

I received my secondary school education in a SAP school, River Valley High. I was the Chairman of the Student Council for a period of time. The life in a SAP school made me feel a little uneasy as it was not totally “real” as compared with the world outside. I realized that there wasn’t any Malays or Indians in our school. This is unhealthy and I began to wonder if we should provide First Language education for Malay as well as Tamil so that the SAP school could have a better racial mix.

My education in River Valley High also molded my socialist mindset. The study of modern Chinese literature provided me a good foundation in understanding social justice/injustice, exploitation of the feudal system on the peasants and what it means to fight for justice, fairness and a society that value equality, freedom and human rights.

I received my training in Economics from Hwa Chong Junior College and subsequently, the National University of Singapore. My study in NUS was especially valuable as it provided me the opportunity to have a more critical mind in examining many of the past and contemporary policies made at that time. It happened that most of the controversial policies were made in the 1990s, from the implementation of GST, COE, assets enhancement (which resulted in the rise of HDB pricing) to ERP. My training back then equipped me with better understanding of the rational as well as the flaws behind these policies.

I also participated actively in the digital forums of the University intranet bulletin board, focusing on social and economic issues. Such participation in public discussion was extended beyond my varsity days when internet became available to Singaporeans after 1995. Prior to my actual participation in opposition politics in 2001, I have always regarded myself as a social armchair critic who took some time off from my business venture to participate in some social charity work on the ground.

My disagreement on the many social-economic policies implemented by the PAP came to a critical point in 1997 when PAP insisted in using HDB upgrading as the basis of pork barrel politics during the 1997 General Elections. That was actually the last straw that pushed me to consider seriously about either making a change to the whole political culture and system or just to emigrate to some other place instead. The basic sense of justice and fairness began to develop to a greater level of dissatisfaction of the various politicking tactics utilized by the PAP to silence or disable its political opponents.

The disagreement with the various social-economic policies coupled with the dissatisfaction with PAP’s disgusting politicking are the two main factors that eventually made me cross the line to join opposition party in 2001, right in the midst of the General Elections. Such disagreement and dissatisfaction are strongly influenced by my upbringing and learning in my earlier life.

Kelvin: You have a dream which is and I quote:”To build a true alternative in Singapore”. What inspired you to come up with this vision and how did you arrive upon it?

GMS:I have been through the era of great political suppression in the 1970s and 1980s. I have seen through all the flaws and merits of the ultra-capitalist-based policies made in the 1990s and the new century. The ironic thing is that although I despise the political oppression of the 1970s and 1980s, however, to a certain extent, I do appreciate the level of socialist idealism embedded in the social-economic policies formulated back then.

The PAP has once founded its principle of governance based on Democratic Socialism but it has totally discarded its fundamental political ideology along the way. While it always tries to sell its policies to Singaporeans with twisted logic and sweetening tongues, the actual impact and full implications of all these policies are not well deliberated at all in the public sphere. This could only happen in the past where total monopoly of power and the media allow it to be the dominant opinion maker in Singapore. The rapid development of the internet has diluted PAP’s influence and dominance in public political discourse.

We need an alternative set of thinking and policies to counteract PAP’s twisted policy rationale. For example, while PAP claims that GST is good as it broadens the tax base, but the trade off will always be unfair taxation on the lower strata of the income group. Most countries that implement value-added tax would have a system with adequate social welfare for its socially and economically disadvantaged people. This is never the case in Singapore in which GST is implemented simply for a broader revenue base for the government so that it could afford to lower tax for the corporate and higher income groups.

Such a twisted policy direction was hardly questioned because most Singaporeans are made to believe that in order to keep MNCs happy and continue to invest in Singapore, our poor lower income group should be sacrificed and taxed.

There are many similar examples in other policies like FT (Foreign Talent), ERP, COE, HDB, Healthcare and even CPF which need greater critical examination. The killing always lies in the details which twisted and tilted these policies against the basic economic rationale and interests of Singaporeans.

The true alternative will only be possible if and only if we have a strong vision and political belief in social justice, fairness, equality as well as respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights. We as a society and a nation must realize that happiness and well being of the people are not solely derived from materialism and economic well-being. Besides, GDP growth alone may not benefit all Singaporeans if the system here does not distribute the fruits of such growth in a fairer way.

Thus, the True Alternative I am talking about is the alternative guiding principles in governance and policy making. The most fundamental difference in this True Alternative versus the current PAP’s behavior is that we should not treat Singapore as a corporation. The government should not behave like a profit-oriented management team of a corporation. The role of a government is not about making how much “profit” in terms of budget surpluses. The role of governance is to provide a fair and level playing field for all, to manage the inherent unequal distribution of wealth and income within the system and to provide the various public goods which will enhance the development of economic activities and welfare of the people.

Kelvin: What challenges from within the opposition camp and elsewhere did you encounter as you attempt to make your dream of building a true alternative come true?

GMS:Due to the decades of dominance of the mass media by PAP, it seems that the PAP has entrenched its set of core values into Singaporeans at large. Even many opposition members have been made to believe in certain PAP’s twisted political rationale unknowingly, so much so that we are unable to “think out of the box” that the PAP has created for everybody.

The main challenge is to convince the people that certain PAP’s logic is flawed. For example, the PAP’s logic of pleasing MNCs and doing whatever it can to get them to stay in Singapore so that they could provide jobs for Singaporeans. Only by doing so, we could continue to depend on exporting goods and services to make a living. We have seldom questioned such logic and correlations between MNCs, export and jobs. The truth is, while other countries like Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong would similarly depend on export as a source of growth and provision of jobs, they have lesser dependency on MNCs as the main job providers. On the contrary, many of the companies in these places have developed into main contract manufacturers instead of just reaming as support industries for the MNC factories. While Taiwanese firms are able to manufacture their own brands of computer motherboards apart from contract manufacturing for big brand names, most Singapore companies are still just providing metal casting and molding services to hard disk manufacturers.

We have to convince our people to walk out of PAP’s version of logic and examine critically what other alternatives we could have instead. But this is a very tedious and challenging process. Opposition parties are mostly not sufficiently confident enough to challenge the PAP on this front because they lack strong understanding and learning of various options of economic development models. On the other hand, opposition parties also lack strong understanding and learning of various political ideologies. You could hardly find any consistency and clarity in terms of political ideologies from the various opposition parties. There isn’t a habit to develop strong core values in terms of social-economic perspectives. We will need to spend some effort in developing our set of core values and political beliefs other than depending on the simple common “anti-PAP” rhetoric to stay relevant.

Kelvin: If in the near future, the PAP government is suddenly replaced in a ‘freak election’, do you think there will be people who will be able to step up to the plate and ably run the Singapore ship?

GMS: If the PAP really loses power in any election, then it would not be a ‘freak election’. It would actually mean that the social-economic conditions have deteriorated to such a bad state that Singaporeans have finally decided that enough is enough. The talk of ‘freak election’ is just a mere scare tactic.

I predict that in a transitional period to full democratic development, there will be a time where none of the political parties could win more than 50% of the seats to become the government straight away. A coalition government will have to be formed. The PAP may become the biggest party in the coalition government. There will be a period of stable transition into a real multi-party democracy if that happens.

If the opposition parties decide to form the coalition government without involving PAP in the process, I am confident that the civil service could continue to be the backbone of the government while the new cabinet formed by the coalition could provide new directions and guidance for the whole government.

In a proper democratic setup, the ministers are elected guardians of the government who will set the agenda and directions for the civil service to carry out their duties. The ministers are empowered by the people to carry out whatever visions, agenda or plans that they have put up during elections to convince the voters to vote them in. Although the present opposition parties may have different beliefs or agendas, I believe that a consensus could be achieved if a coalition government is to be formed.

What is your opinion of Singapore’s economic growth during the early years and if the current economic model for growth is sustainable in future?

GMS: The two major sources of economic growth could come from injection either of capital or labor or both. Singapore’s economic growth during the early years of nation building is fueled by influx of capital, particularly foreign investments brought in by MNCs. The chief economic architect Dr. Goh Keng Swee has designed the system such that industrialization is supported by building up our free trade port which we are naturally endowed with, i.e. our strategic geographic locality and deep sea port.

However, the over reliance on MNC investment has resulted in the inability of Singapore to stand on its own feet in terms of manufacturing. It also resulted in negative total factor productivity as our high saving rates was not met with efficient use of funding in production and investments. Unlike the other 3 Asian Tigers (especially Taiwan and Korea), Singapore was less successful in developing our contract manufacturing base but instead, we developed more into supporting industries for the big MNCs.

While Singapore produced big international brand names like Seagate hard disks with all the advanced supporting industry in metal casting and molding, we were unable to develop our own brand names unlike Taiwan (ASUS, ACER, Biostar, Gigabyte etc) or Korea (LG, Samsung, Hyundai, etc). Taiwan and Korea started with contract manufacturing for big Western brand names but eventually developed their own end products. Singapore took the other approach by inviting foreign MNCs to set up their factories here while our local companies begin to develop into supporting industries for these MNCs.

Such a model may have worked for the two decades from the 1970s to 1980s, but it couldn’t possibly sustain when other cheaper production bases like Malaysia, Thailand, China and even Vietnam evolved. While the Taiwanese or Korean companies could just build new factories in these places and continue production of their goods under the same branding, Singapore’s companies within the supporting industries will face more difficulties in following the MNCs to set up shops in other countries.

In terms of educational comparison between the workforce among the 4 Asian Tigers, Singapore was known to have the least educated workforce as compared with the other 3 Asian Tigers. This was in spite of our efforts to build up more polytechnics back then. The situation was worsen when Nantah was forcefully closed down, leaving NUS as the only university left for the 1980s. Surprisingly, the PAP argued that we only needed one University for Singapore. It was a big mistake. Taiwan, Korea and even Hong Kong were trying to set up more universities, Singapore ended up doing the reverse. Eventually, the PAP realized its mistake and started to re-open the university as NTU years later. The PAP also started to open more universities later in the 1990s.

Although we tried very hard to play catch up in building up a credible and more educated workforce, the years lost due to PAP’s shortsightedness result in a gap in the educational level of our workforce when compared with other prospering countries in Asia. In the early 1990s, the PAP finally have to fill up this gap by opening the floodgate to foreigners to work in Singapore. They were termed as “Foreign Talents”.

We have moved on from a capital-intensive driven growth to a labor-intensive driven growth. This basically means that our GDP growth is driven by the rapid injection of foreign labour coupled with continuity in attracting foreign investment by MNCs. Foreign labor ratio started to balloon from the 1990s till the new century.

Is such a model of economic growth beneficial to Singaporeans? The initial influx of foreign labor was basically to close the gap of the lack of talents in certain areas. However, as it developed, the enormous influx of foreign workers have basically covered the whole spectrum of the workforce, from the lowest wage jobs, factory workers, technicians, skilled workers to middle management, engineers to top management. It has become a source of wage suppression for all Singaporeans as well as cheap labour substitute for almost all level of jobs.

One good indicator is that in spite of high GDP growth, income per capita for the middle and lower class Singaporeans income earners was lagging behind the growth rate. This means that the huge influx of foreigners and capital were the sources of our economic growth but it does not necessarily benefit the local work force. Foreign MNCs came here to set up factories, employing mostly cheap foreign workers. They will definitely contribute to the economic figures but Singaporeans will enjoy smaller of that economic pie of growth.

Such a model of growth is unsustainable in the long run as it would create permanent and structural unemployment or under-employment for the local citizens. We are beginning to see some of the effects whereby local ex-senior managers end up driving a taxi. This is basically under-employment which the cheaper foreign workers created a mismatch of employment versus skills/qualification for local citizens as the result of the substitution effect.

Kelvin: What will be the most significant economic/bread and butter issue that will crop up during the next elections?

GMS:The high influx of foreign workers which displace local employees, crowding out public space, putting pressure on basic infrastructure like public transport and pushing up prices of public housing. This issue will be the main critical one for PAP. The PAP has to answer all the questions on their policy of opening the floodgate for foreign workers which has created a whole list of social-economic problems.

Kelvin: What changes in other areas besides economics such as healthcare, housing, education, environment, defense, etc, would you like to see in the next few years and beyond?

GMS:I would like to see a faster pace of democratic development of the political system into a proportionate representation system and implementation of a comprehensive social welfare system for the social-economically disadvantaged. No doubt that Singapore has progressed over the 50 years of PAP rule, but we are at the crossroads of disconnecting the monopoly of power by PAP from the future progress of Singapore. Singaporeans have progressed in terms of educational level and exposures to the outside world. They will no longer take PAP’s words as the only true words of the wise. They will constantly make comparisons with other successful economies which have better progress in democracy with Singapore. There are also successful economies which have implemented a certain level of comprehensive social welfare system as well.

On top of that, I would like to see a more progressive society with various Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) developing. Such NGOs may play a crucial in developing a fairer platform and system for Singaporeans. Particularly, I wish to see the setting up of the Equal Opportunity Commission as well as Human Rights Commission to ensure that discriminatory practices as well as human rights abuses are being minimized or totally eradicated.

Kelvin: What specific lessons can we implement from the policy successes (e.g. healthcare, economics, trade) of other nations that can also benefit us in the future?

GMS: I am particularly interested in the Nordic countries’ educational system, particularly Finland and Sweden. They have put tremendous efforts into the “real” education of their people, instead of a production line system of chunking out graduates to match the targeted industries that the government wanted to enhance on. Real education provides a series of diversified disciplines which develop and nurture the human talents instead of pre-determining what the human should be molded into.

On the healthcare front, the wide coverage of the Canadian and Taiwanese healthcare insurance systems is something we need to take a second look into. The ability of the Canadians to lower prices of drugs by putting pressures on drug companies with bulk purchasing is something we could learn from. The national finance of research effort within the medical field may also lower future drug costs to consumers.

The Hong Kong system is an interesting one to examine closely. It is basically a capitalist financial center which practises socialist economic re-distribution by means of extensive social welfare schemes. There are many things we could learn from the Hong Kong experiences in balancing the interests of the businesses (capitalists) and the workers.

Kelvin: Your party will be adopting a “minister-specific” strategy, which involves addressing particular policies drawn up by a minister and his ministry. Is the party coming up with the equivalent of a shadow cabinet whereby a particular member will shadow a particular minister he is contesting? What in your opinion are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this strategy?

GMS:No. Even though we are adopting the “minister-specific” strategy, we are still far from contesting all seats, particularly all the GRCs. However, this method will allow serious opposition candidates to learn the rope of policy analysis. We are just on the development path of a more mature democracy whereby political players will have to develop themselves personally on matters of public interests, i.e. policy analysis debates. Hopefully, in 10 years time, we will be able to groom more people, enough people to form a shadow cabinet after we win more seats in parliament.

There are great benefits from this strategy as it brings the contest into its proper context. Voters are voting for legislators in parliament, not just local estate managers. The PAP has successfully confused Singaporeans about the real meaning of General Elections with the Town Council concepts.

Most countries have two-tier elections in which they elect the local Town Councilors apart from their legislators in parliament or Congress. But in Singapore, the PAP wants to avoid the focus of General Elections to be set on National Policies which affect everybody so much so that they will always divert voters’ attention from the real issues created by their policies towards how good opposition members are in managing their HDB flats (scare cry about rubbish building up in their cutes) or attacking individual opposition candidates, making a mountain out of a molehill and flood the mass media with constant bombardment on opposition candidates’ characters. Real policy issues are rarely debated during General Elections in Singapore for the past 2 decades.

The PAP has lost a couple of seats back in 1984 when the policy issue of granting graduate mothers special privileges caused a social uproar. Thus, from then on, policy issues have been avoided for subsequent elections. Future elections proceeded as followed: 1988, concerted attacks on Francis Seow, 1991, attacks on Jufrie , 1997 attacks on Tang Liang Hong and introduction of pork barrel politics of HDB upgrading, 2001 attacks on Dr. Chee Soon Chuan, 2006 attacks on James Gomez. There is systematic evidence that the PAP has tried to avoid serious policy debates during elections so that they would not become the focus of public discontent. They have somehow managed to successfully divert the focus of Singaporeans during elections to the management of Town Councils, priority of HDB upgrading as well as personal character attacks on individual opposition members. It is about time that we have to bring Singaporeans back to the serious issue of legislation of laws and policies during elections.

What is lacking from our system is extraction of accountability from the PAP government. Ministers hide behind the notion of “collective leadership and responsibility” to avoid taking rap from unpopular or even bad policies made under their charge. Collective responsibility must not mean nobody’s responsibility. Since the policies are executed and carried out by the ministers, the ministers should be the first to be made accountable for these policies.

This strategy, if accepted and worked for this coming elections, will have far-fetching implications on the policy making process. Ministers will take Singaporeans’ interests into more serious considerations before they agree to implement any policies (made under the pretext or influence of collective leadership). This will be the most important impact of this strategy.

However, after two decades of “noise” during elections, voters and opposition members may no longer be proficient and sharp in their analysis of various policies. Adopting such a strategy may put us in an awkward position if we are not proficient enough to provide convincing alternative policy views. In another words, it will expose our own shortcomings during elections. This is especially so when we do not have full statistical data to do indepth policy analysis. Having said that, this is a necessary painful path that we need to take in order for all of us, both voters and opposition members, to grow together for the betterment and advancement of our democracy.

My main concern is that Singaporeans may not be used to such an approach to general elections. Some Singaporeans may be used to looking at short-term benefits of HDB upgrading and carrots hung by the PAP, and disregarding the importance of extracting accountability from PAP ministers for their policies under their charge. It will only take the fall of one PAP minister on the context of unpopular policies made by his ministry to send chilling influences to other PAP ministers to sit up and take Singaporeans’ views, sentiments and interests seriously. But it will take tremendous courage for many voters in a GRC just to do what is right for Singapore.


contrarian said...

I would like to ask how HK practises socialist economic re-distribution by means of extensive social welfare schemes?

Having lived there for months, I can't understand this conclusion. Yes, it has universal healthcare and a social assistance scheme for the destitute. But its real estate prices distort the economy greatly, and income inequality is truly extreme. To me, it really looks and feels like it has earned its ranking of the highest income inequality in the developed world.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Hi Contrarian,

The Hong Kong problem is unique. Although statistics show that the income inequality is highest in the developed world, but such measures does not take into account the effort of the government in providing adequate social welfare for those who are underprivileged.

The income inequality in Hong Kong is mainly due to the influx of mainlanders from China. Most of Hong Kongers are middle income class. The high land price is basically a tax on the middle-upper income class while the Hong Kong government provides cheap public housing to the lower income class. This is how income redistribution is being done.

On top of that, the socialist policies of the Hong Kong government includes an almost total subsidy for children who are enrolled in most kindergartens (about S$200 per month), except those private kindergartens which are mainly serving the middle upper class income households. Education, especially pre-school education is viewed as the main social equalizer for the poor family.

Furthermore, practically no one (Hong Kong PR) is deprived of basic medical care with the medical cost fixed at HK$100 (less than S$20) per day at public hospital, regardless of what operations or how many packs of blood you take. Most of the rich people would prefer to visit private hospitals which cost a bomb. This is one of the ways that Hong Kong government redistribute wealth by means of providing essential and basic services at dirt cheap prices.

Besides that, the Hong Kong government also provides Fruit Funds to retired elders at the rate of more than S$60 per month.

Of course, as you have known, there is already unemployment welfare and it is set to legislate minimum wage labour law.

Personally, I feel that I don't mind to be taxed, whether in terms of income tax or high land cost, but the bottom line is that the government that collect my tax should take care of those less privileged people. This is the key of socialism.

Goh Meng Seng

contrarian said...

Hi Meng Seng

I would say that your assessment of HK's socialist policies is far too optimistic.

1. First, I don't agree that the income inequality is due to the influx of Chinese nationals into HK. I see this pervasive all throughout society, including the HK residents that I work with, and the residents who operate the businesses around town.

The starting pay of graduates in HK is lower than, or about the same as, that of Singapore's. Yet the cost of living in HK is easily much higher. On the other hand, those in the upper echelons of management or professional jobs, for instance, earn much more than the equivalent in Singapore. Those in between, the typical middle class, the median household income is HK$17,500 a month in Q2 2009.

You and I, both having lived there, know just how far that amount takes us in HK. With this income, they have to pay for real estate (and thus other general cost of living in HK) that is priced much higher than Singapore, and yet much smaller.

2. Under the HK Housing Authority's Home Ownership Scheme, selling prices are pegged as a discount to market valuations (sounds like the HDB). HKHA stopped selling HOS flats in 2003. HKHA also has the Tenants Purchase Scheme which is at a bigger discount. Again, HKHA stopped this scheme around the same time as the HOS.

The income and asset limits for the HK Housing Society's subsidised rental schemes are pegged to family unit size and quite low, for instance HK$18,000 a month and $440,000 in assets for a 3-4 person family.

There are also those who face this reality in HK:,8599,1917897,00.html

3. Yes, HK has a universal healthcare system. The experience of my former classmate who was admitted to a HK public hospital for an emergency procedure showed me some of its downsides too. After seeing the duty doctor, diagnosed and being denied painkillers, left to lie in pain for a few hours and not being told when he was to be operated on, he was unable to stand up but he signed the discharge to get himself moved to a private hospital for treatment because he could get arrange for a surgeon there. (He was eventually diagnosed to have a kidney stone.)

No place is perfect and no system is perfect. I am not holding HK up to perfection as the standard. However, my conclusion remains:

1. There's no denying that HK has some social welfare programmes for the destitute, and that it has a public healthcare and public housing system. There is some social safety net.

2. However, I will not agree that HK is a socialist redistributive economy. Its wage structure clearly shows that society is highly stratified. A low rate of income tax applies, a further sign of of low social redistribution. The net effect is that HK society remains highly unequal notwithstanding its social welfare measures in place. Having said that, its society does accept and celebrate inequality as a way of life.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Hi contrarian,

1. The income inequality is indeed worsen by the taking in of mainlanders everyday. If you eat out, cost of living will definitely be much higher but if you buy fresh food from the market and cook on your own, it is nowhere more expensive than Singapore, sometimes certain fresh food is much cheaper.

No doubt, the price of the property is much higher. The middle income that you have quoted, I believe, is based on mean income, not median income. The middle class income (median household income where most middle class earners have) is higher than the mean income that you have stated.

2. Just for your information, the Hong Kong government has resumed the scheme (of selling flats) in recent months. As for the government rental flat, do you know what is Singapore's practice? You wouldn't be complaining about Hong Kong if you understand it. HK$18000 household income is about S$3,200. If you have a household income of S$3200 in Singapore, you will not be entitled for a rental flat.

The cage housing that your links provide are mainly mainlander immigrants whom are not eligible for rental flats or social welfare. Most of them refuse social welfare on their own. Yes, there are people who refuse social welfare in Hong Kong.

3. My own experience with the government public hospitals here is very much different from yours. Of course standards may vary among the different public hospitals but so far for all the public hospitals (yes, I have experiences with not just one but quite a few) that I come into contact with, have satisfactory services. Priority was given for emergency cases. They would even make extra effort to expedite operations when they found the need for urgency. They would even persuade patients to have operations using the most advanced technology, when patients have doubts about it. This happen in public hospitals.

Well, if you are still residing in Hong Kong, I would be please to meet up with you there. :)

Goh Meng Seng

contrarian said...

Hi Meng Seng

I'd be happy to meet you in Singapore :) I decided that 3 months living in HK was more than enough for me. And no, it wasn't my first time living overseas. I've lived in Boston and Bangkok for extended periods too, and HK was my fourth place I've lived in.

1. Yes, the PRC immigrants worsen income inequality (as they do in Singapore). But they did not cause the income inequality in HK; it has been a highly stratified society for far longer, even as a British colony. For instance, HKCSS quotes statistics that the Gini coefficient was 0.451 in 1981, 0.476 in 1991.

As you get to know me better, you should eventually trust me to know my statistics and those that I cite. See the entire household income distribution on p2 here:

2. I know Singapore's practice with rental flats. HK has 29% of people living in rental flats. Singapore far fewer, less than 1%. I also know that Singapore's public housing is for those with far less income, as you point out. HDB's rents also exclude utilities and maintenance. All correct.

I further agree that HDB is not supplying enough rental housing for the poor, which to me is the core of what public housing is about.

Having said that, let's not forget that HK's eligibility criteria may look generous if you look at household income alone, but they also have the net asset test. At HK$440,000 that's why it is targeted at the poorest 30%.

Looking at a more complete picture, HK chooses to provide another 18% subsidised sale flats. Singapore chooses to provide another 80% subsidised sale flats. Both are benchmarked to market prices. In my view, Singapore's public housing beats HK's in unit size and general quality.

The two cities use different means to deal with the housing situation; each has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending on one's own circumstances, some will benefit more under one, and others under the other.

HK is many things and has many things going for it. If we look at the person on comprehensive social security in HK, he is likely better taken care of comprehensively under the CSSA than Singapore.

For the other poor who don't qualify for CSSA because of say the means test, even with the universal healthcare, low incomes and the highly stratified society remains.

My conclusion remains: Singapore's social safety net leaves much to be desired. But HK is no socialist paradise.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Hi Contrarian,

No doubt that one of the most important political capital of PAP is its HDB policy. But it is a social contract between PAP and the people. Land Acquisition Act allows PAP to acquire land at ridiculously low prices, not current market prices. Thus it is only right for HDB to redistribute such land acquired through its HDB projects.

However, this has been changed along the way. The government is making money via HDB, benefiting from the land acquired.

You cannot make such comparisons with Hong Kong when both are earning money from land acquired but one didn't provide much social security like unemployment benefits and universal healthcare in spite of additional taxation mechanism like GST while the other provided free education, unemployment benefits, universal healthcare etc.

As I have said, Hong Kong does have a capitalist market mechanism but the system of government is socialist in nature. The same cannot be said about PAP government.

The stratified population is due to the capitalist system but it does not reflect the fully the picture of the socialist policies installed. The crux of the idea is this, I don't mind to pay taxes, even GST if and only if the government policies have what it takes to be regarded as socialist aspects.

I would be glad to meet up with you when I am back in Singapore. :)

Goh Meng Seng

Anonymous said...

You really think SM Goh or the rest were caught by the problems or the massive influx of FTs?

So what happened to the scholars who are in the PMO doing the national planning and scenarios for 5 or 10 years? And also their plan to win every election.

I am very sure they have this calculated and are taking the risks. Their aim is absolute win at election, absolute control and to boost the sinking GDP.

Sg is rid of ideas to boost economy, only GLCs are doing well because they control the market, other sectors all sinking. If not, why bother to bring the casinos or the migrants?

The secret conversion of FTs into PRs and new citizens are done over the last few years covertly, suddenly the whole country is flooded with FTs.

From 2006 to 2008, why did they build only 3000 flats? You really think MBT was caught off guard? It was done deliberately to squeeze the supply so that they gain astronomically from raising the price sky!

Come on, you really think they miss the boat? They have all these scenarios mapped and planned long ago.

We are not that naive or guilible, its their ploy period.