SINGAPORE – Singapore is at a critical moment as it tackles the challenges from Covid-19 and a weakened global economy, and needs a capable government with the full support of a united people to get through the present crisis, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (July 6).
Speaking at an online lunchtime rally evocative of those the PAP has held near Fullerton Square at every election campaign, Mr Lee’s message to Singaporeans was that they should not undermine a system that has served them well.
The world is watching Friday’s (July 10) election closely, he noted.
Investors will scrutinise the results to see if Singaporeans are still one united people, strongly supporting the leaders they have chosen and working together to overcome the crisis, he added.
With under three days left to the campaign, Mr Lee posed this question to Singaporeans: “Will we reveal ourselves to be fractious and divided, withholding our full support from the government we elect, in a crisis where swift, decisive action is vital to save jobs and lives?
“Investors will scrutinise the election results, and act on their conclusions. So will others, both friends and adversaries of Singapore.”
He added that is why in this election, the PAP is seeking a strong mandate to lead Singapore through the Covid-19 pandemic-induced crisis.
He also called into question the opposition’s ability to get the country out of the downturn, grow the economy, or create new jobs, pointing out that some of their proposals are unrealistic and fiscally unsustainable.
“They prattle on about a minimum wage, or a universal basic income. These are fashionable peacetime slogans, not serious wartime plans.
“How will a minimum wage help somebody who is unemployed? It will just add costs to employers, and pressure them to drop even more workers. How will we pay for a universal basic income? All the GST increases in the world will not be enough.
“Do you really want to vote for parties who in a crisis come up with nothing better than old recycled manifestos?”
The Government has rolled out four Budgets since February totalling nearly $100 billion, and drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves. But governing is not just about writing checks indiscriminately, said Mr Lee.
“We need to understand who is hurting, who needs help most, how to help them, what works and what doesn’t. In the past months, we have done this systematically,” he said.
This includes the Jobs Support Scheme which subsidises wages so that firms can retain workers, extra support to households, and to those who have been more affected, such as the self-employed.
Emergency legislation was also passed for rental and contract waivers – an “unprecedented move”, said Mr Lee.
Spelling out the dire consequences had this not been done, he added: “Contractors who missed project deadlines because of the circuit breaker would have had to pay liquidated damages. Tenants who could not do business would still have had to pay rent. Couples who could not hold weddings would have forfeited their deposits for their wedding banquets. Many individuals and SMEs would have been hurt, and many good companies would have gone under.”
He spoke of the race against time to put a Bill together in nine days, with Parliament then passing it on a certificate of urgency – through all three readings in one day.
This was repeated with a second set of emergency measures two months later.
“This is the difference that highly competent government can make to your lives,” he said.
But he stressed that all these budgetary and legislative measures are emergency relief and cannot be sustained indefinitely, and the more fundamental solution is to turn around the economy and attract more investments, so that more jobs can be created.
To do so, maintaining companies’ confidence in Singapore is critical, he said. He drew parallels to the recession of 1985, when Singapore lost its competitiveness and Mr Lee was tasked to chair the Economic Committee to reposition the country’s economy for the future. Drastic measures including cutting CPF contributions were taken, he said.
“We did not just make one speech, or hold a press conference, and expect people to simply swallow the bitter pill… but Singaporeans understood the message and supported the tough measures. The measures worked, and within a year our economy was growing again. That is what political leadership is about.”
That political leadership was also about going on the offensive to reassure investors and bring in more investors to Singapore, he said, recounting how he had gone around the world on a marketing pitch together with the Economic Development Board.
“We placed a full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, with an eye-catching headline: ‘Who would be mad enough to invest in Singapore in a recession?’ Nowadays people might call this clickbait,” he quipped.
Mr Lee said multinationals such as Apple, Seagate and Motorola chose to invest in Singapore even during an economic crisis for four reasons: they knew Singaporeans were industrious and capable workers; the country’s unions cooperated closely with employers and government to generate growth and jobs for workers; the public service was a one stop shop where they could settle all their problems; and Singapore has a first-rate government.
“Other countries have one stop shops too. The difference is their governments do not work as one, so their one stop shops cannot make things happen, as EDB can,” said Mr Lee.
“(The companies) had interacted with our Ministers, and knew their quality. And finally, they knew the government enjoyed Singaporeans’ strong support, so the Ministers could take decisive steps if necessary, and make the right decisions to promote growth and create jobs.”
Stressing the high stakes in this election, he added that maintaining this high reputation is a matter of survival for the Republic, as Singapore is a small country with many limitations.
That is why the PAP seeks not just Singaporeans’ mandate, but their strong mandate to lead Singapore through this crisis, he said.
“We must show the world that we are indeed special, and can sustain our edge over other countries and cities. Then MNCs will invest in us, other countries will take us seriously, and Singapore has a place in the sun.
“Otherwise, we will just fade away and be forgotten, like so many city-states in history.”
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