Response to DPM Tharman’s interview
Last week DPM Tharman deviated from the usual PAP customary style of admonishing the “trade-offs” we have to make in order for Singapore to forge forward. As opposed to the deadpan paternalism we are used to receiving, we heard idealism. We have not heard this from our leaders for the longest time. DPM Tharman spoke from his heart. He hopes that our system of meritocracy would evolve into one where everyone is treated equally, regardless of his or her educational achievements.
At DPP, we mulled over the Singapore conundrum for the longest time and have concluded that the cornerstone of our national and social policies is to restore respect amongst members of the society. All the jobs that we hold are important to keep our national ecosystem running. Thus we stated in our manifesto (published on 30 March 2013) that in crafting policies, we have to preserve our founding values and generate cultural change. The way forward is to build a society that is equal and egalitarian to all citizens.
This is essence of our manifesto.
“We believe in Respect.
Respect between the government, its citizens, neighbours, colleagues, friends, employers and their employees.
Respect in partnerships between the government and the citizens.
Be true, be empowered, be inspired. ”
Would it be untenable idealism to speak straight from the heart? If our founding fathers had obeyed cautionary realism that we would never make it because we are small and resource poor, then we would not be where we are today. The truth is this country was built on idealism. Independent Singapore created a society with the objective of improving the lives of the masses despite our early circumstances. DPP’s message is to urge every citizen to look deep into our hearts, prod our own consciousness and be agents of change.
All of us have the means to create change by choosing to help our fellow Singaporeans. We urge all citizens to take a step back and see the whole picture. How have we treated our fellow countrymen as students, colleagues, employees and customers?
Remember the days where our cleaning lady is a member of the staff and not an agent outsourced to a contract firm? How much do we really save when we cut back on cleaning services? Why are our cleaners so far down the economic ladder? And why are they mostly local retirees or young foreign workers?
How did we get here? Is it a valid conclusion that there are certain jobs Singaporeans just will not do? Or is it because Singaporeans do not want certain jobs as they do not earn enough and will not be treated with respect by their fellow countrymen? As the country progressed, our people had few choices but to pursue higher education to gain PMET jobs so that they can earn a decent income to cope with the rising cost of living. Yet even many PMET jobs are at stake due to competition from foreign workers.
Many believe the Singapore government is one of the richest in the world. However, most Singaporeans are not. Economically, we grew like a tree skewed and keeled over by the uncontrollable roaring wind that widened the income gap between the haves and have nots. In order to maintain balance the tree has to be grafted with missing branches from other trees, or worse, have the branches sawn off to avoid tipping further downward. This was evidenced by the high intake of foreign workers to replace Singaporeans and the CPF policy to extend the withdrawal age limit so our workers have to work past their retirement age.
The old meritocracy has created an entrenched elitist society that earmarked the people for high paying executive jobs or low paying menial labour. A large middle class is caught in between, suspended in the same wage bracket for decades. What can we do to help our society to embrace inclusive and fair practice values so as to improve together rather than individually? With these issues in mind, we support the recalibration of meritocracy in our society. In anticipation of PAP’s policy change to reflect the new meritocracy, we at DPP propose some ideas to initiate this process in our schools and workplaces.
In our schools, should we review the integrated programme or the gifted programme that delineated the student population along academic lines? Should the more academically inclined students help out in enrichment centres to assist the neighbourhood schools and co-mingle with the average students? Should the state continue to fund elite primary and secondary schools, or should we privatize them completely and let market forces determine the course of their curriculum? By doing so, we can assist to improve our entire education system en masse and mitigate the negative effects of elitism vs pluralism in our highly segmented society.
In our workplace, is there value proposition to work long hours at low productivity? Instead of planning and carrying out a job expeditiously, we jump to react without investing time to plan, and then do the same job again and again. Should we create a fair practice employment department to ensure that employers treat workers fairly and come up with a whistleblower protection scheme to protect our workers?
Business and employer/employee relationships are not merely about paymaster and wage staff. Bosses and customers should understand the reasonable turnaround time for a job well done. Make decisions timely so that everyone can go home punctually to be with their loved ones or pursue hobbies and interests outside of work. We are all human beings with personal trials and tribulations. By consciously making a cultural change, we can truly create a better live-work-play environment conducive for more children and more passions in life.
DPM’s speech is refreshing, one that spoke from the heart and painted our conviction with the broad brush stroke of idealism. We at DPP suggest there is no better time to engage in deeper conversations and to initiate cultural change than now. We need to put in social frameworks to better the lives of our people.
The worst of times is the best of times.