Nothing new in the National Day Rally speech
I didn’t catch PM Lee’s speech yesterday, so I’m relying entirely on media reports and a rough transcript (in point form) provided by the PMO here. So if there’s something Lee said but which was not captured in the transcript, I would have missed it out.
I was surprised by media coverage such as Yahoo’s headline PM Lee’s speech marks new phase of engagement: Analysts and PM Lee unveils new ‘Singaporeans-first’ policies. Was there really a dramatic policy turnaround in what he proposed? I decided to take a closer look. It turns out that most of the changes have either already been announced before or were strongly hinted at. I don’t see anything new.
Update: The state media is in a frenzy spinning the NDR speech as something refreshing. Look at the headline Policy changes to put S’poreans first.
On this PM Lee announced that the income ceiling for buying flats directly from HDB would be raised from $8,000 to $10,000. Ok but this isn’t new at all. Credit should be given instead to the opposition NSP which first championed that change and prompted a promise of a review by then MND minister Mah Bow Tan. Just 2 months before the election campaign, Mah actually defended the $8k ceiling cap in Parliament. From The Straits Times, 5th May 2011, HDB income ceiling review: NSP claims credit:
SINGAPOREANS can pat themselves on the back for getting National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan to relook the Housing Board income ceiling for flat buyers, said the National Solidarity Party (NSP) yesterday.
It said that it was only after the opposition raised residents’ concerns over the high cost of HDB flats that Mr Mah announced, on Tuesday, that a review would be conducted in the next six months to possibly raise the cap from the current $8,000 to $10,000.
His announcement came just two months after he stoutly defended the existing ceiling in Parliament, saying that four in five households qualified for public housing with the $8,000 cap.
Addressing the NSP rally at the Tampines Stadium, the party’s Tampines GRC candidate Raymond Lim said that the party’s attempts to hold Mr Mah accountable for his policies had made him “panic”.
The other big announcement in housing is that 25,000 BTO flats would be built in the next year, and that 7,000 rental flats would be built over the next 2 years. But anyone who followed news the past few months would have noted that this isn’t new at all. On May 30th 2011, MND minister Khaw already announced that HDB would be ramping BTO flats to 25,000 for the next year while also saying “tens of thousands” of rental flats were needed:
Speaking at a youth forum held at Woodlands Community Club yesterday, he said: “It’s quite clear…that we need to ramp up the building of rental flats as quickly as we can, (and) not just by a few thousand. We need to build by the tens of thousands, and the earlier the better.”
The minister wrote on his blog, Housing Matters, last Friday that HDB will raise the number of Build-To-Order units from 22,000 to 25,000 this year.
In his speech, Lee also announced that some 2,000 places for Singapore citizens will be added over the next 4 years in local universities. Again this hardly comes as a surprise, given that the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) will be opening its doors only in 2012:
SUTD matriculates its first batch of students in April 2012. At SUTD, students will complete a comprehensive education in only 3.5 years.
In addition the other new university, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) is also rapidly expanding its intake to cater to polytechnic students who otherwise cannot secure a place in NUS, NTU or SMU. From a Jan 24th 2011 ST report Singapore Institute of Technology to double intake:
THE Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) will double its intake of students – from 500 to 1,000 – this year.
Students can also look forward to six new degree programmes, bringing the total number of bachelor’s degree programmes offered by SIT to 16.
With these two universities in mind, it’s possible that the 2,000 places promised over the next four years for Singaporean students might come almost entirely from SUTD and SIT, with only marginal increases in enrolment intake by the other three universities (NUS,NTU, SMU). Let’s not be fooled that PM Lee was doing something other than announcing the obvious. The intention to expand university places long preceded the National Day Rally speech. There’s no sudden populist tone, or a “new phase of engagement” as so-called “analysts” would have people believe. Capping the foreign student intake at its present levels isn’t exactly a groundbreaking announcement. It’s as good as staying the course.
Foreign worker passes
The Prime Minister announced that the Government would be raising the salary threshold for all the skilled work passes. Again this isn’t new. As early as March 2011, the Ministry of Manpower had already said that they would be doing so. From The New Paper 10th March 2011, Salary thresholds for pass holders up:
TO PUSH companies to be more selective in hiring foreign talent, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is raising the salary thresholds for Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders.
From July 1, to qualify for SPass, the applicant’s monthly salary must be $2,000 or more, up from the current $1,800.
Similarly, the qualifying salary thresholds for the three types of EPs – Q1, P2, and P1 passes – will be raised to $2,800, $4,000 and $8,000, respectively. These currently stand at $2,500, $3,500 and $7,000 respectively.
These are exactly the same changes the Prime Minister announced in his National Day Rally speech. Anyone following the news would have known this isn’t a new development.
The last major policy change which the PM unveiled in his speech was the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS), which would see the qualifying age lowered from 65 to 40. Apart from that the scheme would be expanded to cover more households.
A quick search on Google news revealed that Minister Gan had already hinted back on May 31st 2011 that the scheme would be expanded:
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday that the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) could be expanded.
The scheme subsidises the fees of low-income Singaporeans, including the elderly, who want to visit clinics run by general practitioners near their homes.
Mr Gan said the scheme, set up about a decade ago, has ‘worked quite well’.
‘We are exploring how we can enhance and expand this scheme to benefit more Singaporeans,’ he told the media after a health-care awards ceremony at the Istana.
‘So this is one area that we think we will probably be able to look at: How we can refine the scheme to benefit more Singaporeans in the short term quite quickly.’
To conclude, what exactly is new in the PM’s national day rally speech which hasn’t already been announced earlier? I can find nothing new in it. All PM Lee did was to deliver a speech which highlighted all the policy changes which the government had either already announced or had strongly hinted they would change months before. There doesn’t appear to be anything new. So why the hype over the supposed Singaporeans-first flavour for most of the policy changes?
I guess it’s something to do with the fact that a former DPM now running for President with all but the explicit endorsement of the PAP had come under fire when some not-so-nice bits of his involvement in past policies have been making their rounds on the Internet, and may have been a contributing factor in pushing him to a 3rd place finish in the Yahoo poll, behind both Dr Tan Cheng Bock who championed a Singaporeans’ First policy long before it became popular with the establishment in 1999, and former opposition candidate Tan Jee Say.