Expectations on SG50 Budget to Hold More than Populist Cheer for Singaporeans
Today is Singapore’s B-Day when Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will deliver the country’s Golden Jubilee Budget that is expected to focus on enabling companies to boost productivity and helping the elderly cope with health care.
Whether this will turn out to be a day of deliverance from the government’s economic policies that have made it the world’s most expensive city will depend on what the Budget holds for Singaporeans.
A D-Day: Mere handouts to commemorate Singapore’s 50th year of Independence will not be enough to make it a D-Day, a code word that the military used for a large-scale operation during the World War but now used for decision time relating to significant areas of activity.
Populist measures to placate the people for elections that may be on the cards will not cut as well.
Policies that Benefit the Young: What the nation needs is neither petty charity nor policies skewed towards businesses and foreigners but long-term measures that will benefit particularly the young in terms of jobs and education.
Singapore cannot prepare itself for the future by sacrificing the interests of its own citizens, seeking to rely more on foreigners than on locals.
I would, therefore, like to see policy changes in the following two key areas:
1. University Education: Significant funding to ensure varsity education for Singaporeans and lower fees. Singapore likes to eloquently articulate the significance of life-long learning, but little is done to provide guaranteed admissions for locals in its universities even as fees keep going up. The difference in fees that Singaporeans and foreigners pay is not much, so citizenship is hardly an advantage.
- Singapore must give up its obsession with being number 1 in every sphere of activity by hook or by crook. Having the world’s finest universities is of little significance when Singaporeans find it a challenge to enter their portals while, on the other hand, the country doles out scholarships to foreign students in key STEM-related courses.
- As a result, Singaporean parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars sending their children overseas for tertiary education.
2. Jobs: Even as Singapore uses the local media to convey messages such as a labour crunch in the country, what is ignored is the fact that young graduates are finding it a challenge to find jobs that match their skills and interests. It is easy to attribute this to chooey graduates even as longing for jobs that offer career fulfilment cannot be brushed aside as an unrealistic expectation.
- The problem can be addressed by making businesses honour curbs on hiring foreigners and their dependants easily. Practising discrimination of every hue, multinationals in Singapore are able to follow here what is taboo in their countries of origin.
- The Jobs Bank is a big eyewash – close monitoring of jobs advertised and filled is essential. And every available opening must be published there, irrespective of the salaries each entails. Right now, companies need not post jobs that pay salaries in excess of S$12k a month.
3. Slower Growth is Fine, Not Very High Cost of Living: Every effort must be made to make Singapore one of the least expensive cities to live in, even if it means slower economic growth. From housing to health care, there is significant room for improvement.
Mr Shanmugaratnam has given Singaporeans reason for some optimism by saying, at a recent function at the National University of Singapore, that the budget will benefit lower-income seniors as well as build the future for the young and the middle-aged.
In a few hours from now, we will know what he meant by that!
G Joslin Vethakumar