Dear friends, residents, of Holland-Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang, it is a very special moment for me to stand here before you in this field. I see so many of you here, including my father, my wife in the audience.
Just now, Mr Liang Eng Hwa said he was educated in Bukit Panjang English School. 57 years ago, my father and my mother were teachers in Bukit Panjang school. That’s where they met and as a result, I am here. The school has shifted a bit, but the actual site is Ten Mile Junction where the LRT is. Every time I drive past there, I am reminded that this place is special.
But let me, if you don’t mind, share a story that I’ve shared in Parliament, but I think manyof you may not have heard it, and I want to repeat it again today because I want you to look into my heart, and understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.
My mother’s father, my grandfather, passed away when he was on a business trip in China, 82 or 83 years ago, just before my mother was born. That left my grandmother, a young widow with two children and one more, my mom. Life was very tough, she had no work, the family business was run by other relatives, and she had to depend on handouts from relatives and friends. My mother grew up deprived and very very skinny. She had Tuberculosis (TB). When she met my father, she told him she’d probably be infertile because she was so malnourished. We know now she was wrong, because she ended up with 5 children.
But that childhood poverty left a deep impact on her. She only lived for 70 years but she could never spend money, she would never waste money. She was always counting. There’s no small change, always counting every bit, and not for herself, but for the children and for the family. And she also drilled into us some lessons in life.
1) That life is unpredictable. Bad things can happen to good people and you don’t know when it can happen.
2) When things like that happen, you have to depend on your relatives, your closest friends. Because you only really know who is reliable when something bad happens.
3) The third thing she taught me was always be prepared. Always have savings, always be clear that when something goes wrong you have another plan.
4) And the fourth lesson she taught me was that you have to work hard. Because it is only through hard work, through education, through getting a career that you can make progress, that you can provide for your family.
I tell you all these things because this is why I am in politics. This is why I made the decisions I make and the policies which I rolled out in MCYS.
My friends, this election is not an easy election. You all know me now, I am an honest minister and this is not an easy election. Why is this not an easy election? I think there is one key question that voters in Singapore are asking us. That question is: “Do you care? Do you care about me?” It’s not a matter of how smart you are, it’s not a matter of how detailed your plans are but your heart. And for those of us standing as candidates for the PAP, we need to remind ourselves, and remind the voters of Singapore, that we care for you. We will look after you.
And everything that we do, sometimes tough, sometimes unpopular, is because we care for you. The last few weeks I have not been making many speeches because my teammates including Dr Teo, my new colleague Sim Ann, have been meeting thousands of people. I say thousands of people because we’ve been making house-visit after house-visit after house-visit. Market visits, meeting people. When we meet these people, I don’t give them a long talk. I ask them one question: “What are your concerns? What are you afraid of? What are your hopes? What are your fears?”
And for this election, people have told me a few things. Almost everyone I meet is concerned about the cost of living. Almost everyone I meet is concerned about jobs. Almost everyone I meet is concerned about their cost of homes. And almost everyone I meet is concerned about their children.
So let’s just tonight without any big, fiery speeches, just consider these four points. The cost of living, our jobs, our homes and our children.
First thing, I want to tell you, is that the Government, the PAP, and the people are on the same side. The Opposition wants you to believe that we are creating the problems for you. That we are making things worse for you. It is not true.
Let’s deal with the first issue. The cost of living. Everything we eat, we drink, we use, even the clothes that we wear, where do we get it from? It’s overseas. Do we determine the prices that the overseas countries charge us for our food, for oil, for our clothes, for all the things that we use in our daily life? We don’t. This is just Singapore, 3.2 million citizens, we cannot control global prices. If there’s instability in the Middle East, oil prices rise. If you get a drought or a flood in agricultural countries, food prices rise. If there is a harvest failure for cotton, the clothing prices will rise. So understand, this is not what the PAP has done to our people, but something that happens as a result of worldwide developments. But the PAP government has to do something about it. So what do we do to help you cope with the rising cost of living?
Yesterday the PM said the most effective long term solution to dealing with rising costs is to raise your salaries. But to raise your salaries by making sure you have better jobs, higher productivity, which justify in a competitive globalised world that higher salary. You know, my friends, never before in history have 2.3 billion people suddenly become connected to the global economy. We are talking of course of India and China. Never before in history has computers and new ways of making things, suddenly made human manual labour so cheap. So let’s understand that there are deep, fundamental global forces at play, and it is not a political conspiracy to make life tough for Singaporeans.
But how do we help you? Is there productivity? We are going to spend $2.6 billion further on education, on training, so that all of us can get better jobs. But this is a long term solution and politics, there’s an election every five years. So you can have a long term solutions but you can have other immediate solutions. One other short-term response to rising prices is our exchange rate. You all know that our Singapore Dollar has been rising over the last year plus. I know many of you here have gone on overseas travels. You know that your Singapore Dollar can buy more ringgit, more USD, more pounds, more of any other currency. This is one way of reducing the effect of inflation. But let me tell you this: If our Opposition wins, and what do they want to do? They have told you. They want to spend the money. When they spend the money and when they use the reserves, I ask you, what will happen to your value of your SGD? Will it go up or will it go down? Down. And when it goes down, what will happen to our cost of living? Will it go up or go down? It will go up. Is that a better situation or worse situation? It will be worse and that is obvious.
Having said that, we also need to understand that even in a globalised world, even with a strong government, even with a strong SGD, there will be people who need help. I’m talking of course of people who are older, people who have less education, people who have been retrenched, or people whose jobs are not very secure. So what must we do to help these people? Can we ignore them? No. What can we do for them? You look at this recent Budget. Many Opposition say, oh it’s an election, it’s time to buy votes. It’s not. We have ComCare, we have Workfare, we have the Grow and Share package, we have CPF, Medisave top ups, we have GST rebates. All these are big transfers of money from the government to the people who have less. Why do we do this? We do this because the people need it. And we do this because we care. You need to understand this is a caring government.
You know, I’ve been a minister for MCYS now for 7 years. Many people have accused me of being stingy, but let’s look at the actual figures. It is true. The budget for MCYS in recent years has increased tremendously. In fact, the last budget that was just passed, MCYS budget is something like $1.9 billion. How do I spend this $1.9 billion? Let me explain to you.
The biggest item that I spend on in MCYS is on families. I spent something like $700 to $800 million on things like Baby Bonus, Child Care, subsidies, subsidies for kindergarten, KiFAS (Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme), CFAC (Centre-based Financial Assistance Scheme for Childcare) and many other things. $700 to $800 million to help look after your families, especially if you are a low income family, so that a family who was caught like my grandmother’s family, with the loss of the sole breadwinner, would be able to put food on the table, would be able to send the children to school, would be able to have medical care and would not be deprived of an opportunity to succeed in the future.
Then the Opposition have accused me of being stingy with helping people who are less well off. Even that, they have got their figures wrong. MCYS operates a social safety net which we call Many Helping Hands. That means where VWOS, grassroots organisations, people like you who want to help, Government will also put matching money. Together your dollar plus the Government’s dollar becomes two dollars and is more effective in helping people in need. And how much money, I ask you, flows to families who are in need in Singapore. Do you all know the number? Every year now, almost half a billion dollars flows to people who have lower income, who are disadvantage, who are in need of social assistance. So this is not a stingy government. People say, oh you know your public assistance rate is only $400. Well, I remind you that when I first became the Minister for MCYS, it was only $260. I have increased it steadily to $400. But even $400 is only the cash allowance. If you actually ask a person who is on Public Assistance in Singapore, and you compare with someone in America or UK or anywhere else in the world, I can stand here and tell you confidently that the Singaporean is better off. Let me explain why if you don’t want to take it at face value. If you are single person living alone, it’s $400. If you have are family with two children, we will give you $1350 in cash. The children’s education, free. Medical care, free. Rental housing, very very low rate. All the money that you have, you can use it for food, for clothes. Even if you have difficulty cooking the food, we will then have teams to prepare cooked food and deliver it to you. And that’s why I need to remind all of you that we do care for our people, we do look after our people. And we will ensure that no matter what happens to you, between the Government, the GROs and the community support, we will look after you, look after your parents, look after your children. So that’s the first point. Cost of living, and that the Government is doing its best to help.
The second concern that Singaporeans have told me on my walkabouts, and this is a very, very real concern. You know, in the last 10 years that I’ve been in politics, before 1998 we had the Asian Financial Crisis. 01 we had the dotcom bust and September 11 and today we know that Osama bin Laden has finally been executed. In 03 we had SARS. In 08 and 09 we had the global financial crisis, the biggest financial crisis that has hit us, all of us here in our lifetime. Yet, we seem to have recovered, and each time we bounced up, and it seems that sometimes I worry that we don’t appreciate the fact that the ability to bounce up after a major financial crisis is amazing. Because even today, here as we talk, do you know what the unemployment rate in America is? It is nearly 10%. In Europe, it is also nearly 10%. What is the unemployment rate in Singapore? 1.9% That is one of the lowest unemployment rate in the world. And to be able to achieve that, despite all the external shocks that we have gone through, my friends, don’t take this for granted. This is something special, this is something precious. But this success is not only because of the PAP. But it is because our people of Singapore have learnt lessons that my mother taught me. Work hard, take any job, save, look after your children.
Now, the Opposition says that we can do away with manufacturing. Half a million jobs they are prepared to put at risk. The Opposition then says, many of you, your pay is not enough, let’s have minimum wage. Overnight, magic, they raise your pay. But my friends, first let me say that I agree with the intention to raise people’s wages. People should have higher pay. The question is how you raise people’s wages. The Opposition way to have minimum wage, will cause higher unemployment. Why? It’s very simple. If you raise wages overnight, and it is not competitive, the company will close. And the company closes, there’s no job. Secondly, if you just raise the wage instead of improving the capability and training and education of the worker, you’re just fooling yourself. Sooner or later, the company will find a reason to retrench a worker. Third, a minimum wage does not help the self-employed. Even if I ask all of you now, many of you are self-employed. A minimum wage will not help people who are self-employed. So what is the PAP’s solution? We call it Workfare, which means we top up your salaries so that you have a decent wage, enough to save, enough to look after your family, enough to have a decent life in Singapore. So the point I’m trying to tell you is beware of people who sell you koyok and only apparently makes the pain go away but actually doesn’t cure you. So, jobs are important and the reason we have to fight this is if our Opposition takes over, between spending money to shift our jobs to Malaysia and Indonesia, pretending to have a minimum wage and raising unemployment, they are going to put our jobs at risk, so please don’t do that.
Yesterday we celebrated May Day, we celebrated the special relationship between the unions and the PAP. Today, the Opposition says, no, no, no, bad idea, the PAP and the unions have conflict of interest so put them apart. But my friends, the reason why we have 7,000 MNCS in Singapore is they know that in Singapore that the workers are hardworking, the workers will have a fair deal, the unions will protect the workers and the unions will work with the Government to grow more jobs. So again, be very very careful. It’s very easy, split the PAP, split the NTUC, suddenly the workers’ pay will go up. It will not happen. You will lose jobs and our livelihood will be at risk.
Let me deal with the third concern that you all have shared with me – the cost of homes. Now, every single homeowner in Holland-Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang in the last 5 years I know you have seen appreciation of your home values. Have I lied? Have your home values gone up? Yes.
Now, you can be happy about that but I have also met some who said that “I worry about my children!”. Yes my flat has gone up, but can my child afford a flat? Well, here I want to tell you, look at this field. Look around here, at this empty field. The MND has said, and my good friend Mr Mah Bow Tan has said, this year, they are going to launch 22,000 new BTO flats, that’s not all. 4,000 design build and sell flats, that’s not all. And another 4,000 ECs. And these altogether there’s 30,000 new flats. In addition to that, there are many more unsold private apartments coming into the market over the next two to three years. So my message to all of you is please don’t worry. Mr Mah will make sure that there are enough flats and he will also help your children buy their first flat using their CPF and to make sure that they become like you, owners with a stake in Singapore, and owners with a stake that will gradually rise.
But having said that, let me add a note of caution. You must understand why are our prices of our apartments so high right now. There are a few reasons, let me share a couple of reasons with you. First is because people have confidence in Singapore. If people had no confidence in Singapore, people will not invest a couple of hundred thousand in flats. Secondly, and perhaps just as important, supposing we took the Opposition’s view that we should shut the doors and borders, no more immigration. Let me just tell you what will happen. We shut our doors today, by the year 2030, our population will shrink because we are not having enough babies. When populations shrink, what do you think will happen to the value of your flats? Will it go up or will it go down? It will go down. So again, let us be very very careful about quick populist solutions which can actually do long term harm. Another reason why our house prices are very strong right now is because our interest rates are very low. You can go into DBS and I think you can get a loan with interest of 1.2, 1.3%. But my friends, when my father bought a house, I remember him paying an interest of 14%. I am not saying that is going to happen but what I am saying is do not take what we have now for granted. We now have a strong, booming economy. We have a growing population. We have confident international investors in Singapore. But so easily, this can go wrong. And when it goes wrong you are at risk.
So let me just end by saying you must be concerned about the future, about our children’s future. And we must ensure that they each learn the right lessons. As we fight this political battle, do not get taken in by populist measures which will do long term harm to our children. In the last few days of this campaign, it has been a lot of hard work but I will tell you why I am going why I’m going to keep fighting all the way to the end. Because we need to fight to protect our homes, our jobs, our children for the future. Can you think of anything more important to you? Your children, your homes, your jobs.
I promise all of you, vote for the PAP. We will protect your children, your homes, your jobs.
Thank you very much!