MOF chides ST: Plain speaking hard truths?

Marina Bay, Singapore – Photo: Leonid Yaitsky via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)Marina Bay, Singapore – Photo: Leonid Yaitsky via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)

Why not give Singaporeans the “plain speaking” “hard truths” answers to the following?

I refer to the Press Secretary of the Minister of Finance’s letter “Plain speech also about telling the hard truth” (Straits Times Forum, Jun 5).

It states that “Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang is correct (Ministers, please speak plainly to the people; June 3): Ministers should, indeed, speak plainly to the people.

This does not only mean using simple language that people understand. It also means telling people the truth.

This is what the PAP government has been doing for close to 60 years. Ministers and MPs spend considerable time on the ground hearing from citizens, answering their questions and explaining policies.

The injunction to “speak plainly” applies to journalists and commentators too.

Mr Han begins by urging ministers to speak plainly – to use simple language. His column then morphs into a dare to ministers to make sweeping promises.

For example, he wants ministers to assure people that if they had “a full working life in Singapore, in any job… when you retire at 65, you will have enough to live a good and decent life”.

“We will make sure it happens,” Mr Han urges ministers to say, “don’t worry about the details or how we will do it.”

But plain speaking about adequate retirement would also entail telling people some “hard truths”.

For example, the Central Provident Fund scheme is adequate for most Singaporeans, and Silver Support will help top up for those who did not earn much while working.

However, as people live longer, their needs in old age will go up. Then, we will have to work longer, save more while working, or have less to spend in retirement.

Voters in many countries, developed and developing, have learnt through bitter experience what happens when unrealistic election promises are broken.

Politicians and journalists who advocate simplistic policies lose credibility, faith in democracy is undermined, and ultimately, voters or their children bear the cost.

The easiest five words to utter in politics are: “I promise you free lunches.” But that’s not plain speech. That’s pandering and populism.”

Since we are talking about “It also means telling people the truth” and “spend considerable time on the ground hearing from citizens, answering their questions and explaining policies” – in the interest of transparency and accountability – how about giving Singaporeans some “plain speaking” “hard truths” answers to the following:-

“‘Very Strange’ 3Q Labour Report? – record 258,700 jobs lost? (Dec 13)

Raise taxes to increase spending: $31b Budget surpluses 1997-2016?” (Nov 19)

Billions from HDB flats, resale levy, etc? (Dec 12)

Khazanah’s returns: 9.3% p.a. – CPF?” (Nov 30)

Increase in healthcare spending, but still the same funding?” (Dec 7)

ComCare: $130m (no increase) in economic downturn, rising unemployment?” (Dec 10)

Gambling reaches record high, but 151st media said … ?” (Nov 24)

How many investigated for “illegal public assembly”?” (Nov 30)

MOE needs to (unfairly) protect itself from competition?” (Nov 29)

Transport fares formula resulted in 5.4% reduction in fares for everybody, but -3.2% deferred to next year? (“MRT: You don’t care – why should I?“, Nov 3)

… Don’t ever come home for more than 140 days? (“MediShield Life: Don’t come home for over 140 days, or else?” Oct 27)

… Most powerful or worse passport? (“Most powerful passport: Most open immigration?” Oct 25)

… No jobs? (“IT sector: Highest jobs growth potential, but highest unemployment rate also?”, Nov 4)

… Less people get less help? (“GST Voucher: 730,000 less people get it?”, Nov 1)

… Record debts? (“Bank lending up: Record debts?”, Nov 1)

… Put more in CPF? (“CPF Tips: A “1-sided” story?“, Oct 29)

… More elderly have to work? (“Elderly women “expect to work” up 3 times?“, Oct 27)

… How much lower can graduates’ pay go? (“University graduates’ pay only $2,250?“, Nov 2)

… More unemployed? (“Unemployment rate down due to new PRs/citizens?”, Oct 27)

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.