SINGAPORE – Housing, income inequality, the Internal Security Act and National Service issues were the order of the day at a political forum where a number of possible Opposition election candidates aired their views.
The four topics dominated last night’s session, which was broadly divided into economic and social policies, civil liberties and political topics.
Referring to a population increase brought about by immigration, Worker’s Party’s Gerald Giam said “an immediate solution is to increase supply of new HDB flats to reduce pressure on demand”.
“We believe that HDB flats are affordable … only for those stretching out loans for 30 years. But that is way too long to be paying off a housing loan. Perhaps it should be reduced to 20 years such that it is the benchmark for affordability,” he said.
Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong from the Singapore People’s Party also weighed in on the housing issue, and claimed that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was “losing touch with the people”.
Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr Chee Soon Juan – who said that the Opposition should engage the media more – felt there should be greater transparency in terms of the labour and land costs which go into the building of HDB flats.
To further tackle housing affordability issues, Mr Giam also suggested that prices of new HDB flats be pegged to the median income of Singaporeans, instead of the current policy of being pegged to surrounding resale flat prices.
A more radical suggestion from National Solidarity Party secretary-general Goh Meng Seng was to do away with grants for young couples to buy resale flats.
“It’s actually not a good idea because when you pump in money, the demand goes up and prices goes higher … It’s distorting the market, which is supposed to be a free market,” said Mr Goh, who added that Singaporeans should discard the idea of public housing as an investment.
On tackling the problem of rising income inequality, Mr Giam suggested increasing the Workfare supplement for low-wage workers, which he concurred is a good policy to mitigate the plight of the poor. “But if you look at the numbers, a typical person on Workfare only gets about $80 more a month, hardly enough to sustain a decent lifestyle for someone that’s not earning enough,” he said.
When asked by a member of the floor about the possibility of doing away with NS, all the panellists disagreed with the suggestion – with the exception of Reform Party secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam, who felt that two years was too long.
“We would like to reduce NS to one year and review it later on and see if it can be shortened further,” he said, using the example of Taiwan, “with their imminent threat of invasion” and still able to reduce it to six months.
On the issue of the ISA, the panelists were unanimous: Abolish it, although both WP’s Mr Giam and RP’s Mr Jeyaretnam said that a fundamental human right of not being detained without trial should be balanced with the real need to deal with terrorism risks.
Mr Chiam described the ISA as “very dangerous and arbitrary”.
Mr Giam suggested having a dedicated anti-terrorism taskforce that allows a certain form of preventive detention but with necessary checks and balances to ensure that those detained have legal access and be released in the absence of evidence.
The sixth panellist at the forum – which was attended by about 350 people and was organised by socio-political website The Online Citizen – was Socialist Front’s Chia Ti Lik. There was no representative from the PAP which, according to the organisers, was also invited.