Questions for PM Lee Hsien Loong

I don’t think I’ll be able to attend tonight’s 8pm Facebook live chat with our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the PAP Facebook page, so I thought I’d pen down some of my questions, in the hopes that those of you who share my concerns can ask them on my behalf. I don’t even care if you don’t attribute the questions to me, as long as it’s asked.

Interestingly, I chatted with the taxi driver on the way home from the airport in the wee hours earlier today about the upcoming Elections. He said it’s the first time he’ll be voting in Sembawang GRC, and unequivocally stated that he would be voting for the Opposition. He told me not to read any newspapers or watch TV during this period to avoid the propaganda, and that any actions by the PAP now were too little, too late. Touché!

On a lighter note, a friend who had been tracking my #sgelection related Twitter and Facebook streams joked upon my return from NYC that I might already have received a letter from the government that I’ve been fired. That friend obviously doesn’t realize I’ve since left the Service.

I‘ve grouped my questions into the following 5 categories, in line with the 5 easy steps to reinvent a city that I spoke about last week at GEL 2011. I love the basic model that the PAP has used to reinvent Singapore time and time again, but I think we have to rethink that model now, especially when, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says, we still know how to “put in stake and floats so we can go up for another 20, maybe over 100 storeys“, and that “the foundation is strong“.

P.S: PM Lee, no offense, but please don’t give us motherhood responses. The current and future generation of voters is a lot more discerning, and anything less than an honest response is going to do the PAP more harm than good.

1. The Basics

  • I was born in 1981, in an era where the previous administration had rapidly and admirably provided “the basics” to its people, i.e. a roof over your head, a stable job with a decent salary, single breadwinner putting food on the table. Fast forward 30 years to 2011 – what is PAP’s current understanding of “the basics” that we the people want? What in your opinion is the PAP’s scorecard on these? The more granular a description, the better; i.e. by splitting down your responses as per the 3 major and distinct demographic segments in Singapore today, namely the lower income group, middle and upper class Singaporeans.

2. Talent for Politics & Government

  • As much as the PAP would like us to think otherwise, the majority of Singaporeans think there isn’t sufficient diversity in political perspectives within the PAP.  Let’s not kid anyone here; no political party will engineer themselves out of business, so I’m discounting the NCMP policy and rare polarizing events like the  Integrated Resorts (IR) which you’ll be quoting as counterexamples. I won’t ask if you agree with me or not, since you’re probably going to agree and save yourself the hassle of covering the details. Instead, let me ask you how the PAP and assuming your party retains majority control, how the Government intends to correct this and improve on this in a fair and equitable manner? It is, after all, an inevitable evolution of Singaporeans’ political appetite given the evolution of our nation and society.
  • The PAP often says it has trouble convincing top talent to leave private sector because of the insane opportunity costs these top talent are faced with in considering whether to make the switch. Embedded in this is an assumption that public service as an ideal, passion or aspiration is not something that is in theirs, or the PAP’s assessment model. I say so because if it was indeed in the PAP’s talent scouting model, and such a trait was weighted properly, given PAP’s well-oiled talent recruitment network, I’m sure you’d find something. Do you think your talent assessment model needs updating? If so, in what regards?
  • I ended my bond and left the Service in part because I was handed a fantastic opportunity to effect change with greater impact to the Singapore tech ecosystem, but also because of 1 major push factor, namely the systemic risk aversion in the middle layers of our bureaucracy, especially in the statutory boards.  I have countless peers who have since broken their statutory board scholarships or resigned upon completion of their bonds.  I have trouble identifying peers and juniors who stay on within statutory boards upon completion of their bonds, which troubles me, because the system is bleeding much of the talent it was supposed to retain.  I’m not referring to ministries; I think talent retention works much better in ministries because those organizations are much flatter.  What do you think? Is there a problem? How will such talent loss impact the ability of our statutory boards to effectively translate well-intentioned policies from ministries into reality, say in 10 years’ time?

3. Education & Immigration

  • The (1) ASEAN scholarship and other similar initiatives, and the pro-skilled working professionals (2) Permanent Residency (PR) initiatives are excellent programs to increase the base of our pyramid talent, and to inject fresh perspectives, experiences and hunger into our populace at all levels. Can the government provide us with well broken down performance-based statistics across time on these 2 initiatives? E.g. (1) % of foreign students who work in Singapore past their stipulated period, % of foreign students who take up PR, % who go on to take up citizenship; and (2) % of EP holders who take up PR, top 10 skills/professions of EP holders who take up PR, median/mean/mode of tax income bracket of EP holders who take up PR and/or citizenship. Something along these lines, beyond just motherhood numbers, which aren’t meaningful at all.

4. Sharing the Wealth

  • What is the government’s rationale for refusing to waive or reduce GST on essentials as a direct means to reduce the cost of living of the lower income group in Singapore? Is it an implementation problem? Or is it ideological?
  • Do you think there is a natural limitation on Singapore’s asset enhancement policy via widespread public housing ownership? The household incomes of the subset of our population demographics that’s considering HDB apartments are most likely not growing in proportion to HDB asset value over time. Doesn’t this have the social effect of forcing both parents to work, increased reliance on domestic helpers for child-rearing, and indirectly reducing fertility? Isn’t PAP shooting itself in its own foot? I feel like our various government agencies have gotten so efficient at implementation that they’re creating policies which cannibalize each other.
  • Is there a good reason why CPF isn’t made to pay interest on our CPF accounts at some master inflation rate + margin, pegged to a basket of inflation rates of countries whose economies our country is tied most closely to?

5. Remaining Relevant

  • What is PAP’s greatest challenge in remaining relevant to the dynamic and changing needs of its electorate?

As always, your humble citizen, James.

Flickr photo courtesy of renielet

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.