OPINION: When does the government listen to your opinions?

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It’s no secret that the cost of living is rising. Food prices are rising, as are fuel and energy prices. The fallout from the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, aftershocks from the Covid-19 pandemic and other systemic bottlenecks have all contributed to rising inflation around the world. Naturally, the average man or woman on the street begins to feel the pinch and the worry.

While some of these global factors are not the fault of the People’s Action Party (PAP)-led government in Singapore, it should be noted that it is in this climate of rising prices that outgoing leader Lawrence Wong , announced that the government would press ahead with its planned GST hikes. The GST is expected to drop from 7% to 8% in 2023, and further increase to 9% in 2024. Singaporeans are understandably worried and netizens reacted with some outrage.

The fact that people have raised concerns about the GST hikes is not new, and the government would certainly be aware of that. This issue has been raised several times by the Workers’ Party (WP), which is the only opposition party to have elected seats in Parliament. The WP has even made the effort to provide alternatives (such as corporate and wealth taxes) as to how the government can raise revenue without raising the GST. Unfortunately, it would seem that the majority government of the PAP did not pay for such suggestions.

Despite the limited number of government seats, the WP continues to fight for the common man, saying it will “continue to oppose GST hikes”. However, with Parliament so overwhelmingly dominated by the PAP, it is safe to say that the PM’s efforts, valiant as they are, will have limited effects.

This is a clear example of the importance of having more elected politicians in opposition. This is not to replace the PAP in government, but to have an effective check and balance in Parliament – ​​particularly on issues that will have a real effect on the livelihoods of the general public. As a WP MP for Sengkang GRC, Jamus Lim’s now famous words are: “The truth is, in all likelihood, the PAP will have that mandate by the end of this election, and I think what we are trying to deny them is not a mandate. What we are trying to deny them is a blank cheque.

The PAP has always maintained that it listens to its citizens and that we do not want a two-party system. However, is the PAP really listening to its people? The PAP is surely aware that the general population is deeply opposed to a hike in the GST at this time. Yet the government insists on moving forward. This begs the question: without more elected opposition politicians in the house, will the government really listen to the public?

If there were more WP MPs in Parliament, would GST hikes still prevail then? Certainly food for thought.

At the same time, when the government does not listen to public fears about GST hikes, the government is extremely sensitive to any hint of criticism, paying no attention to figures of speech or expressions, taking everything very literally.

Just recently, PAP’s Tan Chuan Jin took to social media to criticize Singaporeans for toppling Singapore. All because Mr Tay Kheng Soon said on social media that we have become too money conscious compared to Malaysia. While Mr. Tan is entitled to his opinion, it seems a stark contrast that the PAP seems so sensitive to any perceived criticism while he doesn’t seem to listen to his people’s fears about the GST hikes! Something that would affect the daily lives of so many people!

Another example of the authorities’ literal approach to perceived criticism is that of a migrant worker, Zakir Hossain Khokan, who has worked in Singapore for nearly 20 years and was deported “without a clear reason and in a lot of confusion.”

Hossain – an award-winning poet who is also a former TEDx Singapore speaker, community organizer, writer, freelance journalist, editor and photographer – explained in his Facebook post that after working and contributing in Singapore for 19 years, he received notice from his company’s human resources (HR) department that his work permit had expired and could not be renewed. The system said he had “an unfavorable record with a government agency.”

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), some of Hossain’s public social media posts were “misleading, false or deliberately provocative”.

MOM referenced an October 16, 2021 article (under the profile of “Amrakajona Zakir”) in which Hossain referred to migrant workers in Singapore as “slave workers” and our dormitories as “labor camps.” He also alleged that soldiers and armored vehicles surrounded a dormitory, Westlite Tukang.

According to MOM, this was a false characterization. Due to the situation at that time in the dormitory, police personnel were on standby nearby as a precaution. They never surrounded the dormitory or hired workers. Instead, MOM officers and dormitory staff hired the workers to address their concerns. There were no soldiers, let alone armored vehicles, around. Although Mr. Zakir signed his position among the “workers of Westlite Tukang”, he himself had never lived there.

It seems the government is being extremely literal, disregarding how people express themselves on social media. While Hossain could have been more careful in his choice of words, most sane people understand that this was a figure of speech! If the government wants to be so literal and intransigent, why does it not listen to the concerns of its citizens?

If you don’t allow people to speak up, then maybe the authorities need to be more aware and engage with core feelings?

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