Speech by Mr. Derrick Goh Soon Hee, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Debate on the President’s Address 2020
Mr Speaker, Sir, I rise in support of the motion to thank the President for her Address. I am heartened by her encouragement to new politicians, like myself, to continue the good work done by those before us in shaping an effective and sound government.
2020 A Year Like No Other
Globally, this year, economies have been paralysed, businesses decimated, and livelihoods impacted. The virus has altered the way we live, work, and play.
Our resident unemployment rate is at 3.9% in the 2nd Quarter, faring better than many countries.
Pandemic won’t go away soon – A Marathon
But this pandemic is not going away anytime soon. The CEO of renowned pharma giant Merck has said that a vaccine is at least a year away.
So, dealing with this crisis will be like running a marathon – there is a finishing line but the run will be long, exhausting and painful.
Lessons to take us forward
Today, I will talk about some of the lessons we can draw and how good policies must be complemented with good execution for us to emerge from this pandemic, a stronger Singapore. Let me cite two examples.
The Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme or SIRS was announced in March to support self-employed workers affected by COVID-19. Over 100,000 were identified as eligible for cash payouts of $3,000 for 3 quarters. Those not included could submit their applications to the NTUC. However, there has been a lot of feedback from residents about not being able to access the relief package. They are upset and perceive the unfairness of the scheme. I will refer to 3 categories:
1) First, those whose appeals were rejected, and do not know why. Rejected resident applicants received a rejection letter without any reason stated. Although the NTUC website has been upgraded for answers, it wasn’t clear and specific to their situation. Many were disappointed and described NTUC’s response as cold and not helpful.
2) The second group are those who know why their applications were rejected but cannot come to terms with or do not fully comprehend the basis. An example is the use of the property annual value criteria of more than $21,000 that excludes residents from getting the relief. Fellow members of this house raised this yesterday and today, and I share their views. The principle of having “means-testing” as a basis to identify those needing help is logical and NTUC’s website stated that this is “consistent with other government schemes”. But Covid-19 relief isn’t a normal government scheme and in implementing this blunt tool, it needs to be recognised that it will exclude residents whom the relief measure was intended to help. Additional data points could have been used proactively to identify those falling in the “should help” category so that a portion of this relief measure can be considered, given this challenging period.
3) The last group are those who don’t know why they did not qualify for SIRS, and do not understand the eligibility criteria. Some of in the category includes our resident hawkers and freelancers who have not been declaring their net trade income. Whatever their reasons for not doing so, they are hard hit in this pandemic. Perhaps, instead of an outright rejection, they could be brought back into the fold and set on the right path, by nudging them to, for example, start tax filings and adopting E-Payments (a great initiative by the IMDA) to qualify for some portion of SIRS assistance. In this way, we can give the needed help and at the same time provide better guidance of their role in the community to file taxes and for the more successful ones in the future, to contribute their share of taxes too!
SIRS aside, let me provide another example from a different angle that also illustrates how leveraging technology can improve policy implementation as a key imperative. This relates to the task at hand of guiding the re-start of construction projects that is underway.
What we need is the ability to do quick tracing, accurately. However, new COVID-19 cases detected at cleared dormitories indicate we still have not yet implemented better capabilities. The TraceTogether app has limitations such as performance consistency across phone brands, inconvenience, and battery usage (even after the software fix to slow down battery drain). Perhaps better wearable technologies or tokens could be prioritised for earlier implementation.
Good Governance = Good Policy + Good Implementation
The broader point I want to make is this:
In a crisis, an effective government like ours, decisively came up with new initiatives and policies to help citizens. Both the SIRS and the effort on the construction sector are great examples of actions that arose out of this pandemic.
I am proud that our country was able to dig deep, accessed its reserves and invested almost $100B in relief programmes to help steer us all through this crisis. However, given the rumblings and the noises at the ground, I asked myself why and what is the real gap? My view is that at the heart of the issue in the 2 seemly unrelated examples is about the importance of good execution where we fell a little short on delivery.
Good governance is not just about Good Policy but also Good Implementation that goes hand in hand.
Some members yesterday also spoke about DBS. And I want to share that the Bank focuses on what we call “The Job to be Done”. It is the maniacal focus on customer experiences, the practice of agility, applying data analytics and incorporating feedback quickly and so that the targeted objectives are achieved. This, DBS, took over a decade to try and get it right.
The challenge for Singapore is how do we continue to refine and develop a more citizen-centric governance model, where policies are not sacrosanct but rather a means to an end?
In concluding, I want to say that on any global scale, Singapore executes well. I can attest to that having lived over a decade working and raising my family in the major financial centres in the world.
Our President in her opening address assured Singaporeans that the Government will listen to and examine new ideas, and that it will continue to evolve its policies and models to cater to new circumstances. I am also heartened that DPM assured the nation that the government will take a stance and be open to improvise and adapt. When we do that, I am optimistic that we can beat the crisis together and emerge even stronger as a nation.
Having World class policies with world class execution…..only then, can we have world class governance.
With that Mr Speaker sir, I support the motion.
Watch the speech here