Go, Chok Tong…

By | September 26, 2003

There’s a saying that “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. Well, sometimes it couldn’t get more literal than that. Despite your tough talk about “stayers and quitters” and “swallowing bitter pills”, it’s time for you – PM Goh – to really get “Goh-ing”.

You and your cabinet of ministers are surviving on goodwill accumulated over the years, but the goodwill is wearing thin. The Singapore economy experienced the sharpest slowdown on record in the second quarter of 2003 (negative 4.2%); and growth momentum suffered the biggest drop to date – down by 11.4% on an annualised quarter-by-quarter basis.

Sure, statistics alone won’t prove anything. But if there’s any conclusive evidence of your inability to turn the economy around, it’s this: Jobless rate is expected to climb to an all-time-high of 5.5% this year, and retrenchment will most likely better the figure last year (19,100). In Q2 2003 alone, 24,800 jobs were shed – more than the total job loss in 1998. (Before your office starts to issue press statements challenging the accuracy of the figures I’ve cited here, let me just point out that these were obtained from the Singapore Department of Statistics, not plucked from the sky. If their figures are not reliable, it’s not my fault.)

World-class pay = world-class performance?
If you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you would have been sacked at least three quarters ago. Instead, you made a fortune, at our expense.

According to the Global Competitiveness Report 1999, which surveyed a total of 59 countries, Singaporean workers (especially those in manual jobs) were found to be one of the worst paid in the world – only those workers in Russia, Ukraine and Ecuador were paid less. Even secretaries didn’t fare much better, with their wages ranking 50 among the 59 countries.

Maybe the report should have compared minister’s pay – that would have been a different story. The point is – it’s very easy for you to bombard us with your empty rhetoric like “your worries are mine too” when you take home S$180,000 a month while your average fellow citizens struggle to make ends meet every month, with uncertainty hanging over their job security.

Besides, if you want top-notch remuneration, expect your performance to be benchmarked accordingly or you’ll have to “goh” (pardon this inexcusable pun!). No ifs and buts about it. Performance in this case simply means whether the country is making progress and whether the citizens are happy. If you’ve played Sim City, you’ll get the picture. I digress. With our economy in such turmoil, how could you possibly “afford” the time to play such trivial games?

In hindsight, the “seat-warmer” tag didn’t do you justice. You’re much worse than that.

Your legacy
During your 13 years (count yourself unlucky) in office, you “rued” over so many ups and downs that David Beckham’s autobiography would pale in comparison. In economic terms, we should have been pleased with the “upside” of things, but definitely not those you have provided, such as GST increases, utility tariffs increases, transport fare hikes, university tuition fees hikes, et cetera. I could probably go on forever, but I’m not being paid for writing this, so count yourself lucky.

Unlike in other countries, we certainly have no means to fire you. But if you still have a bit of decency, do the right thing and resign. It’s just not right to inflict so much misery on the people so that your government can continue to exist. As Singapore Democratic Party’s Chee Soon Juan puts it, you are “unable and unwilling to institute badly needed political-economic reforms that will make Singapore competitive, vibrant and free”. Perhaps you’re the one who needs to swallow the bitter pill after all.

But the time may be too late for you to bite the bullet. Before you go, dear prime minister, let it be known that “my heart is with you”.

Empty rhetoric aside, please find a way to fix your seat-warmer image, because what really worries us is that after your reign of errors comes to an end, you’ll usher in the reign of terror.

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