SINGAPORE: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran has criticised the Workers’ Party’s proposal to immediately stop the growth of the foreign workforce until 2020 and capping it at current levels as being "extreme" and "inherently very risky".
Speaking in Parliament on Thursday during the debate on the White Paper on Population, Mr Iswaran said such a move will exacerbate uncertainty in the economic environment, accelerate business closures and the off—shoring of activities.
He said Singaporeans will lose their jobs and instead of productivity—led growth, the move could easily tip the economy into a downward spiral.
Such a precipitous move will also send the completely wrong signal to the business and investor community, be it local or international.
He said: "It will damage Singapore’s reputation and severely impair our efforts to attract new and different businesses which can offer precisely the kind of diverse job opportunities that better educated Singapore seeks.
"In short, the Workers’ Party’s proposal will have a chilling effect on our economy. It is a "freeze" scenario under which we might well contain the number of foreign workers, but the Workers’ Party is taking an extreme risk with the livelihoods of Singaporeans and the survival of our businesses."
In contrast, Mr Iswaran said the government is seeking a balanced and measured approach to bring about transformation to the economy.
The government is also not fixated on growth as some have suggested. It wants to have quality growth so as to create the best possible opportunities for Singaporeans.
Mr Iswaran said: "Government will prepare every Singaporean to reach their fullest potential to stand them in good stead to fill the good jobs that have been created. It is painstaking work and we will do this sector by sector to cater to diverse needs.
"Government will also train Singaporeans so that we can take on, either from the very beginning or over time, more of the jobs that are being created in exciting new sectors."
He said the economic aspects in the White Paper are a sharp and significant departure from the past and will by no means be business as usual.
He said the government is hoping for a GDP growth of 3 to 5 per cent per year this decade. And this will drop even further to 2 to 3 per cent from 2020 to 2030.
Mr Iswaran said productivity projections of about 2 to 3 per cent in this decade and 1 to 2 per cent in the next decade are also a stretch.
He added: "Mr Low has accused us continuing to drive at the same speed. Let me say this categorically —— we are slowing down, we are stepping on the brake so that we can achieve a smooth landing.
"But the Workers’ Party is proposing to "to jam brake" and put our economy in a tailspin. And our businesses and workers risk a "hard landing".
Mr Iswaran stressed there’s still a need to maintain a certain vibrancy in the economy. Without it, Singapore cannot attract the new activities or companies that can create the types of jobs that better educated and qualified Singaporeans aspire for.
He said: "In the past, when making investment decisions, companies asked ’Why not Singapore?’ We had a certain mindshare. As our circumstances are changing, they are now beginning to ask, ’Why Singapore?’ and if we’re not careful, and make abrupt or precipitous policy moves, companies will soon say, ’Not Singapore’.
"And if too many companies start saying ’Not Singapore’, we will not be able to deliver the opportunities that Singaporeans want, and we will lose them to greener pastures."
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