Singapore leaders advocate inclusive growth to tackle income disparity (2)

08:16, January 24, 2011      

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The prime minister said the government has put in place many schemes to help the poorer, like the enhanced Public Assistance, ComCare and Workfair, Additional Housing Grants for buying government-built flats. It also lowered income taxes for middle income earners and are building more executive condominiums.

The most important programs, he said, are not financial transfers but efforts to upgrade the workers.

"In the long run, our workers can only do better and earn more through acquiring higher skills and becoming more productive than workers elsewhere, especially those in Asia who are willing to accept lower pay and work longer hours than Singaporeans," he said.

Labor organization, employers and government have been trying to raise workers' productivity.

"We are also investing heavily in education to prepare our students, who will be the workers of tomorrow. These investments have paid off," said the prime minister. "Singapore must continue to upgrade our schools, teachers and pedagogy, as well as attract and integrate talent into our society."

The debate on income disparity also made its way to the parliament and has been viewed as a topic of potential hot discussions in the next general election, which is most likely to be held in the coming several months.

"What we need to do is to move from these broad-based strategies to more targeted help, for example, specific industries and specific segments of low wage workers," lawmaker Denise Phua said.


Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also identified widening income gap as a major challenge for the city state and advocated inclusive growth.

"Economic growth must benefit all members of the community. Otherwise, our community may be divided by differences in income levels within it," he told students last week, saying that the government will continue to invest in skilled training sector.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew also identified the issue as a potential source of trouble for the ruling People's Action Party in the future.

"There could come a time when the interest of the upper middle class will be divergent, that they don't think they should subsidize the lower classes ... We will widen the divide in our society. I don't know when, but it will come," he was quoted as saying in a new book based on interviews with reporters.

This is why the government went out of its way to cater to the lower-income, to prevent the entrenchment of a disaffected, discontented and rebellious underclass, he said.

Singapore has been known providing government-built flats for 80 percent of its population, but it has opted not to impose minimum wages.

The welfare payments, like those in European countries, would not work in Singapore, the minister mentor said, adding that Singapore redistributes enough to secure the support of more than half the electorate, but not so much the country loses its competitive drive.

Source: Xinhua
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