For good measure, the then Environment and Water Minister heroically declared: “It is the duty of my team to awaken Singaporeans to the dangers of such policy prescriptions.”
The Minister obviously likes his political bread buttered with a thick, rich layer of melodrama.
But lo and behold, it wasn't Dr Balakrishnan but the SDP who was spreading “fear and alarm”, at least according to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
And like his party mate, Mr Tharman gave the SDP's alternative policies a good thwack. At the Bukit Batok by-election last year, the DPM derisively said: “What they call policy proposals is, in fact, the politics of spreading fear and alarm, and the politics of populism.”
So what are the SDP's proposals that have the ministers' hair on fire, so to speak? Mr Tharman singled out our proposals for universal healthcare and unemployment insurance.
Let's take a closer look at the two, starting with healthcare.
The SDP proposed in our National Healthcare Plan, published in 2012, a “universal healthcare system...run along the lines of a government-subsidised public insurance scheme to finance compulsory basic healthcare...No one may be rejected or excluded from this basic plan on the basis of age, gender, or state of health.”
Not long after, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, in introducing Medishield Life in 2015, said that the government's programme “is a universal and compulsory medical insurance that covers everybody regardless of age and whether or not he has pre-existing conditions.” (emphases mine)
This reminds me of what Mr Ronald Reagan said when he poked Mr Bill Clinton for adopting his ideas: that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. “Only in this case,” Reagan quipped, “it's not flattery but grand larceny.”
Herein lies the rub. While Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Tharman skewered the SDP's proposal, they saw no problem in adopting them.
Then there is the part about retrenchment insurance. In 2015, the SDP proposed a programme in which retrenched workers receive 75% of their last drawn salary (capped at median wage) for the first six months, 50% for the second six months, and 25% for the third six months if they remain unemployed. The payout period is capped at 18 months during which the government will help retrenched individuals seek employment.
In 2017, the PAP came up with the Returner Work Trial scheme which would assist retrenched workers with $1,500 per month plus a $2,500 allowance if they are able to find employers (who will pay another $1,000 a month) to put them on job-training. The payout period for trainees is limited to six months.
Who said that the adoption programme in Singapore is stringent?
Again, while Ministers Balakrishnan and Tharman accuse the SDP of spreading fear and alarm while taxing and spending our way to financial holocaust with our policies, their party is only too happy to follow them when it becomes necessary.
With sincerity like this, who needs hypocrisy?
But who is going to pay for these programmes? Dr Balakrishnan said that the SDP would hike taxes to fund the expenditure. Mr Tharman chimed in: “So it’s not free. You must tell them it’s not free...Don’t bluff people.”
Now look who's raising taxes to pay for the increased spending.
(For the record, the SDP proposed that these programmes be paid for by adjusting our budget priorities based on current revenue collection and budget surpluses.)
And while the PAP insists that raising taxes is inevitable, it deftly avoids mentioning that taxes have already been recently raised on several fronts, ie, water prices, carpark charges, Medisave contributions, etc.
So yes, Mr Tharman, “don't bluff people.”