Singapore: Managing Slower Growth


Professor Carl A. Trocki

Problems of the economic downturn continue to plague Singapore. The nation faces the prospect of increasing unemployment, which is now at 4.5 percent with about 100 000 out of work. It is expected that the unemployment rate will rise to 5.5 percent by September. This will bring it dangerously close to the 1986 rate of 6 percent.

Despite the fact that the economic growth rate seems to have turned around and forecasters are now predicting an overall growth rate of 2 to 4 percent consumer confidence continues to be low and sentiment among job seekers shows a general lack of satisfaction with their prospects. There is little indication that the government measures will do much to change their situation.

On the contrary, Wong Ken Seng, Minister for Home Affairs offered little comfort for Singapore's workers: ‘The belief in lifetime employment is a thing of the past.’ Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong warned, ‘we must get used to the idea that we are not going to have another 10 years of 9 percent growth.’ He predicted an economic future that will be volatile and unpredictable and will require Singapore to be more competitive. He called on individual Singaporeans to become more entrepreneurial. There seemed to be a growing lack of tolerance for some of the government's economic measures among opposition MPs and Nominated MPs, who have voiced dissatisfaction over plans to raise the GST from 3 percent to 5 percent on 1 January 2003. Likewise, hikes in transport fares, together with cuts in income tax levels for corporations and upper bracket individuals seem designed to strike at the lower income earners. On the other hand, the government has been rather prickly in response to critics. Recently, the Minister of Transport charged opposition MP, Tan Soo Khoon with suggesting that DPM Lee had misled Parliament about fare increases in his Budget speech last May.

Singapore has lost a powerful opposition voice. Dr. Lee Siew Choh passed away on 18 July. He was the founder of the Barisan Socialis and a longtime critic of Singapore's ruling Peoples Action Party.

Singapore continues to seek technological solutions to its environmental issues. It has recently received high marks for the quality of its recycled water. A combined, local and international panel of scientists recently declared that Singapore's ‘Newater’ exceeded international purity standards set by the World Health Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

WATCHPOINT: Rising popular dissatisfaction over increasing prices and continued unemployment.


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