“Singapore has slashed the upper end of its annual growth forecast as ongoing risks from an uncertain external environment and a slowdown in global trade continue to weigh on the export-dependent economy” (Singapore Narrows GDP Growth Forecast For The Full Year – 2, Angela Teng).
With speculation that the next General Election is imminent – with the ruling People’s Action Party announcing its entire slate of candidates after the National Day weekend – political parties are preparing for their campaigns. And in the midst of these preparations, their representatives have raised a plethora of issues, including but not limited to: housing and public transportation, healthcare and retirement policies for an ageing population, as well as perennial concerns over immigration, education, or the civil society in Singapore.
Yet missing in this discourse is the economy and its long-term implications, even though it has dominated headlines in recent days. As a result of global circumstances – such as the corrections to the Chinese stock market and the devaluation of the Chinese yuan – Singapore “slashed the upper end of its annual growth forecast [from between 2 and 4 per cent to between 2 and 2.5 per cent]” (TODAY, Aug. 12). Worryingly, trade-dependent manufacturing activity has declined with the contraction of the economy in the second quarter, and according to Bloomberg the 9 per cent slide of the Straits Times Index in 2015 has made it the worst-performing stock index in the developed world after Greece.
These trends should worry the average Singaporean, especially with less-than-optimistic forecasts for the second half of the year. Not to mention those who wish to be elected into office to assume these roles and responsibilities.
Individuals cite the oft-mentioned problems of “the low labour productivity, the high unit labour cost, and business cost of manufacturing”. However, few candidates have broached the topic, and even fewer have mooted credible recommendations. How will SkillsFuture impact levels of productivity? Will growth in wages keep pace with rising costs of living? What is the broader trajectory for the country? It may be true that Singapore has limited control over developments abroad, although that would also suggest the importance of reactive plans and more elaborate conversations about the future.
GDP and economic growth has featured heavily in the narrative of Singapore – which determines the salaries or bonuses of civil servants, for instance, and often cited as evidence of the country’s success – and should be discussed more proactively. In the context of an election, it would therefore be a good preview of the candidate’s potential as a parliamentarian, with opportunities to go beyond the tired spiels of “voting for change” or the same, convenient issues again.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.