From time-stamped exams to bubble tea regulations — How repressed bureaucrats run Singapore

Last week, Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) member of parliament (MP), Ang Wei Neng came up with the “provocative” suggestion that degrees from local universities be “time-stamped” to expire after 5 years unless holders took upgrading courses.

The West Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC) MP’s suggestions that were deemed ridiculous met with a backlash, and he was quick to issue an apology.

Mr Ang’s faux pas has however raised greater issues about Singapore’s education system – namely, are there too many exams?

To quote the article written by Tang Li:

It’s always good to have a level of “professionalism” in anything that you do. But beyond a minimum, why impose more exams than necessary unless they have a specific bearing on the way the profession or industry should go? Adding exams beyond that benefits only repressed bureaucrats too afraid to take the plunge into doing anything useful.

This week, his fellow PAP MP, Poh Li San, has seemingly not learned from her colleague and suggested in Parliament that bubble tea shops in Singapore needed to be regulated.

The Sembawang GRC MP seems totally oblivious to the ongoing woes of the average Singaporeans, who are primarily concerned with rising costs of living and the upcoming increment of the goods and services tax (GST).

At a time of global upheaval with the twin impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ms Poh’s fixation with bubble tea seems completely out of touch – so much so that it almost borders on the incredulous!

Looking at how Mr Ang and Ms Poh have chosen to use their time in Parliament, one does have to wonder if they live on a completely separate planet from the rest of us mere mortals who actually have to worry about paying bills!

On the other hand, the Workers’ Party (WP) seems to be much more on the ball with the rice bowl concerns of the average Singaporean. For example, Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh tackled housing issues in Singapore by pushing for the eligibility age for purchasing Housing Development Board (HDB) flats by singles to be dropped from 35 to 28.

Mr Singh cited a 2021 National Youth Council publication on The State of Youth in Singapore, in which the young respondents said that maintaining strong family relationships and having their own residence was either “somewhat” or “very important”.

Clearly, Mr Singh is paying attention to what voters are interested in. When juxtaposed with the left-field suggestions by the PAP MPs such as Mr Ang and Ms Poh, one does have to wonder why there aren’t more WP MPs in Parliament.

Not to be outdone, MP for Sengkang GRC, Jamus Lim also raised another rice bowl issue. The WP MP shared a proposal in Parliament for making public transport free for the elderly and persons with disabilities in Singapore. He argued that this would allow them to stay engaged and active, as well as encourage those who wish to keep on working to do so without having to spend part of their earnings on commuting.

With the numbers of elderly people who are still seen working menial jobs way beyond retirement age, Mr Lim’s suggestion does seem very feasible and relevant. Unsurprisingly, Minister for Transport S Iswaran raised the tired and overused argument that the proposal to give free rides to elderly people and those with disabilities,  would impose a cost on taxpayers or commuters.

If Mr Iswaran is so concerned about increased costs to society, why is his Government insisting on increasing GST when the world, and Singapore included, is going through so much upheaval?

Singaporeans have made clear the hardships they face with rising costs of living, and the Government responds by increasing GST and utility prices. To make matters worse, PAP MPs are raising unimportant issues like expiring university degrees and regulating bubble tea outlets? What a slap in the face!

Moving on to the wider world now, where the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to dominate global headlines. Apparently, the Ukrainian embassy in Singapore has been receiving calls from Singaporeans who are interested in fighting for Ukraine. For those would-be fighters, the Ministry of Home Affairs has put the kibosh on their valour by warning that it is against the law for anyone in Singapore to partake in the ongoing conflict.

On a more domestic note, the ongoing crisis has pushed up the prices of oil and gas. Amid rising global oil and domestic pump prices exacerbated by sanctions against Russian oil and gas, Singapore’s competition authority has now said that it will investigate signs of coordination in petrol price rises and act against any anticompetitive behaviour.

At the risk of sounding petty and like I am flogging a dead horse, how can MPs like Ang Wei Neng and Poh Li San think of things like expiring degrees and bubble tea at a time like this?

Are they the repressed bureaucrats, too afraid to take the plunge to do anything useful?

It truly boggles the mind!


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