Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) yesterday called for a thorough review and account of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, citing perceptions from some Singaporeans that the measures have been confusing.
“There is the perception that the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has certainly not included adjectives that are more commonly associated with the Singapore Government, such as clarity and decisiveness,” he said in Parliament on the second day of the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.
He cited some examples that he described as “piecemeal announcements, U-turns and positions that did not gel intuitively”, including having a two-person limit on visits to one’s parents and grandparents, even as safe distancing rules on public transport were lifted.
Mr Singh also cited an article in The Straits Times that reflected concerns among business owners in the beauty industry over why certain hair treatments which can last hours were allowed, while other beauty procedures which can be completed quickly were not.
Mr Singh said: “For some Sin-gaporean businesses, at times it felt as if no one in government was taking ownership of how Covid-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted and understood on the ground.”
Before raising the issues, Mr Singh stressed, however, that the WP’s position on the crisis was to put politics aside so Singapore can overcome it with a “unity of purpose”. The party has not publicly criticised the Government’s handling of the “unprecedented crisis” in ways that would undermine the national efforts, he said.
But he added: “Our position as a constructive opposition requires us to communicate the feelings of Singaporeans on the ground in Parliament.”
The lack of clarity on restrictions and initiatives was a theme for the three WP parliamentarians who spoke yesterday.
WP Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Leon Perera said that unclear rules that were frequently changed could lead to “rules fatigue or cynicism towards rule compliance”. He also said there are too many relief schemes, each with different conditions for eligibility and modes of application.
“The more schemes we have, the more there is a risk of confusion leading to under-utilisation or other side effects,” he said. “Also, the more complex the whole system becomes, the more resources need to go into the work of explaining, sifting through and helping people or firms to apply for these schemes.”
Mr Perera suggested that a portal could be set up to consolidate information on the various schemes, and existing schemes could be streamlined and given more support in future instead of creating new ones.
Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh called for a thorough review and account of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, citing perceptions from some Singaporeans that the measures have been confusing.
This is not the first time a call for a review has been discussed in the House. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on May 4 that the Government will comprehensively review the response to the pandemic when the time is right.
The WP also raised questions about fiscal responsibility.
NCMP Dennis Tan said measures like the Jobs Support Scheme and rental support could have been more targeted and not applied to some businesses such as supermarkets and those in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and IT sectors, which may not be as affected.
“In this way, more will be available to the businesses who need them. We should not rely on unaffected businesses to voluntarily return the payouts.”