MPs diminish trust when they grandstand & take populist lines: Henry Kwek

In the recent Parliament debate on public housing, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh castigated the Government for the long waiting times for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats. The “sacred cow” of not building flats ahead of demand, he said, “needs to be slaughtered”. He added that, notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government should have anticipated demand.

In other words, if only the Government had been as far-sighted as the Workers Party, young couples would not be waiting for their BTO flats now.

Mr Singh did not explain how we could have continued to build flats at a brisk pace, notwithstanding Covid-19. He also did not mention that, before Covid-19, the WP itself had published a paper in 2019 urging the Government not to build more BTO flats.

In 2019, the HDB resale market was soft. The HDB Resale Price Index had fallen by about 12 per cent from 2013 to 2019. The Government was building 15,000 to 17,000 flats annually. The WP paper said that no more than 9,000 flats were needed. Luckily, the Government did not take the WP’s advice.

The lesson is not that the Government is more clairvoyant than the WP, but that the demand for HDB flats can change quickly and unpredictably. We have to acknowledge this, while doing our best to anticipate demand in working out our building plans.

A second, even more important, lesson is the need for politicians to be upfront and candid about the difficulties of governing a country. When MPs grandstand, take populist lines that ignore hard realities, and conveniently forget their own previous statements, they damage the standing of Parliament and diminish trust in themselves.

Henry Kwek, Member of Parliament (Kebun Baru SMC)

First published in The Straits Times on February 14, 2023.

Top image via MCI Singapore/YouTube.