Quick thoughts on TV debate between political parties

Despite several cringe-worthy moments, the televised debate between political parties should prove quite enlightening about where each party stands, and the quality of gray-matter each commands. It was aired over Channel NewsAsia on 2 April 2011.

However, I always remind myself: I may not be typical of Singaporeans. What I see is not what others see. I’m almost sure that many readers will disagree with my assessment.

Thanks also to 154thmedia (I don’t know who he is) who uploaded the videos onto Youtube, which I have embedded below.

This forum included only five parties: The People’s Action Party (PAP), the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and the Workers’ Party (WP). A Chinese-language forum is scheduled for 3 April 2011, involving the PAP, WP, and a different set of other parties, but don’t expect a review from me. My Chinese is not good enough to catch all that’s said. [Update: New Asia Republic has videos and English translations. For hyperlinks, see comment below — 4 April 14:12h]

With only sixty minutes for this program on 2 April, time was very tight. At many points, the party representatives could only sketch an argument in the briefest of ways, leaving it unsubstantiated. At other points, it wasn’t even clear what exactly their point was before they had to move on to another.

However, this may not matter all that much. What may matter more in terms of impact may be the subjective: whether the party representative came across as intelligent and quick, whether in his narration he (and the masculine pronoun in my writing always includes ‘she’ unless otherwise specified) conveyed a common touch, humility and compassion, and whether he seemed trustworthy and earnest.

* * * * *

Part 1 video:

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) did a creditable, though predictable job of defending their policies and record. Tharman Shanmugaratnam proved himself in command of the necessary facts while Josephine Teo was calm but quick in responding to her opponents’ points. They had their hands full defending the PAP on issues like the cost of living and whether the Goods and Services Tax (GST) helped or hurt the low-income group, but on the whole I think Tharman parried the SDP’s attacks well.

The PAP duo had an easier time dealing with healthcare, partly because the opposition was quite unspecific, partly too because the opposition case is best made through heartstrings-tugging anecdotes and there simply wasn’t the luxury of time for that. There was a fantastic opportunity for the PAP to score a good point when Chiam blamed medical tourism for the shortage of hospital beds, but Tharman was very gentle to merely point out that hospital beds have an 85 percent utilisation rate. It’s not clear if he was referring to public hospitals or to all hospitals, but he could have gone for the jugular over Chiam’s point by making a distinction between medical tourism in private hospitals and a quite separate issue of public-sector healthcare, showing the SPP as a muddled-headed lot.

They needlessly stayed on the defence re foreign workers when they should have gone on the offence to demolish the opposition parties’ ideas as utopian and amateurish, and in the case of the Workers’ Party’s position, they could have called them out on being copycat.

Other than defending their record, the PAP’s chief sell was to raise the threat perception: Singapore faces grave security and economic challenges (“world outside Singapore is quite turbulent” and “quite frightening moments” — Josephine Teo), thus critical to bring good leaders into government. I don’t know whether they realise this is sounding very tired, crying wolf at every election.

Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party (WP) largely stayed on script, using his opening minute very well to state in a nutshell the party’s key talking points: that “economic growth is meaningful only if the fruits of our growth are fairly distributed”, and that we ought to have a “needs-based social safety net”. Notably through the debate, he repeated several times the party’s chief message: that it’s not safe to leave the ship of state in the hands of an over-dominant party, thus there’s a great need for significant opposition presence in Parliament.

The rest of the time, he departed from this message on only two occasions:  (1) to lay out the party’s idea that the sales prices of public housing should be pegged to the median incomes of eligible buyers, which I thought was a very interesting idea, and (2) to say something remarkably bland about immigration and raising productivity, barely distinguishable from present government policies.

He stayed so much on script that when the moderator Melissa Hyak told him he had unutilised time, Giam passed up on the extra one minute instead of using it to make one more argument.

I can understand if the WP has judged that what Singaporean voters want is a moderate and safe alternative to the PAP, but at the same time, messaging this can be tricky. There’s a danger that the party will come across as too close to the PAP’s positions on many policy issues, reducing WP’s campaign to something like a plea to please vote us in, never mind that we’re not much different from the PAP. I know for a fact that the party has thought long and hard about policies and does have different ideas, but they may not be getting the balance right in their communications. Voters may also want to see some fire in the belly.

In Vincent Wijeysingha for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), they probably saw that — quick on the uptake, cutting in to respond, often with meaty counter-ideas. However, the fast game he played came at a price — he occasionally slipped up, once saying the opposite of what he meant (at 29th second of the video below), another time mis-hearing what Tharman said. Mentioning Mas Selamat was a mistake — it may be useful at rallies but sounded like a cheap shot on TV without a live audience to respond to it.

On the other hand, he was stunningly eloquent in the first 45 seconds of Part 2, suggesting that people’s lives cannot be treated as a simple statistical measure of median income:

Part 2 video:

Overall, he did a good job staking out SDP’s positions on several fronts: hammering home the point that the cost of living was “getting impossible”; that Goods and Services Tax should be zero-rated for essential goods, and gradated upwards to luxury goods; there should be a minimum wage and a hire-Singaporeans-first policy; that public services including public housing should operate on a non-profit basis. He also undercut the government’s mantra about raising productivity by saying they have tried and failed for 27 years. His anecdotes about taxi-drivers, coffee-shop workers kept it real, but suffered from the fact that anecdotes often need more time for telling.

Time was also in the way when Tharman left a wide-open goal for SDP to score, but didn’t. After explaining that the “bulk of the GST collected” (Tharman did not define “bulk”)  came from the top 40 percent of the population and foreigners, and that the lower-income earners received from the government far more than they pay in GST, Tharman asserted that Singapore had “one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, certainly amongst developed countries” (Part 2 video above, 02:30 sec) . This is almost laughable — I mean, just look at our top tier personal income tax rate, for example, or the absence of capital gains tax — and invites a robust rebuttal.

Part 3 video:

Nazem Suki, representing the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) seemed to struggle, resulting in a few cringe-worthy moments. It’s strange why SDA did not choose someone more comfortable with the English language to represent them.

Nazem managed to touch on aging population and the need to put more resources into healthcare, argued against putting public services “on a commercial platform” and echoed complaints that there were too many foreigners in Singapore. His best point might have been that of long queues for rental flats. Why, he asked, were the lower-end flats, after being refurbished, privatised? Yet, he also rambled a bit on making Singapore a hub for new technologies that would free us from fossil fuels. But other than saying that the SDA has plans to give voice to Singaporeans, there was a crying lack of specifics.

Lina Chiam’s performance proved an opinion I reached some time ago: The Singapore People’s Party is a purely municipal-interest party with no national agenda. In a forum such as this one, candidates had to zoom in on a few key issues for society as a whole and sketch their proposed solutions. She did manage to allude to various issues, but these came across as a scattershot wish-list of things large and small —  wet markets, more schools, more symposiums in schools, life-long learning, less immigration, “level playing field”, more hospital beds, “taking care of the aged” and a “more conducive environment for Singaporeans to think” — untethered to any overarching vision for Singapore. No economic coherence or social guiding light could be discerned.

I guess her overall position was that “government should have a more listening ear”, but I’m not sure how many would see that kind of pleading as reason enough to vote for the party. Chiam also provided the biggest cringe moment when for some thirty seconds — and that’s almost an eternity on TV — her mind went blank and she was at a loss for words.

Part 4 video:

* * * * *

I was happily surprised to see that time allocation was not as biased as I had first thought (based on what Today newspaper had reported) and that only in the first segment was the PAP given the same total time as all the other parties combined. In the other segments, it was more free-flowing.

Will Singaporeans see differences among parties as a result of this TV forum? I think they will, though I’d be loathe to suggest that others will arrive at the same assessment as I did. Which parties will they judge to be “credible” and worthy of their votes? Has SDP managed to repair its public image enough to make it electable? Has Lina Chiam destroyed her own chances in Potong Pasir where she has declared her candidacy?

This forum will have impact. Some parties will be proud of their performance; maybe some parties will regret not being better prepared.

30 Responses to “Quick thoughts on TV debate between political parties”


  1. 1 Tan Casey 3 April 2011 at 19:54

    You missed out a historic moment at the end, when Vincent Wijeysingha said, “all these trumped-up charges about the marxist conspiracy and history has shown to be untrue.” This is a damning accusation of the abuse of the ISA.

    The show was conceived and approved for two objectives.

    To give a semblance of free and fair democratic elections. And to promote the PAP.

    In this regard, I think Wijeysingha may have done enough “damage” to the above two objectives to an extent that such tv debates will be canned, or that he and the SDP will not be invited back.

    What do you think?

  2. 2 SSb 3 April 2011 at 20:00

    Hi Alex,

    Regarding this statement “Mentioning Mas Selamat was a mistake – it may be useful at rallies but sounded like a cheap shot on TV without a live audience to respond to it.”

    I do not agreed. This is a response on the level of competency our current cabinet is. Since the Mas Selamat incident, the ability of the government was never properly questioned on television.

    What Vincent has brought up is a timely response to the government constant boast of being the best leaders in the world.

  3. 3 cy 3 April 2011 at 23:05

    WP’s main aim in this forum is to relay their message of an alternative leadership and not to attack PAP too hard like SDP. Thus,Gerald will come across as lacklustre for those hoping for more thrust.

    If PAP is Coca cola, i would say WP is trying to emulate Pepsi-cola, similar in some ways but different in other ways like being more caring, transparent,accountable.

  4. 4 Jacob 4 April 2011 at 02:56

    Vincent was definitely the star of this debate. He managed to hit so many points – ISA, ministerial salaries, cost of living, income, foreigners, SDP’s shadow budget, etc.

    SDP should be thankful that CNA effectively barred them from sending Chee Soon Juan, because I don’t think CSJ would have did much better. In fact, he might fall into his usual pattern of being too whiny and alienate viewers as a result.

  5. 5 Roy Tan 4 April 2011 at 04:32

    It’s easy to see how the PAP could have stacked this discussion in their favour – just get Channel News Asia to reveal to Tharman and his female sidekick what questions the moderator is going to ask but keep them secret from the opposition panelists. Then, prepare the relevant statistics to back up what a good job the PAP is supposed to have done regarding the hot button issues and refute the opposition’s claims.
    This is a continuation of Lee Kuan Yew’s usual strategy to rebut foreign journalists. He would arm himself with statistics and quote them supposedly “off the cuff” to floor the interviewer who often had not done a similar level of research and was probably also not privy to local Singaporean statistics.
    Now that the opposition are wising up to the televised public debate game, this episode being the first after decades of suppression, they won’t be so easily caught off guard the next time.
    However, the opposition spin doctors still have to do their homework and dig up figures to buttress their own claims.
    They can take a short cut by reading Yawning Bread which has done a lot of the analytical statistic work for them!

    • 6 prettyplace 4 April 2011 at 15:51

      I think everyone knew the topics were cost of living and immigration.

      I wished Vincent had thrown some numbers, like in HDB arrears on mortgage payment to counter Tharman.

      A little more prepartion on certain numbers would have certainly floored Tharman.

      Another important point is that Tharman was not made to explain the short term goals of PAP, for the next 5 years in terms of wage increase for the population.

      A few more debates like this would be deadly for the PAP and fantastic for the SDP.
      I think they’ll can it.

  6. 7 Buck 4 April 2011 at 04:53

    ” After explaining, that the “bulk of the GST collected” (Tharman did not define “bulk”) came from the top 40 percent of the population and foreigners, and that the lower-income earners received from the government far more than they pay in GST,”
    =========================

    The GST earned will not be an issue, only when the GST ‘earned’ are put into special holding fund, strictly for use to help needy Singaporeans.

  7. 8 Fox 4 April 2011 at 12:53

    Does anyone here has know what the viewership figures are for this TV debate?

  8. 9 yawningbread 4 April 2011 at 14:12

    Fantastic! Donaldson Tan has uploaded videos of the Mandarin forum on his site NewAsiaRepublic, complete with English translations.
    .
    Part 1:
    http://newasiarepublic.com/?p=26629
    .
    Part 2:
    http://newasiarepublic.com/?p=26648
    .
    Part 3:
    http://newasiarepublic.com/?p=26690

  9. 10 ted 4 April 2011 at 15:09

    Regarding medical tourism, let’s just say that any foreigner who are able to pay will be able to use our public hospital resources. Anecdotal illustration: round 2003 or 2004, when my late father was hospitalized in SGH for liver cancer. He was warded in B1 (4 bed ward) – very fortunate because of him working in a government related job that still have some decent medical benefits. There was an Indonesian man who was also warded – he had came directly over from Indonesia after suffering from some acute condition (can’t recall now).

  10. 11 Protons 4 April 2011 at 18:26

    Agree with the overall assessment of the English forum. As for the Chinese, I feel all three Opposition candidates raised & put forth very strongly on the hot topics issues but they have missed out the chance to rebut PAPs on some issues.

    1) NSP – Didn’t look like is taking a leadership stance, in fact at one point, he listed out his wish-lists to the ruling party. Akin to asking for your HQ/Emperor the permission to support those issues you’ve just raised on behalf of the citizens, instead of demonstrating that as a party they want to lead and represent voters. Makes you wonder if they’re in it to win or just a seat to make some noise? Still, he put up his points forcefully.

    2) WP – Like their english counterpart, Gerald, stucked to the consistent script that WP is best positioned to be the alternative party “in the event that PAP failed”. That’s like telling Japan TEPCO that they should be trained as suicide group to be the rescue squad team ready for standby in case a meltdown(1 in 50yrs chance) in catastrophic form might happens. I think they need to evaluate that stance again. Isn’t it far more convincing to say that We don’t need to wait for a nuclear meltdown to happen to prepare ourselves as a viable alternative government that is as good to take over at any time? The same analogy could have been used to counter-Lim Swee Say’s argument that as long as PAP consistently import/renew its best talents then SGP will never fail. He forgets that best talents does not always want to or need to work for PAP. IF every best talents decide to join IBM, the world would never have Oracle, HP,SAP, Microsoft to allow people equally good, if not better choiices. Talents can work for #2 or #3 and form a viable force too. Haven’t they heard the old saying “As No 2, we try harder”. Avis eventually took over Hertz.

    3) RP posed a direct question to LSS, on why minimal wages cannot be implemented. LSS gave the same argument that it would result in loss of jobs as employers will find workers expensive blah blah blah. Again, this is chicken-egg argument, and treating the symtoms rather than getting to the root cause. Here’s a good article by Flaneurose which I won’t repeat. http://flaneurose.blogspot.com/2011/01/governments-argument-against-minimum.html . I think Alec Toh although very articulative, missed out on a chance to counter his opponent.

    4) Sam Tan of PAP used an analogy of a hand & its 5 figures. The problem with that is PAP is always thinking that they are the first thumb, giving themselves the thumbs up consistently. They forgot the rest of the 2/3/4/5th fingers that also have a functional purpose, together is what makes the hand works. On that same argument, we the voters can see how the 2/3/4/5th fingers (ie Opposition parties) can make a whole – using all the sum of the parts. And THAT IS precisely what Singapore needs.

    5) Lim Swee Say stressed the need to increase salary & job security so people can meet the rising inflation. But non of the opposition parties has asked him – how in the world would workers have “job security” when they are faced with “cheaper foreign talents” that kept “suppressing wages” by that same policies created by PAP?
    Missed Opportunity.

    6) According to Tharman, we have only 2% unemployment. According to LSS, we have full employment. Go figure.

  11. 12 vince 4 April 2011 at 18:56

    A ploy to strengthen the image of the PAP at the expense of the opposition parties?

    If it were going to be beneficial to the opposition, I doubt the debate would have taken place – CNA (and for that matter the Singapore media as a whole) has never been sympathetic towards the opposition!

    Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Josephine Teo are heavyweights who can project themselves very well in public.

    But the same cannot be said of all the opposition members. So imho, the debate has done more harm than good to the opposition (as a whole).

  12. 13 T 5 April 2011 at 00:02

    I thought that this TV debate was more favourable for the opposition because

    a) it gave them the chance to test their public-speaking skills and assert their (party) opinions on a platform they ordinarily would not have had access to

    b) swing voters (with no strong preference for any particular party) would have had tasted the changes in Singapore under PAP governance in recent years. They would then be able to compare their life experiences with the (standard) answers given by the PAP candidates and their validity in this debate. Subsequently, they may not stay neutral and will form a decision on whom to vote for.

    c) The Straits Times had an article (dated 4/4/2011) proposing several types of Gen-Y people based on a few characteristics such as their engagement with politics, feelings towards foreigners, sentiments of Singapore’s future, etc.

    The ST’s categorization of youths aside, I thought that this TV debate would have an effect on the youth vote that is more favorable to the opposition because even the dreams and recreational activities of youths e.g. those relating to the freedom of expression (which have nothing to do with politics) would/will be constricted by the PAP growth-governance model. Youths who watched the debate out of curiosity might not have felt much about it, but they might be starting to think more (and more deeply) about their futures in Singapore.

    Then again, this is only conjecture and the youth vote remains a relatively under-studied issue amid a lot of current buzz centered on younger people being “soft” nowadays.
    Link: http://news.xin.msn.com/en/article-commented.aspx?cp-documentid=4746096

    I end with the following quote from an anonymous person

    From Anonymous:
    “I find it funny that the new Opposition candidates are the one pitting against the old/experienced ruling candidates. Where are the new PAP candidates? Are we not selecting and judging them too? They just hind behind the coattails of the GRCs. Why not field Ms Tin. I would like to see how a young minster wannabe deserves to get into this parliament on her own merit or mettle as she herself said it.”

    3/4/11 13:32
    Source: http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=16821129&postID=3472639095499567712

    Interestingly, inexperience in a new candidate like Ms Tin is valued as a “novelty” in bridging the relations between the PAP and youths, while inexperience in that of opposition parties having no track record of governance is brandished as undeserving of even receiving a chance to serve. The very chance that the PAP is hoping for Singaporeans to give Ms Tin.

    Opposition parties would do well to seek out such contradictions from the incumbency and flesh them out, especially for political platforms such as this TV debate where time is even more of a luxury than it already is.

  13. 14 Gazebo 5 April 2011 at 00:32

    i am sickened at the thought that Vincent and Soon Juan’s good work may have been undone by Lina Chiam’s truly cringeworthy moments.

    i like to apologize to YB and other readers here for my previous calls for a unified opposition front before. indeed, we MUST make distinctions between the various opposition parties. i finally see the need.

    • 15 Sean Lit 12 April 2011 at 12:19

      While I agree that Vincent looks and sounds like a viable opposition candidate, I cannot agree that Chee Soon Juan has done any good work.

      The only “GOOD” work he has done is to bite the hand that feed him by kicking out Chiam.

  14. 16 recruit ong 5 April 2011 at 10:00

    hi gazebo, a united opposition front is only necessary if the oppositions are individually or collectively strong enough to outright win and form garment on their own. currently this is not the case.

    so for now as long as the oppo can avoid 3 corner fights, that is unity enough.

  15. 17 glowsh@hotmail.com 5 April 2011 at 12:17

    Many Singaporeans, more specifically Singaporean voters, see this debate as a useful platform to gather their thoughts on who and what our opposition parties are made of, what are their alternatives, their manifesto (or part of it) etc, etc, etc…

    I came away with the below opinion:

    PAP – they performed creditably as expected. although I was a little surprised that Josephine is that eloquent and comfortable in front of the TV. But then again, I shouldn’t have been, this being the PAP.

    WP (Gerald Giam) – I am most impressed among all the opposition parties present. It worked for me and I believed for many, if not most Singaporeans. Why? They chose a young, articulate rep, whose style is non-combative, has a clean image and who carried himself politely and professionally. WP wanted to connect with the young and educated voters. This is what most Singaporeans (more specifically Singaporean voters who want an alternative voice in parliament) hope to see in the opposition camp. Perception is most important and the WP got it better than the rest. *I am 47 yrs old.

    SDP (Dr Vincent) – Some voters (especially the hard-core type) will like him because he sort to put a spanner between the cogs with his clever retorts. It would have come out more convincing to me if he managed his style better. But not many voters will like his confrontational style. He came across to me like he tried too hard to appear and talk tough. By sitting in a somewhat slouching position, he projected an image of disrespect, which did not resonate well with me. He deliberately (in my opinion), misrepresented the 40% figures on the GST and believed hot-blooded viewers would be hoodwinked. That, to me was very low and put a major dent to the integrity of his character. It was similar to the James Gomez case.

    SDA (Nazem Suki) – He was difficult to understand because he was not as fluent as the above 2 above party reps. But he put across some useful pointers such as targeted sector for foreign workers intake and putting more effort into helping the poor. But about giving a voice or platform for Sinaporeans to air their grouses was somewhat vague and questionable.

    SPP (Lina Chiam) – The most disappointing and personally for her, very damaging. She spoke on television and said it was an opportunity for voters in general and more sepcifically Potong Pasir residents to know her better, yet she came so unprepared and were caught “sleeping on the job”. Her suggesstions were mostly so general that one could hardly understand what she or her party stood for. That was absolutely disappointing given that she understood voters were eagerly waiting to see and hear from her.

    I would wager that Potong Pasir is already lost whether she or any other SPP members stood there. In fact, I would think even if Mr Chiam See Tong were to change his mind and stand in Potong Pasir again, the margin will really be too close to call this time.

    • 18 Gazebo 5 April 2011 at 23:28

      how exactly did vincent “hoodwink” you?
      the point vincent was making is that GST HURTS the lower-middle class more than the upper class. it has nothing to do with the total collection amounts. if you don’t understand this, go read an economics textbook.

      • 19 yawningbread 6 April 2011 at 12:05

        glowsh did submit a comment in reply to the above. However, the reply re-asserted that Vincent Wijeysingha (“knew that by twisting his words”) deliberately did so. This is exactly the kind of comment that does not pass muster with my Comment Guidelines, which is why you don’t see it here. It is an assertion of fact (in this case, arguably a partisan assertion) without offering any evidential basis. It does not even pass muster with any minimum standard of intelligent enquiry.

  16. 20 K Das 5 April 2011 at 17:47

    (Earlier posting of the same did not appear, hence this repeat)

    Hi Alex, I for one agree 100% with your assessment of the TV pre-election debate (?) between PAP and select Opposition parties.

    The moderator was reasonably fair and pretty good. Tharman and Josephine knew the issues well, had the facts at their finger tips and articulated them superbly well. They were composed and gentlemanly, willingly perhaps, so as to make their opponents feel comfortable and not intimidated.

    For the Opposition Vincent shined best and given longer time, I suspect, he would have done even better.

    Giam appeared condescending and as you had pointed out, he had kept too close to the Party script, thus depriving himself the free will to engage and reflect his thoughts on fundamental issues.

    We should not be too harsh on Nazem Suki and Lina Chiam. The occasion – probably their first time exposure to such a platform – perhaps overwhelmed them. I think they did their best.

    The HDB issue was merely touched upon by the Opposition figures over things like the flats being over priced and long waiting queues for young people wanting flats. Nazem made an excellent point by calling for HDB to be operated like a public interest body to benefit the people and not as a commercial one to make enormous profit at the expense of people. Other points that could have been raised are: Do people really own the flat they buy which they service almost their life-time with monthly payments? Technically are they not sitting there on time specified lease paying what really is a monthly rental? Since the occupier has no strata title to claim as co-owner of the land and the common areas, why he has to pay property tax for the flat and ground he does not own or co-own? People of course made money by selling their flats for good profits but this was before. Now you can hardly make this amount of profit by selling your flat, what more with so many restrictions put in place to thwart you making money and your next flat to buy, costing a bomb.

    • 21 yawningbread 5 April 2011 at 21:41

      Next article is about pricing of housing, when I will argue that the entire system — and the entire market — is utterly delusional.

      • 22 prettyplace 5 April 2011 at 22:21

        great, will be waiting for it patiently.
        There are so many holes, at times its scary to think far on what is going to happen.

        If most flats which have about the same age needs the SERs programme. How is the govt going to bear it and who is going to pay.
        Then about value, older flats are already an outcast with banks. What would happen to those who have paid such a bomb and just expect to stay in the flat without their cpfs.

        Aiyo.

  17. 23 David 5 April 2011 at 21:16

    I thought it was very tactical of WP to field Gerald Giam (an assistant Webmaster) for the debate. His job was a simple one – to state WP’s positions with regards to the issues raised – and not to impress.

    Why risk a debate with Tharman, a minister no less, in a public forum just before the election?

  18. 24 Power 6 April 2011 at 11:43

    Althought Lina don’t speak well. She is the down to earth person who listen.

    We do not need a parliament full of elite MPs who are deaf and shut up all the noise.

  19. 25 Angela 6 April 2011 at 16:24

    Hi Alex,

    You said: “(Tharman) could have gone for the jugular over Chiam’s point by making a distinction between medical tourism in private hospitals and a quite separate issue of public-sector healthcare, showing the SPP as a muddled-headed lot.”

    I want to point out that medical tourism affects public hospitals as well. In fact, there is a partnership between STB, EDB and IES called Singapore Medicine whose sole job is to encourage medical tourism to Singapore. And from its webpage here (http://www.singaporemedicine.com/hcp/hcp1.asp), NUH and Khoo Teck Puat hospitals are being advertised to the foreign tourists.

    • 26 yawningbread 6 April 2011 at 18:20

      Even so, do we put medical tourists in the subsidised wards? If public hospitals earn revenue by serving full-paying foreign patients, isn’t it helpful to their public-sector responsibilities? Alas, I don’t know the exact figures involved, but I encourage all readers to take a critical and nuanced approach to the issue. Things aren’t black and white, good and evil. Let’s make clear distinctions in our own minds when we speak about PUBLIC healthcare.

      • 27 Gazebo 6 April 2011 at 23:18

        i don’t think the issue is if the wards are subsidized or not… the fact of the matter is that there is a shortage of public hospital beds… resolving that should be of the highest priority. we should only allow excess hospital beds to be used for other purposes such as medical tourism.

      • 28 yawningbread 6 April 2011 at 23:53

        Then you’ll have to find evidence to contest Tharman’s (or was it Josephine Teo’s) claim that hospital beds have an 85-percent occupancy rate.

  20. 29 Gazebo 7 April 2011 at 06:27

    this is proof of bed shortage.
    http://yoursdp.org/index.php/news/singapore/3332-bed-crunch-in-singapore-forces-hospitals-to-put-patients-in-corridors-

    besides bed occupancy, we are also devoting precious resources in terms of doctor and other nursing professionals’ time and expertise to foreign patients, when we are already facing shortages for these professionals?!

    I have also heard anecdotes from doctors in singapore, which suggests that medical tourism in Singapore has resulted in a system where doctors view serving foreign patients as a reward for moving up the career ladder. this is because as far as I have heard, doctors are allowed to profit-share for revenues collected from foreign patients. as such senior doctors hog the foreign patients while leaving locals to less senior doctors.

    i cannot personally vouch for the truth of the matter. however if it is, it is a most sick and foul perversion of the system, where local patients are essentially discriminated in their own home country. our most experienced and skilled physicians are gearing up to serve the foreign patients, while locals are left with the less experienced residents and housemen.

  21. 30 The Pariah 8 April 2011 at 01:58

    Medical tourism in Singapore is NOT just for private hospitals.

    John Hopkins is embedded within Tan Tock Seng Hospital and taps on TTSH’s shared resources.

    All restructured hospitals, esp at A Class wards and – according to the posting by Ted, 4 Apr at 1509 hours – even B1 wards.

    Definitely, Khaw Boon Wan’s mission to make Singapore a Global Medical Tourism Hub is part of his GDP Growth KPI. One sick Arab brings 5 more family members here to stay at St Regis, shop at Gucci, etc.

    That’s why Medisave withdrawal is relaxed to allow Singaporeans to go overseas for “elective surgeries” whilst Singapore aspires to be a Global Medical Tourism Hub.


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