Parliament: Pritam Singh calls for review of Govt's Covid-19 response, citing confusion over measures

SINGAPORE – Workers’ Party Chief Pritam Singh on Friday (June 5) called for a thorough review and account of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, citing perceptions from some Singaporeans that the rules 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 the 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 to continue, while other beauty procedures which can be completed quickly were not.

Mr Singh said: “For some Singaporean 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, he 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 undermined the national efforts, Mr Singh told Parliament.

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 on Friday.

WP non-constituency MP 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 also 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 underutilisation or other side effects,” said Mr Perera.

“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.”

He 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.

This is not the first time a call for a review has been discussed in the House.

Minister of 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.

“When all this is over, we will certainly look back and learn from the experience,” Mr Wong had said. He also gave his assurance that the Government wants to continue taking feedback and suggestions to improve, and review and learn from the Covid-19 experience.

“I have no doubt that we will find many things where we could have done better, and many changes that we should make to be better prepared the next time.”

WP on Friday also raised questions about fiscal responsibility and reserves.

NCMP Dennis Tan, meanwhile, said measures like the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) 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 by the outbreak.

Mr Tan said: “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.”

He also reiterated a question raised by fellow WP MP Faisal Manap on Thursday, asking if President Halimah Yacob was advised of the total amount in the nation’s reserves before she agreed to allow the reserves to be drawn down to support the Budget.

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