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Justification for imposing parking fees at schools ‘an insult’ to teachers: MP Seah Kian Peng

SINGAPORE — The use of the clean wage argument to justify imposing parking charges at all schools is “laughable and an insult” to teachers, said Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng, as he called for a rethink on the role of “economic reasoning” in policymaking here.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng argued that, instead of taking the “cheap, efficient and quick” approach, Singapore has to look at what is “fair, just and right” in order to truly tackle inequality and other national issues.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng argued that, instead of taking the “cheap, efficient and quick” approach, Singapore has to look at what is “fair, just and right” in order to truly tackle inequality and other national issues.

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SINGAPORE — The use of the clean wage argument to justify imposing parking charges at all schools is “laughable and an insult” to teachers, said Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng, as he called for a rethink on the role of “economic reasoning” in policymaking here.

“For too long, we have made decisions based more on an economic compass, as if the use of one dollar has the moral equivalence of the loss of another,” he said during the final day of the debate on the President’s Address on Friday (May 18).

While there is a need to regulate the responsible use of funds, fiscal prudence and good procurement, “equally, we ought to be having a conversation about reciprocity, trust and relationships”, he argued.

In March, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that teachers at all national schools and junior colleges will have to pay for parking at school premises from August 1.

The announcement triggered a spirited public discussion, and MOE also said in response to media queries that it has “become increasingly clear that the current treatment of allowing school staff to park for free constitutes a taxable benefit”.

MOE explained that the “vast majority of school car parks are located near chargeable car parks and the car parks are intended for the use of staff and authorised visitors, with no access given to the general public”. “As such, in line with (the Public Service Division’s) clean wage policy, an appropriate season parking charge in schools will be imposed,” it added.

On Friday, Mr Seah said the issue “sits uncomfortably” with him.

It was a “mistake” for MOE to see the issue from a “pure economic lens”, he argued.

“Using a clean wage argument implies that all the years of free parking had tarred teachers with an ‘unclean’ wage,” said Mr Seah, adding that teachers are known to give things to their students that “cost them no small amount of money and yet (the value of which) transcends price”.

Pointing out that MOE does not pay for Children’s Day treats or “thumbs-up” stickers stuck on worksheets to encourage children, for example, Mr Seah said the Government’s insistence on a “strict calculus of benefits” — in withdrawing free parking for teachers — results in the loss of “a reciprocity and a give and take”.

He added: “Teachers who have bought their own red pens to mark the test papers of all our children. They do not think: ‘The MOE does not pay for red pens. Let me use instead the whiteboard markers which they do pay for.’ They do not think: ‘I should means test the kids, and give treats only to those who cannot afford it.’”

On the broader front, Mr Seah urged the Ministry of Finance to lead a “reform”, and bring about “an explicit recognition (in the Government) of the limits of price, cost and expenditure as a proxy for value, and to allow for greater use of discretion by public officers in recognising moral reasoning as a legitimate form of argumentation”.

Mr Seah stressed that his call was “not an appeal to populism”. “Rather, it is an appeal to the ideas of justice and community that have informed Singapore policy making at the start of our journey 53 years ago,” he said.

Instead of taking the “cheap, efficient and quick” approach, Singapore has to look at what is “fair, just and right” in order to truly tackle inequality and other national issues, he argued.

“We must… make (the) language of morality our vernacular in policy matters,” Mr Seah said.

He added: “It is time we recognise that money is merely a proxy for value, and at times, a very bad one.”

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