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32 years of neglect of the aged in Singapore and we can change it

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By: Tan Jee Say

It is unusual for Ms Chua Mui Hoong to complain about the government but on Sunday she did. In an an article titled ‘When I’m 64…what kind of Singapore can I grow old in?“, she wrote: “What I find frustrating whenever we discuss ageing issues is that there has been so much talk over the last 20 years, and not enough action.”

I have a longer memory (yes, I am older) and wouldn’t be so kind to the government.

Ageing issues were first raised by the government in 1984, so we have had more than 32 years not 20 of neglect of the aged. I should know as I was secretary of the Committee on the Problems of the Aged and I wrote the 1984 report which was widely discussed in all the newspapers. Similar committees were also formed in subsequent years with familiar proposals for action. And after so many years, we are still talking about them and asking when will these fruition. As Ms Chua rightly put it : “Each cycle of talk-explore-no-action means another generation of average workers will lead harder lives in old age. Will this time be different?”

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But she thinks it is too late for her and her age group, “I have seven years before I hit 55…that is barely time to operationalise…” I disagree.

She has more than enough time but she and her fellow voters must pound on it hard from now till the next general election which is less than 7 years away. Let me explain.

At a dialogue organised by the EDB Society last November, Mr Goh Chok Tong commented on the government “becoming too populist and giving away too much” (ST, 27 Nov 2015). He said, “LKY’s style was to give away bit by bit, because there’s no end to what people want,” (which explains why there has been too little welfare for Singaporeans including the aged all these years of PAP rule).

Mr Goh continued, “If you give all at one time and have nothing else to give, that’s when they kick you out. And this time the government is giving a lot.”

Why has the government changed from “giving bit by bit” to “giving a lot”? The answer is obvious, it was afraid of being “kicked out” in the GE 2015 and their fear was very real after the huge swing to the opposition in the 2011 GE.

Now that the PAP has achieved a big swing back to its favour giving it a very comfortable buffer, will it revert to the old habit of “giving bit by bit”? It will if voters become complacent, stop complaining about their neglect and do not ask for their legitimate due.

To get the PAP to do the right thing for us, voters must maintain the pressure on them by giving a strong vote to the opposition at the next GE. Remember, your right to vote is your power to change. Exercise your right effectively and vote wisely.

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