Scratch the surface of the picturesque landscape of Singapore, another story of this nation appears. The story about how the under privilege are struggling with their daily lives, struggling to make ends meet and struggling to put food on the table.
Recently, there was report that talked about how 1000 Singaporeans are left homeless in their old age. These are people who have fallen through the cracks – long forgotten, just another digit to be tracked in our otherwise technocratic government.
At The Independent, we receive letters from Singaporeans, middle aged citizens who are left behind because they’ve lost their jobs to a foreigner; have been displaced because of globalisation and modernisation; or simply, they do not have the skills to compete effectively in an ultra-competitive-economy. Yet, our city planners think that the best pathway for Singapore is to bring on-board more new citizens to bolster our competitiveness.
Can this work for us? Is life all about material achievement without due regard for what our peers are going through. Are our downtrodden a faceless bunch that the government has chosen to ignore?
These are questions that we ask ourselves – what I’m saying here is not new – It is discussed widely in forums and civil societies. I recently attended a lecture and the speaker had 130 slides on the rent seeking behavior of Singapore government. For those who are not familiar with this term, rent seeking refers to the methods through which the government extracts “economic rent” out of the people.
And chronic rent seeking leads to an imbalance of wealth, where over time, the government enriches its coffers at the expense of people. And as Alan Greenspan has said, chronic surpluses make an economy less innovative
Unknown to most people, the government measures its efficiency by its ability to collect revenues. So an efficient government can extract monies easily and it has the laws and the various agencies to enforce it. In Singapore, this culture has become ingrained in us. We are a “fine-city,” they say.
Our civil servants no longer stop to think about the plight of the poor, or if the person on the other side is going through a rough patch.
If you can’t pay, you are the bad guy. Because, from young we are told that if your’re hardworking and diligent, you will be rewarded. Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, that premise is no longer true. We are in a globalised world where we are competing with people with a different set of values and the starting lines to the race is no longer the same.
Some of them have a head-start and if you’re not so fortunate and happen to fall behind, you’ll find that people around you are just conditioned to carry out orders. They do not apply their wit, they do not have empathy and they see you as a mere economic digit from which they are told to extract.
The results slip saga is one such incident, where the poor and disadvantaged are pushed back further, they are bullied and told that they are penalised for being poor. It is one area where our rich and poor collide, the cul de sac for the poor where their fates are decided. It almost feels like the end of the road for the kids that are starting out in life.
How is this being fair? Is this how we build a democratic society based on justice and equality? I’m afraid not.
Hearing from the grant recipients and their parents, I am shocked to learn that some of them are graduate mothers and pre-school teachers that have fallen on bad times. Pre-school teachers are our nation builders and something is very wrong if we let them fall through the cracks.
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