Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recession pain...where....?

The other day while having lunch with a young colleague, he told me frankly that he couldn't figure why people made such a big deal out of this recession. The shopping centers are packed with people because of the Great Singapore Sale, the recent PC Show chalked up record revenues and people who have been waiting at the side to buy property and cars came out in droves as the prices fell. Recession what recession? If you're lucky enough to have a secure job, little financial obligations and plenty of cash in he bank, you can go through this recession unscathe and for many people when they are alright....everything in the world a-okay....they can't see the pain because they are unaware of it. The other I was listening to 93.8Live and Talkback had discussion about the GSS - whether we should all be spending money during the recession or we should cut down. A young woman called up to say that there are no poor people in Singapore because the govt gives everyone at least a 3-room so we should all go out and spend more more during the GSS. I don't think she is so naive to think the govt "gives" these flats free of charge - she probably meant to say that 3 room flats are so affordable everyone can afford one so we should not worry to much and go out to spend. If you don't really care, you can actually live in your own little corner of Singapore without being bothered by what goes on elsewhere in Singapore.

"1998 to 2005, when an estimated 126,000 people in Singapore were laid off and forced to sell their flats when they could not meet their mortgages" - Straits Times 20 June 2009[Link]


When I was in secondary school, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to go to his home located about half a kiliometer from mine. I had been aware of the row of rental 1-room flats but had never gone into one. When I got there, there was this strong smell of alcohol and urine in the lift. When I got to my friend's place, I realised the 1-room flat actually had no rooms and hardly a kitchen. My friend's family - him, his mom and 3 sisters - were packed into the same space. They optimised the little space with bunk beds. My friend's dad had a heart attack and passed away when he was in primary school and the family descended into poverty. His was a decent family put together in a block with drunks, half-crazy neighbors and gamblers. Clawing their way out of poverty was made harder by the living environment they were in. They got out 10 years later in the 90s when the children grew up and had jobs. One of the 4 children made it to university against the odds. We cannot make everyone rich in our affluent society but there is more we can do to make sure that poverty does not become a vicious cycle. Sometime in the early 90s, it looked like the HDB could tear down all these 1 room flats as we reach for the Swiss standard of living. However, despite the GDP growth of the past 10 years, poverty has made a comeback and these 1-room flats are again offered to Singaporeans who have fallen on hard times. We are supposed to have gotten richer but povery is just painful if not more painful today than it was 2 decades ago.

"I was very scared when police raided the flat opposite mine because the people inside were selling duty-unpaid cigarettes. I often see glue sniffers at the staircases,’ she says.
‘I hear about stabbing cases and there are loan sharks who come regularly to splash paint on doors,’ says the concerned mother, who makes her daughter stay with a family member on weekdays.
‘I tried complaining to the town council about the rubbish and inconsiderate actions since I moved in. But it still happens,’ he says with a sigh.
They also point to the drunks, drug abusers and loan sharks who occasionally lurk in the stairwells. To avoid trouble, many residents just padlock their doors. Even on weekends, when most are home, the corridors of Block 2 are unnervingly silent.
- from article "Old Block, New Faces", Straits Times 20 June 2009.

If you go to Orchard Road today, you will see thousands of shoppers many carrying multiple bags from various brand name shops and see the long queue of people outside Tung Luk or Crystal Jade whose problem is they have money to spend but just can't get a seat at these restaurants. But for every Singaporean shopping at Orchard today, there are 10 that you don't see who don't have money to shop. Many will move down the economic ladder during this recession and add to the numbers from the previous 2 recessions. The problem is the way down and the way back up is asymmetric - without social safety nets in place, it is harder for family to climb back up. The insistence that those who have fallen economically(sometimes through no fault of their own) have to be made to suffer and live in degraded environments will disadvantage the children in the family. 30 years ago, the reason to not to help the poor was that we lived in a poor country that cannot afford it....30 years later, the govt is rich but poverty is a growing problem among Singaporeans and the solution is still the same old 1-room flats, piecemeal assistance and the suffering of the poor is no less today than what it was in the past. Today, Singapore has resources to do more yet the PAP govt choose go for a minimalist approach so long as the suffering is silent and invisible, the PAP govt will see no urgency to do something very different from what they have done.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Our MPs and scholars have no real idea what it is like to be poor. They craft policies and treat all people not related to them as dispensable numbers, not human beings.

I will never forgive minister vivian for mocking the poor in parliament, when he was requested to provide more aid for the poor.

Anonymous said...

Lucky, the way I see there are many faces to the situation.

:: Recession. Well there are just too many theorists saying what happens to the US must happen here. They read too much US-based news.

Just to back up a bit what I said: The local banks have minimal exposure to the US structured products, the debt-ridden issue is US in nature although that culture is catching up here thanks to PAP's policies.

The financial scams such as sub-prime & unreliable structured financial products are also largely American in locale, although Lehman Brothers mini-bonds did hit thousands of Asians as well.

:: Buying Spree. If you have visited the IT exhibition at Suntec you will laugh at the idea of recession. The halls are so packed and the business is so brisk, you have to inch your way around much of the time.

IT products are now essentials of life and there are bargains there, so why not snatch the opportunity?

:: Great Singapore Sale. How well are retailers really performing?

Orchard Road for instance is nowadays so packed with people you would think business must be damn good.

Frankly I don't know. The local news reports are not always reliable; there are many arm-chair journalists in the local papers. They don't really check out the facts properly and they sometimes report nothing but falsehoods. I always take what they report with a large pinch of salt.

:: Baby Boomers. Currently most of the baby boomers have some life savings and have already paid up their HDB flats. If their children are already working, they don't require much to survive. So the financial pressure on them is not so high YET, unless if they are to fall ill and then the medical expenditure will be a load to take, given the uncontrolled healthcare costs in Singapore.

:: Baby Boomers' children. They are either holding jobs and earning enough for themselves but not too much. If they are doing well, they are probably married or planning to.

The burden of paying for their 4 or 5 room HDB flat or even condo has not hit home yet if everything goes as planned - no job loss within the next 20 or 30 years, they continue to be healthy, who can guarantee that!

But the some $500K or more (bank interest considered) they have to pay over their lifetime just for a HDB flat should not be something to take lightly. When they have children, they will feel the burden.

In all it is also a case of Present vs the Future. What does the forseeable future has in store for Singaporeans? This need not be speculative; just need to do the sums and one will know.

Anonymous said...

That is fine.
I see unrest building up in USA, Europe, China Wun Nan etc. Then I realized that only revolt on the ground can demolish the PAP.
We need that while PAP burns its fingers playing with Western Banks.

Anonymous said...

we don't have many third world type of poor people here. that kind of "poverty" is easily addressed if the country is rich and tiny and lucky

however,we have many "systemic poor" amongst us.

they're are being made poor,not because they are "poor".

know the difference lah

Anonymous said...

The crowds at GSS, queues outside restaurants, buy cars and property etc are the 66% who voted PAP at every election.

So you see majority (66%) are OK. In 1 man 1 vote system, majority wins.

The rest not OK? As long as they don't protest or riot in large numbers then it is Ok. Isolated incidents like burn MP, threaten MP, throw chair at MP session or Chee Soon Juan's less than 20 people protests no big deal. Just leave it to police and court.

And so far so good. And for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

the weather is hot that's why the economy is "hot". LOL

WL said...

Its true that for some, there is NO recession and this is more so for those who are financially strong. However, I do find that business at cheap food stalls are not doing as well.

Anonymous said...

I walked into the car showroom and stumbled upon many shoppers.


I concluded. We are indeed a resilient and wealthy people.

Bless the gods and our leaders.

Anonymous said...

'We don't have many third world type of poor people here...'

Exactly. And I now understand why some people prefer doing charity overseas, in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Tibet etc. I used to be cynical, but after being there, I appreciate their effort. It really opened my eyes.

Here we talk about GSS, PC shows etc despite the downturn. There they worried about having enough to eat. It is a world of extreme differences.

Lost Citizen

Anonymous said...

i am impressed with our young reporters.

they are....such impressionable children. :)

Anonymous said...

Singapore needs its very own Obama, someone who is not born into privileged conditions and grew up knowing what it is like to struggle and to be poor. Only then will Singapore has a govt that truly looks after the interests of every citizen, not just businesses and the rich.

Anonymous said...

there is an old saying...you keep looking up to people ....end up, you are not people

Onlooker said...

Unfortunately, There are people who are still blind to poverty here.
So while they donate to those TV charity show to make themselves feel good, they forget there are people who have fallen into hard times and cannot afford the high cost of living that is made worst by the implementation of GST and the ever increasing transport fare.
But what is happening now is exactly like the part in "Animal farm" where the "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS."
And there will always be people(sheep) who says "Four leg good,two leg bad"

Anonymous said...

Very good writeup.

And yeah..itz hard for young people to understand poverty since they neber been thru it.

And the only "recession" period they went thru....is when they missed the launch of iphone, LV or macbook...thatz the only time they comprain abt "recession".

Anonymous said...

it's combrain, not comprain!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

A MIW had says that we die is our business. We, pleasants, are digits, whimers, ets in the eye of the MIW.

Their concern is how much monies they can make, where is their next cooking lession, where is the next best place to buy another houses.

As what many olde generation says, the MIW of today are worst than the older generation.

There are too many repressed angers in many people. One day, it will explode.

Anonymous said...

Educate him. Let him understand that when he has reached his 40s, he is running a high risk of being replaced by gahman's foreign talent.

Anonymous said...

its edukate, not educate!

Anonymous said...

Rhetorical force is not part of the propositional content that it expresses:rather, it is the emotive or otherwise suggestive window dressing which surrounds the proposition and is used to persuade us to believe or do something.

Anonymous said...

Anon @8:12pm

beri chiam. Can anyone enlighten others?

Anonymous said...

Why should PAP help you?

PAP don't help you, you still too ball-less to vote them out!

If it were me, I would also gladly kick you in the balls and tell you to fvck out of my elite, uncaring face!

Anonymous said...

wah..in the news reel...you know...reel??

our rich ministers giving away monies to the needy

i am touche. very touche.

Anonymous said...

Lucky,

Every country has its poor segments of the population. Isn't idealistic of you to expect everyone to be well-to-do in Singapore? At least our poor are housed in proper flats with basic utility (compared to slumps in some other countries eg. India). Are you being realistict? Really wanna hear your views.

p/s: this is a serious question for you... note I'm not one of those pro-govt who try and sound clever here :)

Anonymous said...

anon@7:30 PM

You are spot on...GSS & IT shows, those that are buying are youngsters in their 20s to early 30s...when biological clock tick close to 40 yrs old...that's where 'recession' gotta hit...you are at the peak of debt (eg, children education, medical cost as you aged, housing,etc) Once you are out of job, that's it...

Anonymous said...

Younger Singaporeans aged 20 - 35 just won't understand yet. Can't blame them because they've grown up as frogs in wells.

Give it 2 more years when the economy is in the worst longkang drain and most of them have lost their jobs :)

ambitious preteen said...

i am 12, saving for retirement already

i figure, if i put a dollar away, by the time i reached 55, i can kick back and enjoy my sunset years in one of gahmen rental flat.

keeping finger cross

Anonymous said...

What recession? Last weekend launch of 8@woodleigh saw an overwhelming take up rate. Long queues and many buyers...just like the Alexis at Alexander.

Ghost said...

Come on people, you can't blame the PAP for this. How is it their fault when Singaporeans have a 'don't think about it' view on the poor in Singapore. You see the poor selling tissue along the street and you know they are poor, but how many of us will actually buy a pack tissue from them to help out. I don't believe Lucky that your young colleague has never seem those old folks or handicapped persons selling tissues; it’s more a case that he/she never thought of them. He/she like most Singaporeans don't like to think of the poor because we all want to think of ourselves as rich and successful. Empathy is something that comes from within, it isn’t something you should ask a government to teach

Anonymous said...

record sales at IT shows .. part of this could be due to the increasing number of foreigners..

Anonymous said...

I dont think Lucky was denying there will always be poor people in every country; what he is saying is that this govt has not institutionalized a system to help the poor but has actually created systemic poverty as Anon 2:24 PM also pointed out.

The latter assertion might sound rather radical but I think there is truth in that statement.

How so?

Can't you see that the PAP through monopoly and oligopoly on services and goods - essential and non-essential in kinds like public housing, power, water (several thousands percent in profit) taxis, commercial properties like shopping centres, consumer goods via NTUC Fairprice (earn 7% profit vs 3% for cooperatives in other countries), exorbitant traffic summons, COEs, ERP levies - has been raising cost of living unreasonably.

At the same time, PAP depresses wages like turning a blind eye to rampant unpaid overtime, encourage big employers to break their past collective agreements in the area of retrenchment benefits, freeze wages at will, and runs the only labour movement in Singapore.

Lucky has laboured to address some of these issues in the past.

Why are some readers still not understanding what he is saying?

Listen even compassion should be institutionalized in the form of social welfare.

Helping the poor should not just be a matter of a individual whims and fancy. Society must institutionalize such help. Hence state or social welfare. That's what a govt is for to establish institution where there is a need in society.

For example, education is a societal need hence there are schools. People to run public services are needed by society, hence we have civil service. Defending the nation is a need, so we have the army, navy so forth.

But when it comes to social welfare, the PAP wants the people to look after this because PAP wants to free itself of this duty for which it was elected to do.

PAP goes around to the religious organisations and other VWOs and instructs them to start welfare programs like old folks homes. When they are not ready or refuse, their properties are taken over by the PAP at a low price using reasons like the MRT will be tunneling under Mt Sophia so you better move out. That kind of thing.

The trouble is Singaporeans by and large do not know what is going behind the scene. The victimized organisation dare not speak out too much on these things, let alone the mass media if they are informed at all.

Suppose you have a handicapped person at home whom you have cared for life and then someday you cannot anymore because you are aged, become sick or injured yourself. Then you look for a place to house this handicapped person but we cannot find one that you can afford because there is no govt-supported welfare homes.

You won't know this until say a aged parent who is very sick and you lack the funds to employ a maid to look after him/her.

Some men/women have thus struggled to look after their needy parents, siblings and sacrifice the best part of their lives this way.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7.49 pm

Yes, agreed PAP do not help the poor better. It's terrible if you are left out by the PAP.

But most important is PAP help the majority, about 66%.

That's why even the opposition gave up with 50% walkovers. And together with the 66% mandate, PAP has 98% of the seats.

This is what really matters. And to pity them, PAP even willing to give 9 NCMPs to those loser opposition candidates for next election!

Anonymous said...

I believe that the most relistic/objective way to assess whether it is worthwhile for SDP,WP,SPP,and the newly formed Reform Party to join into the fray is to look at the monthly houshold income survey & the national nt worth analysis and do an realistic analysis whether indeed there are a large no of neglected citizens among us.

If as some writers speculate:There are indeed no/few poor people in Singapore,then I really feel pity for Dr Chee and the likes,why waste a useful and productive life to catch some shadows which are not really there.

They should do a realistic/objective analysis,it is more for their sake that I have in mind and I think they are worthy people.

Anonymous said...

The PAP plays it this way: Keep information about the suffering S'poreans out of the limelight. Ensure that they are a minority - 10, 20%.

Just look after the rest because that's all it needs to stay in power.

It does'nt mean that the rest are having it very good. Everytime you upgrade a bit, PAP having all the statistics will suck up the excess so that in the end the majority is just "boleh tahan". Like the Chinese saying "Got food to eat, got clothes to wear, what else to complain?"

That's a good philosophy to stay happy but remember the PAP guy up there does'nt think this way, that's the problem.

So remember it is "Tak Boleh Tahan" that is the real problem but still "Boleh Tahan" that keeps people putting PAP back in power. SDP better get your perception right before you can tackle PAP more correctly.

Minority & majority does not include of course that the top 10, 15% of the population. These are always untouched by the problems of society; they are mobile, nothing that happens in Singapore will matter to them.

So unless you are in this little high-income group, realize you are just within the power of PAP to manipulate.

PAP no longer works for the people; the people works for PAP.

Can you help it if the contented majority says life is still okay, so why complain, why disrupt the order?

This is the electoral system we have inherited unfortunately. The minority is actually not represented.

Unless the UN or some international body decides someday that such unfair majority rule should be done away with, what do you think can be done?

Anonymous said...

Above statement should read:

"So remember it is NOT "Tak Boleh Tahan" that is the real problem but still "Boleh Tahan" that keeps people putting PAP back in power."

Anonymous said...

Lucky for MP!!! We need more compassionate people like Lucky to represent the people.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:55 PM

The current batch of "policy makers" are all soul-less and devoid of critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

'But for every Singaporean shopping at Orchard today, there are 10 that you don't see who don't have money to shop.'

I noticed that on weekends, for every one Singaporean, there are at least five to six foreginers. Hence creating the false impression of buying frenzy among Singaporean.

It is actually quite hard to tell them apart,except for the time they start to talk, then you will discover Indonesias, Malaysians, Thais, Vietnamese, Korean, China chineses etc.

Anonymous said...

my guts tell me we don't have leaders who are willing to sacrifice for the good of the people

however, they do talk about sacrifices for the people such as...

....giving a lucrative medical business for lower income in ministerial office etc or...

....during a recession like this,shave off a couple of percent of their huge salary that kind of thing

you need REAL SACRIFICES which requires a reevaluation of our value and reward system to bring stability and long term peace to ordinary people lives

that is clearly lacking in ALL our leadership.

No guts,no glory. No one dare DIE to take us to the next stage!

Anonymous said...

....giving UP a lucrative medical business for lower income in ministerial office etc or..

(error above corrected - in capital letter).

Anonymous said...

tsk tsk tsk..."good people" want big bucks. with big bucks come big headaches for small people.

shit leadership i call that

Anonymous said...

leadership that goes where the money is will bring UNNECESSARY hardship to the people

they create or design a system that inflict sufferings and carnage to families and society and robbing them of their souls then...elevate their social status by playing the role of ...philanthropists, saviors, robinhood, captain SIN of the world blah blah blah...

..i say,,,,FUCK YOU!

Anonymous said...

PAP can and will stay in power in years to come.

They just found themselves many supporters in those "new" citizens of Singapore.

so its not all all 2 legs are bad.

You need fresh new chickens to lay eggs for you rite?

Who says citizenship cannot be outsourced ?

Anonymous said...

They do not comprehend "FUCK YOU".

Try.... Thank You.

Anonymous said...

2008 Mar 8 GE results showed that one party (BN) majority ruled not forever.

2008 US financial crisis exposed Temasek in losing tons of our taxpayers' monies with no accountability.

2008 MSK escape accountability not needed in our Home Team.

2008 Jurong GRC Bukit Batok (BB) ward by-election not required. To be fair to BB residents, revert BB to SMC.

Majority of 66% voted in PAP in 2006 GE to be our Govt. PAP has the duty as Govt to take care of all citizens especially the poor and needy ones, and to upgrade all oppositions' flats unconditionally.

PAP MPs and ministers were voted in or "walked over", to serve the people, not to be served by the people.

aiyah said...

The poor do not mingle with the can-afford-it in Orchard Rd. They are usually behind some alleys collecting cardboard boxes and aluminium cans or resting inside a janitor's closet.

Anonymous said...

You know what Lucky, our government should get the best director and best picture award at the Oscars. Nowhere in the world will you see such a show of plentyful, success and luxury. Its all a facade.Not only have they managed to full others but the majority of the population as well. Everything is what we call a "maya" an illusion