"There is something down the road that we can strive for
We are told no dream's too bold that we can't try for
There's a spirit in the air, it's a feeling we all share
We're going to build a better life, for you and me
We can achieve, we can achieve......"
- Count On Me Singapore[Link]
During my NS days, I had to sing "national songs" every Saturday with my buddies. The feller heading the unit was a very patriotic Singaporean and he sang with the loudest voice. The rest of us were reluctant conscripted choir boys. However, if you keep singing these songs every Saturday for more than a year, they tend to grow on you and the lyrics you can't be bothered with you start to remember. The song "Count On Me, Singapore", tells us to have bold dreams as a nation so that we can build better lives for everyone. If we try hard enough, "we can achieve". As a nation we need a bold dream, because it is bold there will be risks and setbacks but will to try hard to overcome it to build a better life for everyone. That was the "can do" spirit we aspire to have more than 2 decades ago. The events in recent years have reminded me this song I sang as an NS man more than 2 decades ago....I'll tell you why....
A few weeks ago, many Singaporeans suffered losses and great inconvenience due to flash floods in Singapore. The response from the leadership was that Singapore "cannot be floodless" and that every other road has to be converted to a canal if we want a floodless Singapore. That was a very disappointing response to a very serious problem. The leadership has given up even before trying. How do they know that an innovative idea won't be discovered if they invested in a study into the recent floods? Even if we cannot stop all floods, the goal of having a floodless Singapore is a worthy one because as we work towards this bold vision, we will always seek out solutions that will reduce the frequency of flooding. Flooding is just one example of lack of commitment and boldness on the part of the govt tackling problems we faced.
If we keep our current model of economic development, we will continue on this trajectory of rising income gap and declining quality of life for many Singaporeans that we have seen in the past decade. Going forward, the govt has set itself a low hanging goal of increasing the median income by an average of 2.5% per year for the coming decade. This is a meaningless goal because it is not clear if it translate to any rise in the quality of life - housing cost has risen 5% in each of the previous 2 quarters and that alone negates any improvement to affordability of housing for median income families for the next four years based on the 2.5% income increase the govt aims for. When asked about the income gap measured by the GINI Index, our PM trivialized the problem by saying that the GINI index not a good measure of inequality and that the govt has already done "a lot"[Link]. Singapore has the largest income gap among developed nations yet there is a lack of determination in govt to enhance social equity. There has been many ideas suggested including having minimum wages which is implemented in all developed countries except Singapore or restructuring our economy to move away from industries dependent on low wages and so on. However, the govt will not make any bold moves and will continue pursue GDP growth by importing cheap labor. The unequal distribution of wealth has resulted in a large segment of the populace, roughly 30% of households, experiencing decline in living standards in the past decade as Singapore produces the highest number millionaires per capita as wealth distribution has become extremely unequal[link]. This govt has no bold vision to bring about a more equal society and will only make small changes only if it does not compromise its other interests....that is all we can expect if nothing changes.
In healthcare, instead of aiming for universality and affordability, govt policy has shifted the burden of rising costs to Singaporeans through means testing. Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans remain uninsured as cost rises. Capacity has shifted to the private sector as a result of govt aspiration to be a medical hub for the rich in the region to increase profits from the healthcare sector. Govt hospitals are now overcrowded [Link]and the cost of medical care is spiraling up much faster than the median wage. As the cost increase, the Singapore shifts the burden to the sick and their family to keep its expenditure low - the Singapore govt's expenditure as a % of total cost is the lowest among develop countries and ordinary Singaporeans shoulder the highest % of the healthcare costs among developed countries. After Obama pushed through his major healthcare reform billin the US, Singapore became the only developed country without universal healthcare[Link]. We need a bold vision to deliver the high quality care to everyone regardless of income group with less differentiation so that the healthcare does not further exacerbate the inequality that already exist in our society due to the income gap. Overcrowded public hospitals and under-utilised expensive private hospitals for millionaires is not the way to go....but we will certainly have more of that if nothing changes.
Politically, Singapore has become one of the least democratic countries in the region with Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia moving away from one-party or strongman rule to full blown democracy. Singapore continues silence dissenters and keep draconian rules that prevent the emergence of alternative ideas and agents of change. While all these serve to preserve the status quo and the PAP hegemony, its effects goes beyond political realm has resulted in a society that has become apathetic due to fear and lost its ability to innovate its future. We have lost the ability to dream "bold dreams" restricted by rules created by an authoritarian elitist top-down govt that demands obedience. We cannot count on the govt anymore to deliver the changes that result in a "better life for you and me". To achieve that we now have to put aside our fears so that our boldest dreams can come true and that starts with putting in parliament people who share the same dreams who will push for much needed changes that will make your life better.