Thursday, April 28, 2011

Change must come soon...

WP Rally – 28 April 2011 (Thursday) 837 Hougang Central
28 April 2011 (Thursday)
Field besides Block 837,
Hougang Central, Singapore 530837
Time: 7.30 PM
Attire: Light Blue Top

Singaporeans across the the island have been politically awoken in different ways. It could be the questions you ask yourself when the aged  and frail cleaner comes to clean your table at the hawker center. Why is he still working at his age? Shouldn't he be resting after a lifetime of work? It could the questions you ask yourself when you visit the home of a younger colleague who got married recently. He has worked as hard as yourself or even harder. Why is his HDB flat so small? Why is it so expensive? It could be the questions you ask yourself when you go to your favorite coffeeshp and find that all the local coffeeshop helpers have been retrenched and replaced by foreigners. What happened to them? What will happen to their families? You may have friends or neighbors who fell ill and fell through the many cracks of our healthcare system and ended up with a 6 digit bill like olympic hero Tan Howe Liang's wife[Link]. How can it be when Khaw keeps insisting that healthcare is affordable? Why do so many Singaporeans have to go to Malaysia for treatment when they fall ill[Link]?

When NSP's Nicole Seah was introduced as a candidate, she told us how she was politically awoken. She was a volunteer delivering food to the needy when she met a woman with a roof over her head but was unable to afford meals. She was okay for that day but how was she going to feed herself the next day?  That was when Nicole realised that we need policies that go down to the root causes and not just depend on organisations to solve the problems. This sentiment is frequently echoed by community volunteers and social workers - many of whom feels strongly that Singapore needs a much better social infrastructure as a developed country.

As we ask ourselves these questions, men and women with conviction, drive and passion have stepped forward and offered to take our voices into parliament. Opposition politics in Singapore is always risky and difficult. Not only will candidates be subjected to highly bias media coverage and a very unlevel playing field, many have suffered harsher actions after election defeats. This election we see an unprecedent number of highly opposition qualified candidates with successful careers and businesses stepping forward. Besides the now famous Chen Show Mao, AskNLearn CEO Yee Jenn Jong has also joined the Workers' Party. In case you don't know what AskNLearn is, grab a primary school kid and ask him ...he should know because AskNLearn's product is used by all primary schools in Singapore. Why have these men stepped forward in such large numbers this time? Because we are running out of time to correct the course this country is on. 4 years ago, many were still harbouring some hope that the PAP will be able to correct itself....but they have not and we have moved further down the path that can only take us to a poorer quality of live...

We know that "asset enhancement" cannot continue forever - it requires our younger generation to take pile up more debt to purchase homes with prices that rise faster than median income - that is unsustainable and they are linking our retirements to an unsustainable idea. Home prices rise by a whopping 59% within 3 years outstripping income growth which is stagnant for a large segment of the population leading to economic risk [Link] ]and risk of default for home buyers[Link]. Minister Mah's idea of a solution to this is to make videos explaining why flats are still affordable with "exceptional' examples:

The little trick here is to choose people who qualify for all the grants buying smaller flats, stretch your home loan longer and choose poorer locations where demand is low - artificially low interest rates also helps. The undeniable mathematical fact is homes today are 59% less affordable than they were just 3 years ago. It is quite ridiculous at this late stage that Minister Mah still wants manufacture propaganda showing that people can still cope after the sharp rise in housing. The basic and simple question is whether these people are better off than if they were buying flats 4 years ago? If the answer is "no"...and  what has the govt done during this time? The housing prices were affected by govt policies on immigration, HDB supply and whether the govt put in controls on speculative inflows in particular from China. Very long loan tenures exposes home owners to extended periods of risk when jobs can be lost and changes in interest rates can strain family finances. To understand this we have to look at figures from 2009 -33000 HDB loans out of 420,000 went into arrears and 8000 families defaulted on their loans[Link]. That was before the economy went into recession and those flats are bought far lower prices relative to income than today's flats. If all is fine why is retirement being pushed further and further back? What kind of public housing policy do we have? It is euphemistically intertwined with something called "asset enhancement"...which at the end of the day causes home prices to spiral up, CPF accounts to be emptied and our reserves in the GIC to grow.   Many Singaporeans have to retire later because they have insufficient to retire on and those who are unable to find work have to sell their homes to's  that for a deal for people who work the longest hours in the world based on ILO's survey.

The Singapore govt budget expenditure for healthcare is 3% of GDP. Even as the cost of care rose double digits a year in recent years, it is maintained at this low level - lower by a large margin compared with other developing countries that spend about 13% of their budget on healthcare. In order to do this, the govt shifted much of the healthcare burden on the sick and their families as medical cost rose. The recent move to implement means testing to cut subsidies for the sick in one example. Other moves include allowing the use of Medisave for Malaysian hospitals implicitly telling poorer Singaporeans to seek medical care in developing country as healthcare capacity is used generate profits as a medical hub for the rich in the region. One example of Singaporeans seeking medical care in Malaysia is 80s cultural icon who had to seek treatment in Malacca when he had cancer[Link]. A large number Singaporeans (17%) are uninsured and many who are insured under old schemes like basic Medishield are no longer adequate because of the low limits that are easily busted by serious illness. If we continue along this direction and let healthcare cost spiral up, many more will fall through the cracks be heavily burdened when they get sick.

In the past decade as the cost of living rose, we also see an expansion in the income gap. Our income gap is the largest among developed countries. This gap is large by all measure - GINI index, absolute wealth. Our mean wealth is US$250,000 but our median wealth is just one-ninth of that at US$9000 [Link] far more unequal and distorted than all other developed countries including asian countries such as Taiwan, S. Korea and Japan. Instead of addressing the income gap directly our leaders try to sell us this idea of social mobility - if you don't do well, it is okay ..your child will have a shot. However, the truth is as the income gap increases, social mobility also decreases. Poor children have vastly different start points from that of richer children[Stark difference in pre-school]. The govt eliminated inheritance tax for the rich, lower the tax of the highest inome earners and corporate taxes at a time when corporate profits were at an all time as a % of GDP, implemented GST to tax the poor and opened the floodgates to foreign workers from 3rd world countries who would accept lower wages to drive down the income of the lowest wage earners. The availability of cheap labor resulted in a decline in productivity and a large segment of lower income Singaporeans became trapped in poverty. Now the PAP tells us it wants to help the poor...are we supposed to trust them after what they have done?

Singapore is not a 1st world country in many aspects. Our wage structure is 3rd world. The lack of democracy, the lack of healthy competition of ideas and govt reliance on propaganda to control the citizens shows that there is has been little political progress relative to countries such as S. Korea that have embraced full blown democracy after years of authoritarian leadership. We have elections during which one side shamelessly dangles hundreds of millions of estate upgrading pork barrel in order to win votes.  Politicians pay themselves millions as the income gap grows when they should be questioning the excessive compensation for executives as the wages of ordinary Singaporeans stagnate. We have to change the way things are done and how this country is run and we don't have much time left as we go down the slippery slope of highly unbalanced policies that benefit the few and burden the many. 


ahmad said...

Income inequality and an increasing gap between the rich and poor has also been a hot topic in Taiwan lately, but never have I seen as many elderly people having to resort to collecting cardboard boxes and cleaning tables as in Singapore.

It is a sight that embarrasses and deeply pains me each time I return to Singapore. Change must come in this election. I shudder to contemplate another clean sweep byt the PAP.

Kevin Jang said...
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Kevin Jang said...

When telling my Taiwanese friend about the few signs of Singaporean society declining in living standards owing to bad governance, such as (1) Singaporeans being ousted from their jobs owing to cheaper foreign labour and ageism, (2) Singaporeans frustrated and choosing to leave to work and live elsewhere in other countries, and possibly even giving up citizenships, (3) an increasing income gap between rich and poor, with the poor even resorting to things like picking cardboard boxes and rubbish to survive, and sleeping in open corridors and pavilions, (4) a government that constantly awards itself millions per year among its various MPs and even increasing their wages amidst times of global austerity while citizens' do not, guess what she said??? "Reminds me so much of Taiwan. I thought you were referring to Taiwan!" It does not sound encouraging, but honestly, even from the looks of it, the fact that Singaporeans do not even react to it with empathy or sympathy for those suffering, and say that Singapore does not need any much change, are probably the most atrocious group of apathetic people. It hurts my heart when I see old uncles begging outside the malls and shopping centers, asking for money, or selling tissue paper while in the heavy rain.

Silent Night said...
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Anonymous said...

This is the MOST OPPORTUNE TIME for Singaporeans to prove the Old Old Man that we are not daft anymore.

Tell him before it is too late.


Anonymous said...

We certainly have not much time left to correct all the wrong the PAP had done. Singaporeans please be awaken and take action before the pain and suffering become unbearable. If you do not exercise your power to vote for a real change we will be doomed. I tell myself that if the PAP win big in this election I am leaving singapore for good. If the people are not willing to change singapore is finished. I have never voted for PAP and never will. I am a resident in Ang Mo Kio GRC and I feel what kind of democracy when you have 6 MPs on the ward. Ridiculous n outrageous. I hope this election we can tell the PAP we are the masters n you are our servants and not the other way round. I hope they will be voted out and be history so that the pain n suffering will stop. Thank you. Unfortunate Singaporean

Anonymous said...

The PAP has become stupid and they do not know. We are here to tell them because we are the mirror that does not lie.