Monday, December 3, 2007

Singapore government's total neglect of the poor

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Sunday Times report of Dec 2nd 2007 reads "We can barely stay afloat, say low income folk". It is the story of yet another Singapore citizen, neglected by the Singapore government. Administrative assistant Noor Zeen earns $1350 (about US$800.00) a month and has not paid her utility bills for the past 4 months.

The reasons for Noor Zeen's financial difficulties many. One is that she is a divorcee being the sole breadwinner in her family which consists of her mother, her 8 year old son and her late aunt's 2 children, all of whom she has to support with her sole meager income. At the same time, inflation makes everything more expensive than before. These 2 contributing factors make it physically impossible for her and her family to survive in any reasonable manner.

Yet there is one more reason; a major one that causes her plight. That is the government's determined, and totally indiscriminate policy of bringing into Singapore huge numbers of migrant workers who depress local wages. Unlike Noor Zeen a Singapore citizen, born in Singapore and a true native of the country, foreign workers do not have HDB rents to pay, they probably do not have any dependants family members in Singapore, they do not have to pay school fees and they can live rough, while Noor Zeen with her children in Singapore cannot.

The Singapore government appears determined to make the plight of Noor Zeen and others in similar dire circumstances worse. And they appear to have no plans whatsoever to rectify the ever worsening situation.

The Singapore government pays it's ministers millions of dollars each year. They claim that if these astronomical sums are not paid to them they will turn corrupt. Therefore in order to prevent them becoming corrupt, they have to be paid these unacceptably huge salaries. A curious argument indeed, since should we not ask whether the payment of these sums is indeed corruption by itself without more!

In any case, my point is this. If these politicians who have seized power by dishonest means, such as the defamation actions against opposition politicians which we all know; should they not take a pay cut so that these Singapore citizens in dire circumstances can be helped. A fraction of the $3 million that each minister pays themselves can handsomely take care of the plight of the entire section of population who find themselves in the position of Noor Zeen.

If the government calibrates and controls the entry of foreign workers into Singapore, this would help to improve the situation of Noor Zeen because we can suspect, and quite correctly too, that Noor Zeen's salary would have been much higher, had it not been for foreigners who would have displaced Singapore workers in Noor Zeen's position, causing her to work for the pittance that she woks now. Had it not been for foreign workers, her salary would have been much higher.

Noor Zeen's unhappy situation makes her have to go to her MP for a handout, to keep her family alive. Compelling her, a Singapore citizen who has done no wrong, to go cap in hand asking for a handout is demeaning to her as a human and damaging to her morale and the morale of her children and family members. She should not be required to ask for handouts. This is an insult to her and her self respect.

What the government should do is this. They have to realize first that citizens who are given the tools to fend for themselves and given a chance to learn skills and succeed, develop their skills in their chosen disciplines and make a success of themselves, end up better human beings and better citizens. When people are neglected and are made to suffer, their morale is destroyed, they begin to hate their country and their leaders, they lose hope and eventually they turn into a greater burden to their country than if they were given some help to stand up proud as citizens.

And in order to to achieve this, the government should first realize that leaving society to market forces alone is not enough, especially market forces where disproportionate numbers of foreign workers are permitted to flood the market and take jobs at any price. Second, the government should realize and accept the fact that Singaporeans unlike foreigners come first and must be served first. In other words citizenship should have its privileges, I mean Singaporeans born in Singapore, not some mainland Chinese foreigner who was given citizenship on a fast track.

Third the government should realize that Singapore can complete in the world not just by depressed wages. It should compete with best quality, and with higher productivity. This way Singaporeans should enjoy a good standard of living and at the same time remain highly competitive. Singapore government had said that it is the Switzerland of the east. Well then look at Switzerland. It has very high wages, its citizens enjoy excellent state benefits and yet, they are one of the most competitive countries in the world.

Switzerland is so, because, unlike Singapore, it has an honest government, and honest politicians who do not make these silly dishonest arguments that unless they are paid $3 million a year, they will all turn corrupt. Switzerland believes that being a Swiss citizen has certain privileges, such as a minimum living wage, medial assistance for the needy and educational assistance. This makes a Swiss worker 10 times more productive and skilled than a Singaporean worker, making a Swiss citizen far more skilled and competitive over a Singaporean.

This makes a citizen of Switzerland proud to be Swiss. A well fed well trained and educated work force, that serves their country just as their country serves them. In other words a country that looks after its citizens is rewarded with a highly contented and loyal workforce able to compete with anyone in the world.

So please stop comparing yourselves with the Swiss or the New Zealanders, the British or the Americans. Burma is a country that is not too dissimilar to Singapore. Please do not insult the Swiss by claiming that you are like them.

I have noted with pleasure that the Singapore Democratic Party has acted where action was necessary as in the case of protesting the Burmese brutality. The SDP now should take the case of these poor and neglected Singaporeans who are left to suffer by this heartless government on the silly excuse that market forces alone is sufficient. The SDP should point out to this government that this alone is not enough.

There are those who are too old and incapable of learning a trade. It is not enough to give these people a mere $200.00 and told to fend for themselves, which they cannot. Children of low income families need assistance to lead a reasonably comfortable life since otherwise their education suffers. Large numbers of workers without any skills have to be trained and financial assistance should be provided for their training.

But the fundamental requirement before anything else is the need for this government to realize that the first thing is for the government to ensure that citizens have a right to live a normal decent life without having to beg. And when you demand that they beg, is when you will see a turning point in their patience. And at that point, they will take no more.

This Singapore administration is neglecting their duty to their people. It is time Dr. Chee and the SDP reminded the government of it.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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