Thursday, 5 May 2011

My Singapore :(

It’s cooling off day soon. Indeed, it’s been somewhat chilling for me after following all the election news online...

Granted, there are some pretty balanced pieces on why they would vote for the incumbent or the opposition. But most of the stuff out there are very one-sided with no good reason, and any "dissent", i.e. pro-PAP talk, will kena whacked until mother also cannot recognise.

After the initial bewilderment at what some Singaporeans are thinking, I’m now trying to put together my thoughts for some of the hot issues for comparison five years later. I’ll keep referring to my earlier post on cost of living. If you don’t agree, just too bad!

Basic amenities

Housing: Everyone, PAP or opposition, should think the same way – it’s time to do something about the affordability and availability of public housing. Building to sell instead of built-to-order may be a start. See earlier post.

Another issue is eligibility, especially of singles and single unmarried parents. If we open up to singles now, there will only be greater squeeze and higher prices. Further, we have limited space so one flat to accommodate one person seems extravagant. When the current squeeze is over, perhaps we can think about lowering the age bar for two or more singles buying a flat. As for single unmarried parents, I think they deserve a flat as much as single parents who are divorced or widowed if they are working and able to support their family.

Other costs of living: Ok if we stay healthy. See my earlier post.

But some people quote this as a reason not to have children. RUBBISH. I don’t think the government needs to cater to the needs wants of these people. We should just make Singapore as good for families as it could be. People have to choose whether or not they actually want children.

Quality of life: Too crowded? See earlier post under transport. We need to learn to live in a city!

No work-life balance? Thought about it a while ago but I have no solution yet. Will think more about it later.. But please don’t let me see stupid ideas such as reduce the number of working hours per week from the current 42 to 35 like the French – I used to clock 42 hours by mid week, and for those who are strictly 9-to-5, do you really think you can take home the same income for working less?!

No work-life balance is also cited as a reason not to have children. Then people say Nordic countries are good because they pay for childcare and have good work-life balance. I shall ignore the childcare part because we have very different tax structures. But you know why they have good work-life balance? They start work at 7-8 am, take 30 min lunch and go home at 4 pm. They get to cook and have dinner with their children, put them to bed before catching up on some work if they need to. I’ve heard of people taking long lunches and even tea in Singapore. Also, MSN at work. How to finish work early to go home?!

Our quality of life is the result of our choices.

Other gripes

Foreigners: White-collar says foreign “talent” – for lack of a better word – are taking away jobs. Blue collar says other foreign workers are taking away jobs.

Perhaps we should think about why employers choose foreigners over Singaporeans – do we have a competitive edge over foreigners? I don’t mean to compete on wages cos it would only depress wages. But if we cost more or even the same as a foreigner, we need to have the ability to do the job better and demonstrate that we are better value for money. If not, I don’t see why employers will choose us! Shouldn’t we reflect on this and upgrade ourselves?

Let’s “borrow” this blog post which includes a discussion on foreign workers – how hiring a Singaporean valued at $500 over a foreigner valued at $1,000 is helping one Singaporean employee but short-changing the Singaporean employer. Some readers rebutted that employers are probably MNCs but I think that’s beside the point. We should ask ourselves how we could up the value of the Singaporean to $1,000 and beyond. If we ourselves are good enough, there is no fear of competition. Same for school places.

My aunt worked for a family provision shop until the 1990s when she started working in a local bakery chain. Then about two or three years ago, she switched to another bakery for higher pay. She started at the bottom and is now able to command a higher pay because she has something to offer to her employer. On the other hand, some Singaporeans can be too self-centred. In my old job, during interviews, we often got strange comments from even degree-holders, oh, I studied overseas / I like travelling so I want to join OSU. Wtf?! Passion needs to match with ability for a good job fit for both the employer and employee.

Freedom of speech, assembly, etc: People keep saying how biased our local media is towards the PAP. But honestly, can there be a truly independent, unbiased local newspaper? Even informal news sources that harp on our “biased mainstream media” tend to be biased against the PAP, sometimes absurdly so.

I remember this comment on Temasek Review (let me redeem myself – I’m certainly not a fan (omg!) but I had to read some articles in my old job) on how people in other countries went on strikes and protests to make a point while we couldn’t do that in Singapore.

Wa liao... Sure, go ahead and allow strikes. Then the REAL problems begin.. Look at the tube strikes in London*! Come on, I don’t want to have to check if there’s a strike going on, if the MRT is working etc, every time before I go out! I just want some peace and order!

* Btw, the tube drivers earn a lot. Correspondingly, transport costs are very high – in Zone 1, it was £1.90 per trip in 2003, £3 in 2006 and £4 today! It's called 羊毛出在羊身上 - when you ask for more wages, you pay more for goods and services too. Also see next point on minimum wages.

Eh, I also deserve my right for a peaceful life, ok..

Minimum wage: I didn’t think much about it until Singapore Day 2007. A group of local helpers were all union workers being paid minimum wage. They were sooooo lazy! However much little they did, they still got paid the same!

In our context:

I’m a company. I pay my employees $x. Now you want me to pay $(x+y). I do a “restructure” of the company or processes and retrench those who cannot do more for that wage. But some work just cannot be made any more productive. I may start to bleed and die. Bye bye, all jobs in my company.

I’m an employee. I used to earn $x. Now I earn $(x+y) for doing the same job. Oh, boss wants me to do more. I have to else I risk losing my job. Now I have no work-life balance, no time for dating/children.

I’m a Singaporean. I find goods and services more expensive because it now causes more to produce or provide them - yes, 羊毛出在羊身上 again. If I’m a minimum wage worker, I earn more but pay more too. How does minimum wage really help then??

Ministers’ salary: Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me that the ministers earn a lot. Reducing their salary doesn’t mean the money comes to me! How much money comes to me is based on other considerations. But when they are trying to do their job well and right, including peddling sound but unpopular policies, those high salaries don’t give them that moral high ground to do so.

Of course they should get a good pay package – however noble a job may be, no one will do it if they’re not given their due. And after looking at national policies for some years, I realised that it’s very stressful to know that what I do has an impact on the society. And I’m a minion. These people hold even greater responsibilities and should be compensated accordingly. But beyond a certain amount, the money is just digits in the bank – what do you do with that much money?! My last salary was a really nice four-digit figure, and I couldn’t spend it all without four kids!

I wonder if there is some way to address this issue – perhaps making them pay tax is a good start?

Events

Floods: Seriously, I don’t know what the chaps behind the public comms were thinking.. The minister should never say things like “once in 50 years” because actually, he doesn’t know – 天灾咧! – but by saying that, he implied he knew *.* Who can predict such mishaps accurately?! And I believe the relevant authorities are looking into it even as I type.

YoG: I don’t understand why people keep harping on the YoG budget. We bade for it with S$104 milion and spend S$387 million on it.

PRC bade for the 2008 event for $1.6 billion and ended up spending $15 billion to US$43 billion, depending on which report you read. But fine, no one in PRC can hold the government accountable.

The UK bade for the 2012 Olympics with US$5 billion, and it is now looking at US$15 billion.

I’m obviously not comparing the scale, but stating the fact that these things do happen. I’m not even supporting our minister’s claim that the budget went up because it was the first ever YoG – even the long-running summer Olympics face budget issues (see third line from the end in link), and I think it is because it is simply hard to draw references from past events when (a) the context of each host country is different, and (b) economic situations vary from year to year, and quite frankly, no country would put their reputation at stake just to save money. We are already lucky to have the resources to fund the YoG. Look at the UK now.

From another point, even if we didn’t spend the money on YoG, the money wouldn’t go anywhere else; conversely, spending the money on YoG doesn’t mean the needy wouldn’t get support. Our system is such that if you are eligible, you’ll get what is due to you. I’m familiar with the Baby Bonus so using it as an example, if we suddenly have double the number of babies, none will be denied the benefit because we overspent on YoG! (Although I don’t know if the system may jam up a bit – form processing etc..) In the end, I repeat myself, the amount given to each person is based on various considerations and not whether we have enough money, which I think is a very fortunate thing when some countries are cutting back on social spending to reduce their budget deficit.

Mas Salamat: If people blame the minister for ISD’s slip, I can applaud the same minister for SPF’s efficiency when the police responded swiftly to our call after a loanshark attack. Is everyday security not of utmost importance (as well)? I rest my case.

My last straw

I remember a long conversation with my cousins. It was disheartening to hear that they were happy to vote in any Tom, Dick and Harry from the opposition just to tell PAP about their unhappiness about current policies.

Well, if people want to vote in able opposition, fine. It’ll make parliament sessions more interesting to watch. I doubt we’ll have politicians throwing lunch boxes at each other like what happened in Taiwan in 2007! But anyone, really? REALLY??

I see that as no different from how Tin Pei Ling may cruise into parliament. People are not voting for any Tom for being Tom; they are irrationally voting against PAP.

After the rallies

I’ve been reading articles and watching videos on mainstream and social media. I’m disappointed with all sides – some wayang, some irrational, some empty but popular.

For some reason, the incumbent never seems to be able to get it right during elections – threats turn people off, speeches suck*. They are on the defensive most of the time, and they put across their points in the typical government way – logical, rational, but unemotional. And let’s face it, it’s hard to believe the emotions of a millionaire!

* I read an “interesting” article that this is because the politicians have the civil service behind them for their usual speech but not during elections! I used to write speeches and I think it’s unfair to say that because they don’t just take our speeches wholesale!

On the other hand, the opposition are on the offensive and they inject emotions to rouse the people so they are much better received. But is this a popularity contest? Can people see beyond the emotions and examine if these popular ideas will work? I hope they can and they do, because their votes affect me as well.

At the same time, I recognise there are good people on all sides, people with well intentions. The way I see it, I put it down to two key struggles or balances:

1) Sustainability for the nation vs. the welfare of each individual or family – I’m all for long-term sustainability because I see my permanent home in Singapore. People say that family is the basic unit of society. True, but 没有国,哪有家? I believe in 先有国,再有家。It’s easier to put everything into a jar when we fill it with rocks before the sand. And I’m not saying that the welfare of each individual or family is not important. But rather than expecting the state to give direct help, we should help ourselves isn’t it? Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. (That wasn’t me. That was Lao Tzu, in English.) But going by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the idea of nation before self, or even benefiting nation equalling benefiting self, could be difficult to sell if everyday issues are not dealt with.

2) Passion for public service vs. brains – Those who have been in grassroots work for years, I really think they are there for the passion because you have to put in time and effort on top of work and family commitments. They are also the people who know the ground issues well. But passion alone cannot lead the country. So we also have people with bombastic CVs, aka smart people, people from the upper echelons of the public service and the private sector, but they may not know the ground as well. Now if only passion and brains exist in the same body!

Nowadays, I think they send school kids to parliament sittings as a learning journey. But I doubt many adult Singaporeans have been to one? Based on my childhood experience that every time there was a parliamentary report that extended beyond the news, the adults would turn off the TV to switch on later to watch dramas.

Anyway, I have been to a number. My first one was when I first joined the civil service. All newbies are supposed to go for one such learning journey. I was so new that I had no idea what they were talking about. I also had no idea how the process was like. Quite honestly, it was a plain struggle trying to stay awake! Luckily I had my phone – no camera! – with me to keep me from nodding off (too much)!

Fast forward a few years, I have since been to parliament four times during the budget debate. I now understand how things work. I have also seen things not shown on TV.

In 2009, I saw Chiam See Tong make a speech. That was after his stroke so he had difficulty getting up and when he spoke, it was barely audible. Yet he is still working the ground, fighting his cause. For that, I really respect him.

In 2010, I saw him speak again. As before, he had some difficulty getting up and going to the stand. Again, that sense of respect for him. But this time, I also saw something else. When Chiam struggled to move, Vivian Balakrishnan on the other side was looking at him intently and made a movement towards him but he got up by himself then. I instantly liked VB. So I was hardly surprised to read this but of course, many readers were cynical. A colleague saw another PAP MP almost getting up too – I’ve forgot who but I’m sure I’ll like him too.

I just don't believe in voting for change for its own sake. It's too vague. Whatever change people are thinking of, it'd better be for the better. Unfortunately, no one can predict if it's an upward or downward curve.. I’m very risk averse. I prefer the status quo – it may not up go very much but I doubt it will go down.

Conclusion

Finally!!

I’ve had the opportunity to think more about Singapore since we moved to Evanston, far away from home.. Many here know of Singapore but have never been. They were curious and asked about it, especially those who were interested in working in Singapore.. And I find that I’ve only got good things to say :)

The other day, I mentioned being a happy Singaporean. Then, I thought, is the Happy Singaporean a rarity? Or are we just a discontented lot?

Online comments can be so depressing that you would think that no one seems happy :( But the thing is, isn’t happiness what we make of it? We are only as happy as we allow ourselves to be! :)

3 comments:

  1. agree with u that some articles from both sides are often biased. human nature to exaggerate to achieve social influence. think most ppl shd be educated enough to differentiate what's facts and what 's rubbish. there are some funny analogical videos though.

    and a pity that 100K voters from ur GRC dint get to vote.

    for me, it's my first time to vote and i would vote for opposition because i want alternative voices in parliament and for singaporeans. im not sure if they would do a good job, but that's what election is right? either choice u make is a risk u haf to take. voting ruling party doesnt mean they will do a good job in 5 yrs time. so i'm willing to take a bigger risk.

    my stand: i'm pro human rights, so i am affected by the fact that the ruling party rule sg by limiting citizens' rights and freedom of expression, assembly etc. i dun like it when we expressed our views and they deemed it as "noise". i dun like casinos (isnt toto and 4d enuff to suck ppl's money???) in sg and i dun like taking the public transport having to squeeze with foreigners (influx of them). i am not against their nationality but i feel sg's exisiting infrastructure is inefficient to contain us and them. and i dun like the govt issuing citizenships and PRs like some free goodie. think of the malaysians who worked here for decades and finally get their PRs. it is so unfair. i dun like the state controlled newspapers and tv station. i dun like the ruling party restricting oppositions and using money, fear tactics and threats (that hougang will be a slum, sg govt will weaken, repent in the next 5 yrs and no upgrading although citizens in opp wards also pay tax!) and defamation suits - all these to me are really smelly underhand methods which earns me no respect for them. and my list goes on....

    anyway, i'm just saying my opinion and i respect urs. i think this election is beneficial for sgeans as many start taking their stands and thinking for the future instead of behaving apathetic.

    on a final note - my hope for sg politics is that one day we can truly be called democratic!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hullo MF! First time reading your blog. V good ah you! Well done! Next time you run, I sure vote for you!
    I like your Lao Tze saying, but I prefer this version. "Give a man a fire and he's warm for the night. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life!" Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi MF,

    i am thinking about coming over to singapore to work but your comments on white collar talent has rattled me a little, is it hostile towards people who want to work there from another country?

    ReplyDelete

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