Dear Wall Street Journal Editor,
I refer to the 2 Dec 2014 Wall Street Journal letter “Singapore’s Current Reality” by Singapore’s consulate-general to Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo.
Contrary to what Mr Foo says, Dr Chee’s arguments are rooted in a sense of reality that Singaporeans are slowly but surely coming to grips with despite our 150th ranked state controlled press.
Singapore’s inequality hasn’t merely increased; Singapore has always been one of three most unequal societies amongst First World economies over the past 30 years alongside Hong Kong and USA.
Which First World nation doesn’t have high quality education for the low income? Universal education is taken for granted not only amongst rich nations, but amongst many poor countries too.
Whether Singapore offers high quality health care to the low income is questionable. The high cost of healthcare in Singapore has driven the low income to commit suicide to avoid incurring hefty hospital bills that they cannot afford to pay.
Singapore public housing less affordable than private housing elsewhere
Singapore’s public housing can be more expensive than private housing elsewhere. Newly launched public housing can have a price to income ratio 4.8 which is close to what World Bank considers as unaffordable.
This is almost equivalent to the price to income ratios of private housing in Western countries.
[10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2014, page 10, figure 1]
No true home ownership
There is no true home ownership in as far as Singapore’s public housing is concerned because the homes are leased to the people for 99 years and in all public housing agreements, the people who supposedly own those houses are referred to as “lessees”.
False claim that $1,000 can buy apartment
The notion that Singapore families earning just SGD $1,000 a month can afford a two-room apartment is a fallacy that Mr Foo is repeating after his political paymasters.
Firstly, public assistance for a family of three in Singapore is $990 a month (http://app.msf.gov.sg/Assistance/ComCare-Public-Assistance). This is the minimum level of sustenance that a family of three in Singapore needs to survive. So a family earning just $1,000 a month has only $10 to spare after paying for their daily living expenses (assuming only one child). How can this family afford monthly mortgage payments with just $10 to spare?
Secondly, the so-called two-room apartment actually has one bed room only, the other room being the living room. It is typically 45 square meters (http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10321p.nsf/w/BuyingNewFlat2room?OpenDocument) which is only the size of a studio apartment that the entire family has to squeeze into.
Thirdly, Singapore families with such low salaries will end up with no savings whatsoever after paying for apartment mortgages and daily expenses. These poor families will end up having to sell their small apartments at old age to fund retirement needs leaving them with no apartment at the end of the day.
So bottom quintile households that supposedly own their homes will eventually have to give up their homes at old age to unlock their retirement money. The government is fully aware of this problem because it is now actively helping these poor families to monetize their homes. The government should therefore know very well that bottom quintile households will eventually lose the homes they own when they retire and not trumpet the false hope of home ownership.
Contrary to what Mr Foo said, independent financial experts like Mr Leong Sze Hian has time and again shown that real wage growth of the low income has been negative for quite some time already.
The only thing in Singapore that has no parallel in other countries is the amount of bullshit we have on official media.
Mr Foo should not refer to ‘our’ model as being not perfect. The far from perfect model is the ruling party’s model which more and more Singaporeans are beginning to understand and reject.
It is Mr Foo, not Dr Chee who is being dishonest for putting words like “fail” into Dr Chee’s mouth when Dr Chee never once used the word in his article. Dr Chee merely highlighted the issues blighting our nation and expressed his hopes for a better Singapore. It is only in uniquely Singapore that expression of the truth can be construed as dishonesty and vice versa.
Mr Foo selectively chooses more successful government linked companies to make his case while ignoring other languishing companies like Neptune Orient Lines which has been making losses. He also omits to mention government linked companies that survive mainly on generous government contracts or thrive on government protection like the Singapore Press Holdings.
How can Mr Foo accuse Dr Chee of not being interested in facts when Dr Chee used facts like the government paying women to undergo tubal ligation in the 1970s and is now giving tax incentives for couples to have more babies and also paying children to demonstrate strong character?
How can Mr Foo accuse Dr Chee of trimming his sails to the wind when Dr Chee has been consistently writing about both government linked companies and free trade agreements for years in his books?
Lack of democracy
Contrary to what Mr Foo says, Singapore lacks democracy despite having elections because we lack a free press. Our press is ranked 150th in the world – rock bottom. As many world leaders have said, there can be no democracy without a free press.
Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Democracy is impossible without freedom of the press, for freedom of the press is the basis of democracies.
Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland
A free press is a fundamental prerequisite in the implementation of democracy.
An Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern T.D., Prime Minister of Ireland
Freedom of the press is one of the rights that is fundamental to democracy. No country that systematically interferes with or restricts freedom can be considered fully democratic.
Yoshiro Mori, Former Prime Minister of Japan
The people’s Right to Know is a universal principle that secures democracy, and Freedom of the Press is the basic freedom that guarantees this right.
Wolfgang Schüssel, Federal Chancellor of Austria
Freedom of the press has remained the condition sine qua non of democracy ever since: every cultural and political development is based on freedom of opinion.
If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be
Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.
Information is the currency of democracy
A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. … Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish, and the loudspeaker and the film to become more important. But where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.
Even our elections are not entirely free or fair. The ruling party implemented the GRC scheme that lumps several constituencies into one to be contested as one which raised the barrier of entry to political office. This is something that the ruling party has unabashedly admitted.
Mr Foo isn’t truthful when he claims that Singaporeans have rejected Dr Chee and his party. Typically, about 30% of Singaporeans vote for Dr Chee’s SDP during elections. Mr Foo cannot say that the 30% who votes for Dr Chee’s SDP rejects Dr Chee or the SDP.
Mr Foo would do better to take Singaporeans’ interest to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of his political paymasters.
Wall Street Journal Online, Singapore’s Current Reality, 2 Dec 2014
Singapore’s consulate-general to Hong Kong responds to Chee Soon Juan’s Nov. 28 article.
In his op-ed last week (“A New Vision for Singapore”, Nov. 28), Chee Soon Juan rehashes old arguments without a sense of reality.
He takes issue with income inequality in Singapore. Indeed it has increased, as it has in many other countries. But in Singapore, the low-income have access to high-quality education, health care and public housing, like other citizens. Families earning just 1,000 Singapore dollars ($800) a month can afford to own a two-room apartment. Indeed, 80% of households in the bottom income quintile own their homes, with an average of more than S$200,000 net housing equity. Their wages have also grown by 10% (in real terms) in the past decade, unlike the stagnation often seen elsewhere. There is no parallel in other countries. Our model is not perfect, but it is dishonest of Mr. Chee to claim that it has failed, or that we have done nothing.
Mr. Chee criticizes government-linked companies. His charges are absurd. GLCs include highly successful, internationally renowned companies, such as Keppel, SembCorp and Singapore Airlines. They provide good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, but they make up just 10% of the economy. Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises employ seven in 10 Singaporeans and enjoy the bulk of government support.
But Mr. Chee is not interested in facts. He is out to make a political case and trim his sails to the wind. When he writes in The Wall Street Journal, he attacks GLCs, but when he writes for the Huffington Post, he attacks free-trade agreements, in particular the U.S.-Singapore FTA.
Mr. Chee claims Singapore lacks a democracy. The reality is that elections in Singapore are free and fair. Every time Mr. Chee and his party have contested, Singaporeans have rejected them. He might do better to take the interest of Singaporeans to heart, rather than pander to the editorial tastes of the Western media.
Consulate-General of Singapore