Idealistic citizens help push bar for public servants

Dear Mr Eddie Teo,

I refer to the 24 Oct 2010 Straits Times report of your opening address at the Singapore Seminar 2010.

Singapore is not unique in spending large sums of money on scholarships for top students. East Asian nations in general award scholarships to their top students. Also, we have been awarding scholarships for much longer than 49 years. MM Lee and Dr Lim Boon Keng were recipients of the Queen’s scholarship, the predecessor to our modern day President’s scholarship.

Taiwan is not much bigger than Singapore and is also not well endowed with natural resources. But Taiwan prospered just the same despite its theatrical parliamentary fights and corruption. Taiwan shows that we not only can survive but can prosper too with some degree of ‘bad’ government.

We are not victims of our own success, we are victims of our own bragging. There is a price to pay for bragging. We claim to be world class in everything only to find ourselves sandwiched like sardines every morning. We claim to have great vision and to be forward looking only to find ourselves getting caught off guard in one crisis after another. We do not expect the government to do the impossible. Is it so impossible to balance demand and supply of flats? Most of the land belongs to the government. The flood gates to immigration are also controlled by the government. What is so impossible when both are within your control?

It is not that the people are less forgiving now. If you read through all the forum letters by the HDB and its minister throughout the period when property prices were shooting up like a rocket, they read like denials rather than explanations when the truth is so plain obvious to everyone.

Comparing Singapore with Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, the price we pay for success is so much higher even though we are not much more successful than them. If we truly want to call ourselves a first world nation, we must move away from benchmarking ourselves against third world countries and finding solace in just solving poverty, hunger and ill health problems which have largely been solved many decades ago. To continue to cling on to these benchmarks even as our society has progressed well beyond them would be most idealistic indeed.

Furthermore, as property prices soar and soak up our hard earned money, many Singaporeans are experiencing modern day poverty. According to the 18 Sept 2010 Straits Times report ‘1 in 7 Americans living in poverty’, 14.3 percent of Americans live below the poverty line of US$21,954 a year for a family of four in cash income before tax. If we use the purchasing power parity conversion rate of 1.054 given in IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, the equivalent poverty line for Singapore is SGD $23,140 a year for a family of four or SGD $482 per month per family member. This figure falls in the middle of the 11th to 20th decile of employed Singapore households as given in the ‘Key Household Income Trends, 2009’ published by the Singapore Department of Statistics in February 2010. Thus, about 15% of Singaporeans have fallen below our ‘equivalent’ poverty line. So even as we pride ourselves for having lifted ourselves from the poverty of Third World Countries, we have a significant minority that continues to be plagued by modern day poverty.


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