An Open Letter to Singaporeans

Dear Singaporeans,

Over the past year, we’ve become more politically aware and have become more vocal about political issues and what matter to us, as Singaporeans. This is a good thing, for we’ve learnt to see that all us have a stake in Singapore and that we should take an active role in shaping the Singapore that we want to see.

Over the past 6 months since I started my blog, there have been people who have at times, commented on my blog or on other new media websites and said that I’ve “sold myself” to PAP. At other times, they’ve said that I have been swayed by the ‘opposition’ parties. I do not have any political allegiance. To me, I want Singapore to be a better place. That’s all. You know, I’ve been called names since I was young. When I was in Secondary School, I had people called me, “Ah Gua”. It was hurtful. When people first started name-calling me, I didn’t understand why they would do so. To me, I was only a simple boy trying to be happy. Over the next few years, I’ve learnt to understand that as long as you stay true to yourself and continue to be who you are, people will learn to understand who you truly are, and gradually, they will accept you. And eventually, they did, and started talking to me. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life – to be true to myself and speak up for what I believe in.

I had first started this blog because once, PM Lee was comparing Singapore and the Nordic countries and he basically said that, Singapore cannot follow the economic pathway of the Nordic countries, as we are different. He brought out some statistics to illustrate how well Singapore is doing, but I felt that something was amiss and decided to research more. Then, I began to realize that even as the Nordic countries are rich, like Singapore are, their people are happier and enjoy a more equal living. So, I embarked on my journey, poring over the statistics, to have a deeper understanding of the actual situation that Singapore is in. Along the way, what I found shocked me to some extend, as I began to realize how the government has sometimes muddled the information, to prevent us from accessing the information, and having a clear idea of the state of Singapore – how they are earning so much more from our CPF but returning much less back to us or how there’s a growing number of low income earners in Singapore. To me, the fundamental question was – how can such a rich country like us treat the people at the ‘bottom’ in such a manner? Then, I began my crusade.

One day, a friend asked me – instead of going against the government, why don’t you write articles which are more balanced, so that you would be able to reach out to the PAP government and their supporters as well? And I thought to myself, that’s true. If I want change to happen, we should work with the government to get ourselves heard. And for a few months, I began writing on viewpoints which offer us a look into why the government had made certain decisions and how we could learn to understand the government better. And for the next few months, it did seemed that PAP was truly willing to engage us, what with the creation of Our National Conversation. At the same time, it seemed that the mainstream media had learnt to frame news in a way which was more favorable for Singaporeans. And I thought, perhaps there’s hope. There was also less unhappiness that people were voicing out online as well.

And then, the SMRT incident broke out, where the government clamped down on what they labelled as a ‘strike’ but what many of us understand as a legit attempt by workers who feel disadvantaged by their unequal pay, and which they have voiced out for months, but with no recourse. Yet, the very government which had slighted their concerns decided to turn on them as well. I was appalled. Over the next few weeks, the government showed itself to be uncaring, as it lost its ability to manage discourse against them. The Michael Palmer incident exposed the double standards that PAP has and the Aim and Aljunied Town Council episode dragged out even more bones out of PAP’s closet. And I became angry. And I became just like many Singaporeans, who feel frustrated at feeling slighted – by the very government which is supposed to take care of our needs.

But you see, at the same time, Singaporeans are very aware of the situation that Singapore is in – Singapore is a small country and we need to accumulate as much money as we can to ensure stability and influence. Unfortunately, Singapore is part of a capitalistic system that has been established over the past few centuries. Across the world, banks and corporations own the markets, and inadvertently the governments which have to pander to them – how else can the government ensure the country continue to maintain economic durability, unless it has the rich people on its side, which will then support them? For other countries though, the banks lord over the governments, and the government has to pretend to look out for the people. However, in Singapore, the bank is the government, which has made the job easier – the government just needs to pretend to the people.

To be fair, PAP hasn’t always been the antagonist that I’ve painted them to be. In the late 1970s, there was a time when the government had allowed our wages to rise by 20% every year for a few years, which uplifted the livelihoods of Singaporeans then. In the 1980s, the government reduced the CPF contributions of employees and increased the contributions of employers, giving Singaporeans more spare cash to use. Yet, in the 1990s, while the government reduced the contributions by employers, they allowed employees to contribute a significantly higher amount to their CPFs than the employers. And in 2000, all of a sudden, the profits of the Singapore companies owned by Temasek Holdings and the government started rising and kept rising, while the amount of money that Singaporeans withdrew from their CPF kept dropping.

You can see that from the 1990s, as the PAP government embarked on a course to create more wealth from Singapore, along the way, it got into their heads – such that since the mid-2000s, our real wages have started to decrease as inflation rose quickly, driven by housing and transportation, both of which the government could have controlled. A rising pool of low-wage workers emerged – now, tell me, for readers who are reading the blog – how many of you earn less than $1,000 every month? With the amount of branded goods and new products that we want to buy, to send our children to tuition, to employ a maid, how many of us can survive on less than $1,000?

Some commenters think that I’m unhappy with PAP and have thus tried to dig out statistics to malign them. The truth is this – I feel injustice when I see people being treated unfairly. The low-wage workers do not deserve to have their wages depressed. It’s simply not right. I had grown up in a 2-room rented flat. I was part of a group who was disadvantaged, but thankfully, I have always learnt to be happy, and strong. Fortunately, my parents had managed to buy a HDB flat in 2000, before housing prices went haywire from the mid-2000s onwards.

When I was in school, I had Malay and Indian friends, and sometimes, they sat alone. Then, I didn’t like that others were sitting alone, and I made friends with them and hanged out with them. Now, I begin to see how our policy of not allowing for discourse about racial and religious issues have not only covered up the discomfort that certain ‘races’ have towards one another, we are seeing more and more of people’s discriminatory beliefs rise to the surface.

To me, there are some basic things things that PAP needs to do. I’ve said many times before that if the government wants to make money, by all means, go ahead. Singaporeans are grateful that we have a money-minded government – how else do we now live in the world’s richest country? Singaporeans are grateful that with our currency, it’s very easy for some of us to travel the world. But at the same time, there are more and more unhappy people, who feel injustice done to them and who feel slighted by the government. We feel that we are not being heard and with no avenue for our frustrations to be expressed, we’ve learnt to suppress them.

And this is why I’ve become very upset with PAP. It’s not that the government doesn’t have a choice but to let prices rise and wages to decrease. The government has the ability to ensure fair and equal wages and fair treatment to the workers, but they have chosen not to – they are worried that this will eat into their profits. But whose profits? With a growing number of poor Singaporeans, the middle-class becoming a working class, and with Singaporeans not being able to voice out and not being able to take action to right what they feel has been wronged, it has become clear to me that all is not right in Singapore. And it has become clear to me that the government does not want to change its course, to start treating its people equally and fairly, and with respect.

You might say I am angry with PAP, because, yes, I am. PAP is the government. Right now, they are the only ones who can do what’s right, but they’ve refused to. The only other ways are if Singaporeans come together and reclaim what they’ve given up to PAP, and consolidate ourselves to demand for our rights to be returned. Otherwise, the able Singaporeans should join the other political parties and form the next government in 2016, so that then, Singaporeans have a realistic chance of working with the next government to pursue fairer treatment for Singaporeans.

The best case scenario, as I’ve said before, is if PAP realises that Singaporeans want to be heard, and they start addressing the inequalities that have been perpetuated onto Singaporeans. This also mean removing some laws and policies which impede on the rights of the people, and to put in place policies which will address the unhappiness that people have to undergo. PAP has been Singapore’s government for nearly 50 years, and that’s why many Singaporeans hope that they would be able to do the right thing, so that Singapore can continue to grow, while the people’s rights are returned to them.

But there’s also a growing pool of Singaporeans – in the last elections, it was 40%, and this could become 50% or more at the next elections – who have given up on PAP. They’ve seen for themselves what a life which can be economically stable and fair can be and they are sorely disappointed that the PAP has chosen not to act. And they’ve taken to the Internet and joined the other political parties, because they see these other parties as to where the future lies. I’m one of the people in this group. And the more I see it, the more I believe we have the ability to form the next government. We have 3 years to do it – we need more and more able people to join the political parties to form a credible government. At the same time, we have to continue to put up news and analysis, and we have to yearn to do it in a more balanced, fairer and respectable way. For the rest of us, this also means being more discerning in what we read and forming opinions not because we’ve absorbed what we’ve read and regurgitate them, but to also analyze what we’ve read and come to an informed decision about things because we’ve looked carefully at what’s been said and written.

We need to understand this – it’s not about being pro-PAP, anti-PAP or being pro- or anti- the other parties. What is though is this – all of us have a role to play to make Singapore the Singapore we want. For me, it’s a Singapore that continues to do well economically, but continue to treat its people fairly, equally and allow us the freedom to grow as happy individuals, who feel that we have stake in Singapore and are then truly committed towards contributing to Singapore, to make our country the better place.

What say you, Singaporeans? What would you do? In 2013, this is a perfect opportunity for us to have a fresh new look at things in Singapore and how we want to take the next step towards being involved in making the Singapore we want come to life.

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4 comments

  1. Luke T Evolvedstrength

    Absolutely loved your perspective and thanks for sharing. Being a Singaporean based in Australia for the past 13 years, I have slowly seen my homecountry evolve and grow. Fellow countrymen travelling, the internet has made everything more transparent and discussion more open. I have seen immense growth in wealth of the country and the evergrowing disparity. To hear that secondary school kids are committing suicide from the pressure they get at school., I think it is absolutely apalling.

    How when I was younger, students were ‘streamed’ and ‘filtered’ based solely on their grades. I’ve heard that the situation is much worse these days. The focus on academia, materialism, perceived ‘intellect’ has created a somewhat superficial ‘culture’ with a lack of soul, a lack of emotion. I have turned vegan for ethical reasons and some of my friends were aware of it. I came back for the ceremony and the wedding reception. One of my friends asked me ‘so you are vegan right?’ Is there going to be meat at the dinner?’ implying that that was his requirement..

    How during Chinese new year, there is an increase in new car sales (for obvious reasons). How there are queues and queues of people at high end branded shops waiting to buy the latest handbag, belt etc. Alot of them, saving their bare minimum wage for months and months to own something there would somehow make them feel ‘significant’. Society (influenced by the government) has had a part to play in this culture of materialism and mindless consumerism/ consumption.

    When I go back for holidays, I value having a chat with the ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie’ at the wet market. Seeing people have their chinese reunion dinner at a coffee shop. Looking at the HDB and seeing the bamboo poles sticking out hanging laundry…Seeing simplicity amongst it all. Many of these folks who are on minimum wage, just taking it a day at a time, doing the best they can to provide for their children. To provide them with the ‘best’ education so that they can be ‘successful’ in society. Their lies the concept of the ‘the matrix’ (Brilliant trilogy by the Wachowsky brothers). There lies the cycle that feeds into itself. It takes people like you, like I…those that have decided to ‘wake up’ from that dream. To spread change for a system that has worked before, but is slowly starting to fail the majority of us. It takes every single drop of water to fill the bucket…

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