Singapore is now at the turning point in our country’s history. How should we go from here?
Over the past decade, prices have risen so dramatically that many Singaporeans have been priced out of the economy. As wages become depressed and remained stagnant, more and more Singaporeans have become saddled in debt. There is only a limit that prices can grow before the economy collapses on itself, as the pool of domestic consumers shrink.
The Singapore Economy Has Reached Saturation Point
Indeed, the Singapore economy has reached saturation point. But that is not to say that the Singapore economy will lose steam, at least not immediately. Policies have been introduced to temper market demand but yet, prices continue to rise. The incomes of the richest in Singapore continue to grow at a tremendous rate, while the poorest have seen their real incomes dived. Such is the rate of income inequality that has been growing in Singapore over the past decade, and this trend doesn’t look to be abating anytime soon.
The Singapore economy might have reached the peak of speculative economics, but this reality might not have sunk into some Singaporeans yet. The boom of Singapore as a tax haven and an offshore banking for the rich is only starting to take off. The many years of the government’s hope to develop Singapore into the rich’s playground has finally paid off, but at what cost?
The simmering discontent felt among many Singaporeans who have been left to pick up the flak of an economy that has increasingly become a numbers’ game, whilst little has trickled down to the people, is beginning to take its toil on the people living in an all year-round hot summer weather. Housing and car prices have shot so much through the roof that the roof over our heads is no longer a guaranteed notion that our public housing doctrine was once built upon. As such, the real fears that Singaporeans have that the once-hoped-for Swiss standard of living would never materialise has put the backburner on Singaporeans’ plans for parenthood. Why bring any being into an uncertain world, when our retirement might hardly be a possibility?
Singaporeans Are Living In Our Constructed Ideological Bubbles
As the rich continue to enjoy a life that’s beyond the grasp of the common Singaporean and as they grow unaware of the plight of poorer Singaporeans, who are tucked into the crevices of our social chasms, there is an increasing ideological divide that is threatening to draw the Singapore society apart. Yet, even as fault lines start creeping into our social fabric, the fault does not lie simply with the rich, nor with the poor. For the ignorance of one another and the illusion of our lives is yet but a veil that has been set across our eyes, through a well-oiled machinery that continues to propound constructed worldviews that keep us within our own ideological bubbles, rich or poor.
Indeed, the education that we have been brought up in has demarcated us into the different schools of thinking, drawn along class lines, propagating ideals that our class has been “destined” for. If you are rich, a leader and thinker you will become. If you are not, a worker you shall, unless you break out of this institutionalised bubble, which otherwise most of you should content for.
But the income and ideological divide that has become so entrenched in the Singapore society over the past decade might only further pull Singapore along the already stretched edges. For yes, we might not have physical earthquakes or ruptures in our geography, but the social strains that are tearing us apart at the seams, might nonetheless create as massive a societal disaster as any that has ever been seen in Singapore.
Still, our people continue to be oblivious to the dormant social volcano that might soon puke its disdain at the unevenness of our society’s growth. But in a country, or rather, a city, that has built itself around economic modes of thinking, consumerism and strident capitalistic ideals, we might have become so steep in the monetary organisation of our thoughts, to be able to recognise the social ripples that these have already been let loose through our society.
The Government’s Policies Have Shaped The Singaporean Society
Why have our people become so increasingly unhappy? Why have our people become so sedated in their emotions? Why are people honking incessantly on the roads? Why have complaining become a way of life?
Policies which have demanded competition, for the sake of it, blind achievement towards fulfilling KPIs (key performance indicators) and outcomes which make little sense to the emotional growth of our lives, the focused drive to get ahead at the expense of others, and to not give way so as “not to lose”, such has become the national mentality that has pervaded all levels of our society. And so, we have learnt to be cold and to be impatient. Why should I move to the side of the escalator when I got there first? Why should I move to the side of the walkway, just to let you cycle past? And so, the “me” culture has become so pervasive that letters to the newspapers become a crow of how the government should do this and that because my personal space has become invaded.
Yet, we blame foreigners who come into Singapore for being seemingly selfish and who would not adopt the Singaporean way of life. But what if they have? What if they have understood the anger and despise that Singaporeans have for one another and lived their lives as to what they think we do? And what if in criticising the foreigners, we do not realise that they are a mirror that we have refused to look into because of how “ugly” we have become?
Yet, have Singaporeans always been “ugly”. There was a time when Singaporeans had looked out for one another, no matter your race, your age or who you are. There was a time when Singaporeans spoke the language of one another. There was a time when we were one and colourblind. But today, silent racism, extrapolated into “xenophobia”, has crept into the subconscious of our society, refusing to rear its head into admittance, willing ourselves to think that all is well. Let’s not talk about race and religion, they say, for this is how we have kept our society “harmonious”. Let’s believe that things are all good and well, and that even as there are disagreements, let’s look at how we can bury them, so that we can continue to live in the illusion of believing.
But things are changing, fortunately. A mix of overdone brainwashing, exposure to stories of the realities in Singapore and most importantly, a heightened consciousness of one’s own life and another, have led to greater introspection of the state of the Singapore society. For the first time in many decades, we are beginning to see beyond the veil, to awaken to our mind. For the first time, we begin to identify with the human condition of another and to realise that the stories told afore might have glossed through so many of the truths.
An Intellectual Awakening Is Beginning In Singapore
Indeed, an intellectual awakening is beginning to take root in Singapore and Singaporeans can take heart to know that no matter what amount of propaganda and half-truths be-told, that Singaporeans are finally waking up to the reality of how things truly are in Singapore, and whether you are rich or poor, would be someone whom we can all identify with. For far too long, we have been kept in our ideological chambers, not able to see into the lives of others, “others” made into distant imaginations that no longer exist in Singapore. And so, we do not see the homeless, the beggars or the poor. And we do not see the wealthy, the posh and the high-life. We were not able to see one another.
But with the divide having grown wider, the display of wealth and roadside poverty have finally escaped their wilderness and have been pushed into the sights of Singaporeans. No more do we live in designed comfort but a curious observation of the lives of others, as more and more of the older Singaporeans clear our trays at food courts and clean our toilets even as they stand with bent backs and feeble movements.
Finally, we have reached a population threshold of intellectual exploration, where many more Singaporeans are now questioning. When we had spoken of a “middle-ground” or of a “silent majority”, we are now only beginning to see who these “majority” Singaporeans really are. The majority who have grown tiresome of the endless tirade from the ruling party and who have equally grown wary of the anger from the other side, and who are thus developing an intent mind, focused on seeking out answers for themselves on what lies beneath Singapore.
Are You Pro-PAP Or Anti-PAP?
But does it have to be either way? Over the past decade, divides have been created in our society along income lines, social classes, ideologies and in the past few years, political affiliations. Such are the many great rifts that have been drawn that the united Singapore no longer bears resemblance to what our forefathers have dreamed of. For such a small country with so many great rifts, it is an astonishment, for if not for the feigned media, such deep-seated differences in thinking would already have boiled over. Unfortunately, these have been muddled through and covered over that once the lid is taken off, all hell will break lose.
The common thinking is that those who are pro-PAP are the rich businessmen who have seen their riches double or triple, or grown many times over, as they benefit from the PAP’s policies which have been geared for the rich, and also the “conservatives” who have willed themselves into believing in the PAP’s propaganda and continue to vote for familiarity, even if they might not understand how their social circumstances will be affected by such a vote. And on the other side, many a name had been thrown to the people who are seen by the PAP as being “anti-PAP” – too liberal, no care for our society, don’t you even care about our economy, or what if Singapore can no longer make it?
But is it? When did we start defining ourselves along the lines of PAP? Are the destines, or should the destines of Singaporeans be about that of the PAP? The PAP is but one of many political parties, with its own ideology and beliefs. They might pursue a certain set of policies but that does not mean that all Singaporeans might agree. If anyone so choose to disagree with the PAP’s policies, we can choose to speak up and propose alternatives. For it is that Singapore is larger than the PAP, and the people need to regain this understanding. The PAP is good for some aspects of Singapore, but the other political parties will be good for others, such as in representing the rights of the workers, the poor and the old.
Yet, wasn’t it too long ago that we had believed in, “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” and “We the people of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united nation”? Truth be told, if tomorrow, the PAP were to ensure that all Singaporeans would be able to be accorded fair wages and be able to save enough for their retirement, the PAP would still be voted back into power election after election. It isn’t about the PAP. Truly, it’s about our lives.
But Power Corrupts
But such is the corruption of power. When you have had a taste of it, you might never want to let go. And of the many others, and of their children and their children’s children, who have entrapped themselves in the entanglement of the PAP’s web of power, that their livelihoods, earned from pandering to the economic interests of the PAP, also means ensuring that the PAP survives, only so that their gotten gains are also assured. But how far or how long can such an entrenched system of allegiance to economic prosperity work? When there are only as many institutions in Singapore that can go around for only as many alliances, when the tipping point comes when some would be inadvertently left out, when will this patchwork fall apart? Or rather, for the rest of the Singaporeans who are left in the lurch from a network which have pushed them out to the edges, how long can this network survive before the rest of Singapore turn the tide on them?
The Singapore story is still being told, but how it will be told after the next ten years is all but a zero sum game. Our country can go on where the despotism that favours a segment of Singaporeans continues to help a small group get ahead and to earn more from their own increasing profits, where the massive surge in income inequality will eventually cause them to implode within themselves, and drag all other Singaporeans with them.
Singaporeans Need To Take Their Lives Back
Or we can hope to revive the faith and trust in our governance, and in our people, by envisioning the new form of governance that our country needs to take. For far too long, the people had put blind faith in a government that we think is the be all and end all, but now, at our economy’s saturation point and at the threshold of the intellectual awakening, we are beginning to see a light at the end of the enshrouding darkness. Because governance is not the be all and end all. The people, in themselves, are the answers to their very lives. For we have let ourselves and our lives be submitted to their planning, but it is time we take it back to live it for ourselves.
Singapore is at the juncture of our society’s development. We are not changing because of a different generation. We are not changing because Singapore is finally maturing as a society. We are evolving because governance as we know it has reached the limits of its current capacity and is at the point for change, where Singaporeans would need to relook at how they want to mould the form of governance into and the role that they want to play in it, to invest themselves for our country’s future.
We can continue with the current direction of investing into foreign MNCs and the burgeoning growth of government-linked companies, which have become a heavy burden which is hindering the economic competitiveness of our country; or we can reinvest in our own people, to create immense opportunities for innovation that can propel Singapore into new possibilities. But this is one of the many ways that we can go. But to do so, Singaporeans have to reimagine. Singaporeans will need to be bold. More importantly, Singaporeans need to be honest with themselves.
The Developing Media Landscape
As our country evolves into the new era, several online media platforms will hope to reposition themselves as the beholder of knowledge for the people. We have had, and still have, The Online Citizen, TR Emeritus, The Real Singapore, and the new up and coming Breakfast Network and The Independent Singapore. For each, how would they play an important role in pulling their weight behind Singaporeans? How does The Online Citizen and TR Emeritus need to restructure and reform themselves to evolve into a journalistic platform that would allow for more insights and investigation into Singapore? How can The Real Singapore, as the online juggernaut in Singapore, intertwine ethical journalism into its already strong following, to shape Singaporeans into championing for worthy and honest causes?
With the Breakfast Network, what is its purpose for setting itself up? Was it to fill an information gap among Singapore’s news? Yet, it’s writing in similarity to The Online Citizen and TR Emeritus puts question into its differentiation. Or could the Breakfast Network be the government’s experiment to create an “alternative media platform” to compete with the existing ones, to prevent the “leakage” of Singaporeans into the existing sites, by containing them within the Breakfast Network, and a controlled propaganda? Perhaps, whether the new sites can be trusted would really depend on how they would be able to report on information that would allow Singaporeans to gain a better insight into the workings of Singapore and the government, and to raise the awareness of Singaporeans on certain issues.
The Political Parties Need To Take A Stand
Indeed, in the evolution of the Singapore political landscape, it is a necessity that each of the political party would need to redefine and brand themselves more clearly on their standpoints. Do they want to champion for the workers’ rights, for low-income families, for right-based policies or for fair opportunity? If the political parties want to become more relevant to the electorate, they would need to up the ante and give Singaporeans a purpose and vision to believe in them, and to vote for them. It is no longer enough to believe in standing up and speaking up. The political parties would need to consolidate and provide a vision for Singaporeans on what to expect, the form of governance that Singaporeans can hope to see and how the plans for Singapore will shape into the future.
In Singapore, Singaporeans would need to decide clearly for themselves what they want, and decide how they want to get there, and work together to achieve it. It is no longer enough to believe that what we want will appear if we simply hope. We need to take action to shape the way of things to come, and allow our hands to make them blossom.
Protest At Hong Lim Park on 5 October 2013
Another protest will be held at the Hong Lim Park on 5 October 2013. As yet, there doesn’t seem to be a very clear theme on what the protest would be about. There is a “middle-ground” that is forming, a middle-ground that is seeking for answers and for the truth, a middle-ground which have a heightened sense of awareness for one another. But this is also a middle-ground that might not relate well to anger and blame. So, there is a need to develop a clear theme and cause, beyond igniting the discontentment among Singaporeans.
The main reason why the wages of Singaporeans are depressed is not because of foreigners, per se. The very clear reason is because of government policies that have depressed the wages of Singaporeans – because of the unchanged wage level of the “S” Pass and the Employment Pass, at $1,800 and $2,500 respectively, from 2004 to 2011, this had caused the wages of Singaporeans to be pegged to these levels as well and because these levels had not been changed almost 10 years, the wages of Singaporeans remained stagnant at this level as well.
We need to be very cognizant that any particular group of people cannot be “blamed” for our plight. Such a thinking is exactly what certain groups of people would want to reinforce to further entrench the ideological divide in Singapore. The issue of stagnating wages is a policy issue and we have to take this up with the government, and not with the foreigners, who are simply a by-product of the lax manpower policies. Many Singaporeans similarly want to work in other countries, but would we agree with the citizens of those countries that Singaporeans are taking their jobs away? Once Singapore pays fair wages to everyone, regardless of their nationality, a new equilibrium will be reached, as companies restructure themselves to cater for the new economy.
At the upcoming protest, we have to be very focused on what we want to tackle. Foreigners are not the issue. If the issue is about stagnating wages, then a theme should be developed on championing on minimum or higher wages. If the issue is on how Singaporeans need to think ahead about what we want our lives to be like, then the theme should be about the future of Singapore.
Moving Singapore Into The Next Stage
Singapore has entered into a new intellectual era where a new “middle-ground” is forming and who are starting to question. For Singapore to move together towards the next stage, we would need to have a very honest conversation with ourselves on what exactly is happening in Singapore and how we can take steps to make things different, better, and to enrich ourselves.