Singaporeans Are Poor Because The PAP Makes Us Poor

Acting Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong was quoted by the Channel NewsAsia as having said that, “while more should be spent to help the needy, the challenge is to maintain a progressive tax system and avoid getting into debt.

Anyone who has studied the finances in Singapore would be thoroughly confounded by what Lawrence is saying. Based on available figures, there is around S$1 trillion in the Singapore Financial Reserves. What debt is Lawrence talking about? Is he suggesting that if a few million dollars are spent to help the poor that Singapore will go bankrupt because of that?

Of course, this isn’t the first time Lawrence has befuddled Singaporeans with what he had said. In August this year, he had also said that, “Singaporean households are in good financial shape and even those who may have over-stretched themselves are unlikely to default on their loans should interest rates rise.” However, the reality is that, “[Household] debt to GDP (in Singapore) has risen steadily to 75% of GDP currently from 55% in 2010, 45% in 2005 and 38% in 2000.” Also, “household leverage is (also said to be) high relative to other countries in the region, at 75% of GDP.”

Clearly, the Singapore government is in fantastic financial shape, after years of withdrawing from the CPF of Singaporeans for their own investment where the returns are not returned back to the people. On the contrary, it is poor Singaporeans who are in terrible financial shape and are in dire need of financial assistance.

It is thus highly troubling that Lawrence is also the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Board member. For a minister who cannot seem to understand that Singapore has more than enough financial reserves to do that little bit to help the poor, because the poor are the ones who are actually in debt, and not the government, puts question into the credibility of Lawrence to manage the finances of Singapore.

In fact, what government debt is Lawrence talking about when Singapore is one of the top 15 largest foreign reserves in the world and the largest reserves per capita in the world? What debt is Lawrence talking about when the sovereign wealth funds, GIC and Temasek Holdings – which uses our CPF monies for investment – are ranked the 8th and 9th largest funds in the world, respectively? In fact, according to Mr Leong Sze Hian, Singapore has $36 billion in surplus last year and we actually have the 7th largest surplus in the world. What debt is Lawrence trying to will Singaporeans into worrying about?

Not only that, compared to the other high-income countries, the companies in Singapore actually earn the highest profits – the wage share as a proportion of GDP is actually the lowest in Singapore, which means a higher proportion actually goes into profits. But more importantly, because the largest companies in Singapore are actually owned by Temasek Holdings, and thus the government, it is the Singapore government which are earning the high profits!

Yet, while the Singapore government is earning the highest profits among the high-income countries, Singaporeans are the ones made to earn the lowest wages among the high-income countries. Thus Singaporeans also have the lowest purchasing power among the developed countries, and even when compared to the developing countries.

Yet, Singaporeans are made by the government to pay the highest proportion of our wages into CPF (as compared to the rest of the world), while we also receive the lowest returns on our CPF and we thus have one of the smallest retirement funds in the world.

And, because of the PAP government’s rent-seeking behaviour, they have pushed up prices in Singapore to be one of the highest in the world. However, the PAP government continues to now allow housing prices to rise to 1997/98 levels, when the housing bubble had then caused our economy to collapse, knowing fair well that if the housing boom continues unfettered that a similar situation will happen in 2014/15, then why is the PAP not implementing more drastic solutions?

So, Singaporeans are paid the lowest wages among the high-income countries while we are made to deal with one of the highest prices, and because the PAP government spends the lowest on healthcare as compared to the other developed countries, and one of the lowest in the world, Singaporeans actually have to pay the highest out of pocket for healthcare. Indeed, it is known that many poor Singaporeans have thus chosen to fall ill instead of seeing a doctor, and some have resorted to selling their homes so that they would be able to to pay off their hospital bills.

All these, even as Singapore is the richest country in the world, by per capita GDP. Yet, in the richest country in the world, we also see the highest poverty rate among the high-income countries and even among the middle-income countries in East and Southeast Asia. How is this even possible?

Slide1

In fact, not only that, Singapore now has the 4th largest billionaires per capita in the world, and because of the high poverty rate, it also explains why Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, and one of the highest in the world.

Yet, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had the decency to say that, “if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.

Slide8

Do you even think that it is sensible of our nation’s highest “authority” to claim that the unfettered importation of billionaires is wise even as Singapore has the highest poverty rate and income inequality among the developed countries, and when Singaporeans are paid the lowest wages among the developed countries?

Even Hong Kong can no longer answer to its conscience and has decided to implement minimum wage in 2011 – to join the 90% of the countries in the world to do so – and has also defined the poverty rate in September this year. The guilt-stricken Hong Kong has finally saw it within their conscience to start protecting its people, whilst its economic twin, Singapore, continues to barge ahead for an elite group of people, while leaving the rest of its people behind. This, my friends, is our once-sunny island Singapore. It’s no wonder that our smiles have faded away.

Finally, Lawrence was quoted to have said that, “the principle of the wealthier paying more taxes should stand to maintain fairness“. But do you know that the rich in Singapore actually pays one of the lowest taxes in the world, and compared to the other developed countries, Singapore’s tax system is actually one of the least progressive? So, what is Lawrence talking about when he said that, “We are looking at how we can have a more progressive system in order to preserve and uphold this sense of a fair and just society”? What “progressive”? What “fair and just”? Clearly, Singapore’s tax system is one of the most unfair systems among the developed countries and is thoroughly shameful for a country which happens to be the richest country in the world and with one of the largest reserves and surpluses in the world. For a country this rich, the PAP government does not have the decency and humanity to treat its people with the basic respect and dignity that it can afford to do for its people?

So, all this time, the PAP government refuses to implement minimum wage. It refuses to define a poverty line. And the PAP government refuses to reduce income inequality.

Slide2

And so, the PAP government spends the lowest government spending, as compared to the other developed countries. The PAP government simply refuses to help the poor.

All this time, the PAP government refuses to increase wages. They refuse to increase the government’s expenditure on health. And it refuses to increase its public spending on the poor.

Yet, the PAP government can see it fit to pay themselves the highest salaries in the world. How the PAP government can lead itself to believe that by already spending the lowest public spending among the developed countries that the country can actually fall into debt is beyond any logical comprehension. If Singapore will fall into debt, it would be because we are paying too much to sustain the livelihoods of the PAP politicians. By some estimates, Singapore is paying $40 million to sustain the salaries of the PAP politicians every year. Will this money be spent more wisely helping the poor? I think it’s an indefinite yes.

Plainly put, the poor in Singapore are not poor not because they are not willing to do better. The poor are poor because the PAP government makes them poor. It is the PAP government that pays them low wages, that makes them pay the largest proportion of their wages into CPF – larger than the higher-income earners – and it is the PAP government that gives them low returns into their CPF. Yet, it is the PAP government that increases prices so that Singaporeans have to pay higher and higher prices out-of-pocket. If Singaporeans are poor, it is because the PAP makes us poor.

Yet, the PAP won’t do what is right.

Last time, if you don’t vote for the PAP, people are afraid that things might go wrong. Now, if you continue to vote for the PAP, things will only go even more wrong. It is safe to say that you can vote for any party now and things simply cannot get any worse. In fact, things are so bad now that you can only vote for another party (or parties) to set things right.

Slide3

Lee Hsien Loong had said that there are no “dead poor” in Singapore. What is a “dead poor”?? Does that mean that in Singapore, people have to die before the PAP government will consider them as “poor”? This is the “compassionate” government that we had voted for. How compassionate that they would rather us die than even help us.

If the PAP won’t help us, then it’s time Singaporeans help ourselves and vote for what’s right for our lives. If the PAP won’t help us, then it’s time we help ourselves.

Slide4

You might want to vote for what is “safe” and you might want to still vote for the PAP at the next general election. And so, you’ve done that for the past 3 elections. Has anything changed? If things would have changed, we wouldn’t have to wait for 15 years now and still have to wait for the next election for anything to happen. If the PAP has any conscience, it would have implemented minimum wage, defined a poverty line and reduce income inequality, as the people have begged them to. But they have done nothing of that.

If you still trust that the PAP can suddenly have an epiphany at the next election, go ahead and vote for them. You can bet your life and our children’s lives on a party that now has a 15-year track record of refusing to help the people – that’s already 30% of the PAP’s time in power.

Or we can save our country now and put it back on the right track. It is in your hands now. Whether our country can make or break, it will depend on whether we can turn things around and save our country. The PAP changed its heart 15 years ago when it stopped caring about the people. When will you realise that?

31 comments

  1. Sgcynic

    Hmm… Dead poor are better or worse off than those in poverty? Should be much worse off right since there are no dead poor according to LHL but we shouldn’t have a poverty line to avoid “cliff effect” and “polarising society”. So those on public assistance and subsisting on $5 a day also not dead poor… probably they are not dead yet? Uniquely Singapore!

  2. Ginger

    IMF said we had $51+Billion surplus. Is it actually $15B less? Peanuts!

    I disagree with you that we are at our lowest point. Eh, no ”’dead poor”.
    Our poor get 150% more per day than what qualifies for dead poor. Of
    cos, in countries where $1.90 is dead poor, the cost of living is much lower.
    But if we continue along the current route, there should be quite a few
    dead poor running around sooner rather than later. Be patient. Things will
    get more interesting as more turn 55, have no job and cant draw on
    their CPF to settle the mortgage on their flats. And when they sell these
    flats, they wont be able to buy another becos of the rocketing minimum sum,
    needed of cos to keep up with soaring inflation and medical fees.

    Dear sgcynic, this country is definitely not polarised. There just happens
    to be a Vast difference between the very rich…and us lesser mortals….
    For a long time, I’ve found it puzzling that 80% here live in Public Housing.
    This is housing that was built for the Poor – who don’t exist – of this country.
    This does not happen anywhere else in the world. That it happens in one
    of the richest countries in the world is amazing. As you say, Uniquely Spore.

    • Sgcynic

      There are the filthy rich as exemplified by the ministers and there are the zombie poor – those that toil on multiple jobs to avoid being dead poor.

      No need to be puzzled about public housing here. Think Foxconn – Singapore inc. Affordable housing for the workers. They provide recreational facilities and other amenities for their labour force too.

      • choofrfreoer

        Dead poor as in “absolute” or “relative” poverty? As usual, Roy fails to define his terms, leaving us puzzled about what he means exactly.

        I suspect Roy actually means “relative poverty”. Which is actually just another indicator of the income gap. But the arguments Roy is using like “the poor aren’t able to afford xxx, yyy, zzz” are actually arguments for “absolute poverty”, which is the general case whenever people refer to “poverty”. “Absolute poverty” is defined by the UN.

        The government only has a mandate to ensure the basic necessities of Singaporeans are met. It has no obligation to ensure everyone lives luxurious lives. And therefore, as long as the poor in Singapore have basic needs like food, shelter, water and security, there is no reason why the government should sponsor them for wants like phones, computers or bicycles.

        Typical of all other essays, Roy doesn’t realise that there are different types to whatever issue he is commenting on, whether it is “equality” or “poverty”. And then he brings up the arguments of one side when he actually means the other.

  3. Nimrod

    LHL is actually correct. There is no dead poor, ONLY the living poor! That is why people go Bedok Reservoir to commit suicide, because the dead will get rich once they receive hell money from the living poor.

    • choofrfreoer

      “Relative poor”, not “absolute poor”. Roy always fails to define his terms.

      And as long as the poor have the basic necessities, why should the government help them enjoy life? Do you think people will ever be satisfied? No. The rational human response is to continue asking for more!

  4. Tim

    Greater power, created great greedy to LHL personality. We do not need foreign work that get low salary, and we locate can do almost every jobs in Singapore. The only problem now is tye “Government Inc” want to take goods profit year after year and paying salary that SG worker cannot afford to accept to survive in Singapore. Singaporean are talent and hard working, we are will to accept to take on any job if our salary is in par to our standard of living.

  5. Nomoney

    I am beginning to understand why MPs and Ministers talk like that. They don’t know the amount in the reserve. Even LHH, the ex-Minister of Finance, has no clue on that number. Even OTC, once Deputy Prime Minister and President, has no clue on that number.

    • choofrfreoer

      Do you even know what the reserve is for? Did you know the Malaysian ringgit and the Thai baht was once strong as well? Did you ever realise why Singapore was the only Southeast Asian country to emerge unscathed from the 1997 financial crisis?

      Oh, it’s always easy to ask for the government to spend. Do you think the government doesn’t want to? It definitely helps them buy votes! But they’re more insightful than that, and I’m very pleased that the government doesn’t engage in such pork barrel politics.

  6. Pingback: Daily SG: 20 Nov 2013 | The Singapore Daily
  7. Lawless

    “In fact, things are so bad now that you can only vote for another party (or parties) to set things right.”

    It’s true that the rope around the neck of many will be tightened(choke to death) under the current regime. However, it’s not true we will find the solution in democratic party centric politicking.

  8. Alan

    If one is already dead, there is no need to be poor. That’s why the Clown Prince said there is no dead poor. He also said no need for poverty line because we already have 18 layers of kueh lapis to help them. But he never explained why even if we do have a poverty line, why we can’t have the kueh lapis to help others ? Same with a minimum wage, what is stopping them to provide additional schemes to help those marginalised?

    Anyway, politicians always have their own agenda when they talk cock, ours any difference from those who enrich themselves first before they really want to help the poor?

  9. House of Sin

    “Giving” to the poor is not the way to go and that’s why the resistance from political hegemony. And hoping that the rich elites to be compassionate towards “losers” is delusionary and even wickedly deceptive.

    They are like blind sheep following “church leaders” in the house of worship. I say…wrong House.

  10. lightning

    I think you need to understand a bit more about Economics. Having a large foreign reserve has nothing to do with government spending. Considering also that Singapore is a small country, this means that when we suffer a recession, we must have the reserves to prevent the poor from becoming poorer during this period. Yes I admit that perhaps we have accumulated too much reserves, but honestly, having those reserves are probably doing us a favour in light of all the Greece and Europe countries facing the exact opposite problem.

    I suggest you read up on macroeconomics before you pass quick judgement over mere statistics and numbers.
    Blanchard, Olivier (2011). Macroeconomics Updated (5th ed.) would be a good start.

      • choofrfreoer

        Yes, and where do you think goverment spending like building and upgrading educational institutions and subsidies like HDB subsidies come from. The sky?

        Oh, wait, you’re going to say personal tax. Why don’t you compare the tax rate of Singapore to other countries? Or is it because you’ll find that even though they have a higher tax rate, they are still in debt?

        I heard you’re good at analysing statistics and doing math. Why don’t you do the math to prove me wrong?

  11. Jo

    Somebody obviously hasn’t studied much economics. What gives you the right to write such a post? Let me just review one of the points that you’ve harped on. You say “Singaporeans pay out of their own pockets for health”. I completely agree with you. The Singapore’s healthcare system is structurally different from that of the USA or Great Britain where healthcare is free of charge. That may sound like a wonderful idea to you but take a step back and think: If you, heaven forbid, one day suffered a heart attack, would you trade paying out of your pocket for waiting 8 hours for a turn to see a specialist, then another 6 hours for x-ray imaging and possible another 4 hours for the results? In countries where healthcare is free, people go to see doctors for every small ailment they have, taking precious time and resources away from those who really need them. In Singapore, we have a efficient health system where waiting is significantly less (about 3-4 hours maximum for a bed at a public hospital). This is precisely because people are more selective about when to seek healthcare and when not to.

    I agree that the government has its shortcomings and that the rich-poor gap isn’t being closed. From a social point of view, that is not only sad but also obstructive to social cohesion. You’ll realise that this problem is actually troubling many developed countries all over the world and not just Singapore. It is true that the government officials are paid a incredibly huge (and somewhat ridiculous) amount of money but just cutting their salary alone won’t solve anything. Instead of wasting time and effort compiling all these statistics and trying your utmost to come up with a coherent post, why don’t you go to the nearest volunteer organisation and help the “dirt-poor” as you call them?

    I think it’s real cute the way you blame the government for everything in almost every one of your posts.

    • Roy Ngerng

      Singaporeans are already waiting 4, 6 and 8 hours, as you have indicated.
      My aim is to raise awareness on issues that matter to Singaporeans – we can make up our own minds as to what is really happening in Singapore and vote for a government that will put things right.
      To alleviate poverty in Singapore requires policy change from a governmental level.

      I have never called the poor, and will never call the poor, “dirt-poor”. Do not put words into my mouth. It’s clear your aim is to malign me.

      Yes, I put the blame squarely on the PAP government for neglecting the rights of the citizens while focusing on profits. If you want to earn money, go set up a business. Don’t ruin your peoples’ lives by making money out of them.

      • Jo

        Ah. I apologise for the “dirt-poor” part. I misread the name of the person who posted the comment. Nevertheless, it is not my intention to malign you, and there is no need to be overly defensive.

        And you’ve clearly never had the experience of seeking healthcare in the UK or US. I’ve interned there and the situation here is like paradise compared to the waiting hours and queue in those countries. Please, be at least slightly realistic when you post your opinions which by the way once online no longer becomes just yours. Singapore is needs to maintain a healthy GDP (and by extension, amount of profits) in order to attract investors and foreign talent. We don’t have the natural resources, space nor even the manpower to support our aging population. The government is very focused on economics and profit-earning no doubt, but it will be incredibly difficult to survive otherwise.

        I agree with you that some policies should be changed for a more balanced society. However, you should only criticise the current ones put into place when you have solid evidence that the policies you propose will achieve the intended results of alleviating poverty. In the case of the USA? Not so much.

      • Roy Ngerng

        You bring up the US and the UK.

        Now, I would like you to bring out examples of the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark), Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Australia. Now, compare them and give me a better picture.

        Do it, and we will see what the existing policies that have alleviated poverty has worked, and very effectively.

      • Sean

        Hi Roy,

        Jo has raised several important points about the quality of the healthcare system, and in response, you mentioned the Nordic countries. While both of you have valid points, I’d have to come down on Jo’s side on this one.

        Governments do have to make choices, and these choices will not benefit everyone equally; that’s a fact of life and there are always trade-offs to be made because of the scarcity of resources.

        The social security system of the Nordic countries, while attractive, do come at the expense of having extremely high personal tax rates in place: http://www.cnbc.com/id/47290212/page/10. This would hurt our economy unduly – as previous commenters have pointed out, Singapore relies on the financial sector for business – raising the personal tax rate to redistribute income would hurt us, as Jo mentioned.

        Furthermore, it seems like most of your statistics are cited from fallacious examples in your previous work. Poverty is not something you define based on your own arbitrary standards. By extending your logic I could just as easily say that anyone earning under $2000, $3000 or $5000 a month are poor, as seen below.

        Citing an article previously written by you:

        “If you look at the CPF Annual Report in 2011, where the distribution of the monthly wages of Singaporeans were last available (the government omitted this information from 2012), 458,257 Singaporeans were earning less than S$1,500 every month. This represents 26% of the Singaporean and PR population (Chart 1).

        As such, it can said that 26% of Singaporeans are living in poverty in Singapore.”

        I do agree with you that our government can definitely do much more, and that our people are falling by the side in pursuit of competitiveness. We are at a watershed moment in our society where we have to patch the existing socio-economic gaps. But change must not be advocated blindly – do hope to see more well-balanced views in the future from you.

        Cheers!

    • Ace Bendict

      “The idea that Singaporeans pay low tax is a fallacy.”

      Nice one. Do you even know what the definition of a “fallacy” is? If you want to use a big words, at least check the definition first, or the rest of us won’t know what you mean.

      • choofrfreoer

        To make it clearer, saying “A’s argument is a fallacy” means that the argument contains loopholes. It doesn’t mean that the idea itself is wrong; just that the way A argues it is wrong.

  12. Johannes

    Hi Guys,
    Thanks for bringing this discussion to life. i ave been trying to create a discussion by posting a different perspective in a mild way, but it has been ignored. Anyway, let’s keep the discussion non-aggressive one and focus with the topic on hand. 🙂

  13. Ken

    I’m just stating the fact.

    The reason why S’porean majority is poor because they are just too lazy! No Action taken!

    Don’t dare to take calculated risk, only wanna find easy way out. Blame family, blame friends, blame government that your poor. And expect Government to give money to the citizen who are lazy.

    Bill Gates says If your born poor, it’s not your fault. But if you die poor, it is your fault.

    It very normal that majority people are poor. Can’t imagine majority people are rich then Been rich isn’t a goal or assets any more.

    Government doesn’t make you poor, is you decided to be poor.

  14. Pingback: Inequality: How PAP has Betrayed Singaporeans | The Heart Truths

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