The Singapore Prime Minister (for now), Lee Hsien Loong, wrote on his Facebook that Singaporeans should “be kinder and more gracious to one another“. This was in response to an article in the BBC which had said that there was a “massive compassion deficit” in Singapore.
Lee Hsien Loong went on to say that, “We needn’t accept everything the writer says”. He also said that, “we should try harder to respect and help one another. It will make life more pleasant for all of us.”
Singaporeans should be “kinder and more gracious to one another”? Singaporeans should “try harder to respect and help one another”? Really?
It’s very easy to say all that, but has Lee Hsien Loong and his political party been willing to be “kinder and more gracious” to Singaporeans? Has Lee Hsien Loong and the PAP been willing to “try harder to respect” Singaporeans and “help” us?
Of course it’s very easy for Lee Hsien Loong to jump on the bandwagon and criticise the BBC writer. Why not let’s take a look at ourselves? Why not look at why there is a “massive compassion deficit” in Singapore – and take a look at how the inequality that the PAP has created is causing this.
Singapore is now the most unequal country among the high-income countries (Chart 1).
And according to research, as a country becomes more unequal, this forces its people to become more self-centred. Indeed, Singaporeans are said to be the people who would self-enhance ourselves the most among the high-income countries, or as the author puts it, to most likely to “emphasize or exaggerate one’s desirable qualities relative to other people’s” (Chart 2).
Because of our inequality, Singapore also has the highest rates of prisoners among the high-income countries, after the United States (Chart 3).
Chart 3: The Equality Trust
In fact, because we have such a high level of inequality today, we also have one of the lowest social mobility among the high-income countries, which means that if a Singaporean is poor, they are more likely to be stuck in poverty for the rest of their lives than a poor person in another high-income country (Chart 4).
Not only that, the more unequal a country is, the less trusting its people become. Indeed, the trust levels are the lowest in Singapore (Chart 5).
Chart 5: The Equality Trust
This is also shown in the 2013 World Giving Index where Singaporeans rank at 134th in terms of willingness to help a stranger, or the second least willing to help a stranger (Chart 6).
Chart 6: World Giving Index 2013
And why is low trust important? Because it has been said that “if you are less likely to trust the people around you, you are less willing to have a sense of solidarity and so less likely to stump up the taxes to pay for other people’s benefits“.
Indeed, when you look at what the PAP is willing to do to reduce the inequality in Singapore, they would actually do one of the least for Singaporeans, as compared to the other high-income countries. The taxes and transfers that the PAP is willing to give back to Singaporeans is one of the lowest among the high-income countries (Chart 7).
Has the PAP created this sense of distrust among Singaporeans, so that they do not have to pay more for Singaporeans or have Singaporeans distrusted the PAP so much that we do not trust the PAP to take care of us?
Now, when you look at what these taxes and transfers are, they include things like the rebates on utilities, rental and service and conservancy charges (S&CC). But so what? The PAP might claim to be giving $80 million in S&CC rebates, but they had taken away our money from us by transferring $126 million away from the surplus we had accumulated in our S&CC (Chart 8).
So, the government might claim that these taxes and transfers include scholarships and subsidies for Singaporeans for our education – in 2014, the PAP announced that they would increase the scholarships and subsides for Singaporeans for our education by $147 million but so what? When you look at the $354 million that they are willing to give to foreigners, this is more than twice what they would increase for Singaporeans (Chart 9)!
Does this mean that almost all foreigners would be able to study in Singapore for free whereas only 6% of Singaporean students are able to receive scholarships (Chart 10)?
So, the taxes and transfers also include medical subsidies. But if you look at Budget 2014, in total, the Pioneer Generation Package, Medisave top-ups and healthcare subsidies that the government is willing to give would amount to only $471 million, but what they would be able to collect back from us from the increased Medisave contribution is at least $860 million – or twice as much (Chart 11)! So, they might increase their transfers but who pays for it actually?
Why do they increase what they would give to us, but then make us pay more back to them than what they are willing to give to us? Then, in the end, who earns?
The taxes and transfers also include top-ups to the CPF and Medisave accounts, but with all the money stuck the CPF and Medisave, are Singaporeans even able to take these monies out, or will this only enrich their own coffers? Leong Sze Hian had estimated that only 1 in 8 Singaporeans are able to withdraw their CPF. In fact, Singaporeans are made to pay the highest CPF contribution rate of 37% in the world (Chart 12) and we also receive possibly the lowest returns in the world, at only 2.5%.
Not only that, there is now $253 billion in the CPF but Singaporeans only withdrew $15 billion last year, or only 5.9%, and the rest is stuck in the 94.1% which we cannot withdraw (Chart 13)?
In fact, the PAP had blown their own trumpet by announcing how their health expenditure would go up to $8 billion in 2015 and S$12 billion in 2020 (Chart 15).
But even with their increase in spending from a paltry 30% today to 40%, the 40% would still be the lowest that any government would spend among the high-income countries. In fact, the average that the government in a high-income country would spending on health is 70% and countries which have a similar GDP per capita in Singapore are spending 85% (Chart 16)! So the expected 40% that the PAP is willing to spend is even less than half that of what their responsibility should be! The PAP is shirking its responsibility!
But that’s not even all. The PAP makes Singaporeans pay high taxes and CPF, but gives back only a small proportion of what we have to pay. Singaporeans have to pay $78.1 billion in taxes, CPF and out-of-pocket expenditure but the PAP only spends 48.7% of what we would spend. In comparison, the Nordic governments would spend up to 93% of what their citizens would pay (Chart 17).
But that’s not yet all – do you know who is footing the burden of the taxes? The poor and middle-income Singaporeans are. Poor and middle-income Singaporeans have to pay more than 37% of our wages into tax and CPF, whereas for the richest in Singapore, they only need to pay 25% (Chart 18).
But not only do the poor and middle-income pay for tax and CPF, we also receive the lowest wages among the high-income countries (Chart 19).
And while the richest in Singapore pay the lowest tax and CPF, they also earn the highest salaries among the high-income countries (Chart 20)!
Do you see what is very wrong here? The rich are paid the highest wages and pay the lowest tax and CPF while the poor and middle-income are paid the lowest wages but pay the highest tax and CPF! Does this even make sense to you?
The regressive tax structure in Singapore has also been shown to correlate to the low levels of subjective well-being, or happiness, in Singapore (Chart 21).
And this thus explains why Singaporeans have been ranked the most unhappy people on the planet (Chart 22).
In fact, do you know that since 1995, when Goh Chok Tong was prime minister and then Lee Hsien Loong today, the income share of the rich has kept increasing and increasing, while the income going to the poor has kept declining (Chart 23)?
Chart 23: The World Top Incomes Database
And if you compare the increase in income share of the rich with the income inequality in Singapore, you can see the increase in the income share of the rich actually follows the income inequality in Singapore – the wider the income inequality in Singapore, the more of the income goes to the rich (Chart 24). So, is there an interest to see income inequality grow in Singapore?
Meanwhile, the poverty rate in Singapore has been increasing from 16% in 2002 to 26% in 2011 (Chart 25).
This has led to the richest in Singapore becoming richer and richer while the poorest have only grown poorer and poorer (Chart 26).
Chart 26: Singapore Perspectives 2014 Differences
And do you know who belong to the richest in Singapore? Lee Hsien Loong belongs to the top 0.1% and the PAP politicians belong to the top 5% in Singapore.
It’s all too convenient, Hsien Loong, to ask Singaporeans to “be kinder and more gracious to one another”. It’s all too convenient.
Now, don’t you dare tell Singaporeans what or what not to do until you clean up your own backyard. Don’t you dare tell Singaporeans that we should show more kindness when the system that you and your party has created is the system that has precisely caused the fear and insecurity among Singaporeans, which has caused people to be less kind to one another.
Now, don’t you dare tell Singaporeans that we should be more gracious when your party pays itself the highest salaries in the world, while paying Singaporeans the lowest wages among the high-income countries, yet make poor and middle-income Singaporeans take on the burden of the tax and CPF, while the richest – and you among them – pay the lowest tax and CPF. Now, don’t you dare.
Don’t you dare tell us to be more gracious when it is this very unequal system that you have created that has resulted in Singaporeans feeling so repressed and unhappy.
You have no freaking clue why Singaporeans are so unhappy while you are in your ivory tower, while your party refuses to implement minimum wage for Singaporeans and continues to champion how the $1,000 basic minimum wage under the Progressive Wage Model is something to shout about when it has been shown that $1,500 is the minimum anyone should earn to be even able to live just very basically in Singapore.
Or perhaps you do, but do you have the kindness and graciousness to “try harder to respect and help” Singaporeans and “make life more pleasant for all of us”? Do you? Do you even understand that for Singaporeans to be able to be kinder and more gracious, that we would need to undo this unequal system that you so fiercely want to protect? Are you even willing to undo this system that has allowed your incomes to grow?
Why is it that it has been estimated that more than 85% won’t be able to withdraw their CPF Minimum Sum and won’t be able to retire? Why is it that Singaporeans have to die because they cannot afford healthcare? Why is it that the PAP is only willing to spend at most 40% on health when another country as rich as Singapore would spend 85%?
Why is it that the PAP has $36 billion in surplus in 2012 and an estimated $28 billion in 2013 but the PAP is still unwilling to spend another $5 to $6 billion to provide free healthcare and education for all Singaporeans. Even then, there would still be $22 billion to $30 billion in surplus. And why does the PAP not report this surplus and hides this figure from Singaporeans?
Yet, why is the PAP so willing to spend on non-Singaporeans – at $354 million for foreign students but is so unwilling to provide free education for Singaporeans?
No, Hsien Loong, you do not tell Singaporeans what or what not to do. Singaporeans will tell you what we want you to do. We want a kinder and more gracious government. We want a government that will increase our wages and make the rich, like you, fulfil your responsibility, and not for the PAP to push the burden onto us. We want a government which would fulfil its responsibility by increasing subsidies for education, healthcare and transport. We want a government which would return our CPF and allow Singaporeans to retire graciously.
We want a government which would protect its people. Not a government which simply only “talks” about wanting to “respect and help one another” then go back to pay themselves high salaries, let themselves pay low tax and CPF, while the rest of Singaporeans suffer.
No, Hsien Loong, you do your job. Singaporeans put you there to do your job, and you have shown yourself to have failed miserably. You are not able to show the “respect” that you would call for Singaporeans to do, then how do you expect Singaporeans, in all earnesty to do so, when the PAP cannot even lead by example?
Does the PAP even have any moral integrity or moral legitimacy to call on Singaporeans to be “kinder and more gracious” when the PAP has not even shown itself to meet the standards it self-proclaims? No, enough is enough. Enough of the hypocrisy.
Until you learn to behave like a government, you have lost your legitimacy to rule. Until you learn to truly show kindness and graciousness to Singaporeans, until you pay yourself much lower salaries (not $2.2 million but $300,000), pay Singaporeans higher wages and increase the subsidies for essential public services in Singapore, whatever you and the PAP say is hot air, it’s empty and meaningless.
Singaporeans have seen through you, PAP. Now, try as you might to salvage any last bits of dignity that you might (even) have, but Singaporeans have seen through your veil.
I will never trust the PAP anymore. All the years of reputation and hard work that Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and Ong Teng Cheong have built have been shred to bits by the mismanagement of their successors. Singaporeans miss the PAP politicians of the past – the politicians who had taken care of Singaporeans and who had put their heart and soul into building Singapore. They had made Singapore grow and prosper and the lives of Singaporeans grew better under them.
Today, we have a Singapore where the heart and soul of Singapore is being robbed from us. We have people in government who tell us that it is not in our interest to know too much because we shouldn’t. You mean we shouldn’t even have something that is our basic right? We have people who fudge our statistics so that we would not know what is truly going on – the Gini coefficient has been pushed down in the reports from 2008 to 2010, and then to 2013 (Chart 27). Why? To make it look like Singapore is becoming more equal when it is not? You want a country to be more equal, you make it more equal. You don’t make the statistics look nicer to pretend to the people.
We have people who no longer tell us the truth but want to hide it.
Then, if so, what will happen to Singapore and Singaporeans when we no longer know what is really happening in Singapore? My fellow Singaporeans, I have to let you know – this year, 2014, is the last year that I am able to accurately let you know what is going on in Singapore, based on the statistics that I am able to dig out. From this year onwards, it would be very difficult to share with you any real statistics as they would either be fudged or hidden from us. It has happened several times now, with the surplus statistic as Leong Sze Hian had shown above, with the Gini coefficient statistics and even with the CPF statistics. I would have to stop writing after this because there wouldn’t be any useful information to analyse anymore.
Now, you only have one chance – you either vote the PAP out of government or they would keep doing what they are doing and Singaporeans will be blinded forever and be forced to work in oppression.
Hsien Loong, your government has done a great disservice to Singaporeans. Your government has shown itself shrewd and cunning. Your government has shown itself to be most despicable. I have no kind words for your government and your party, the PAP. It has shown itself to be so embolden that Singaporeans have been made to suffer at your very hands.
Yet, you have the cheek to tell Singaporeans to be “kinder and more gracious”. The cheek! Do you not even feel a sense of remorse or guilt for saying that?
At the next election, my fellow Singaporeans, please do what you have to do. Your lives is in your hands. If you don’t do what’s right, the future and the lives of your children and their children lies in your hands. We either live with the mistakes we keep making or we right the wrongs that have been done, and we fight. And fight to reclaim Singapore from the dirty hands that has soiled our land.