Today is one year since I was fired from my job.
9 May 2014 was my birthday.
10 days later, on 19 May 2014, I received the letter of demand from the Singapore prime minister with the intention to sue me for defamation.
10 days after that, on 29 May 2014, I was formally sued for defamation.
On 10 June 2014, I was fired from the hospital that I was working at.
It has been a year now since I lost my job.
When I was fired, both the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the Ministry of Health sent out press releases to support the firing, saying that I had defamed the prime minister.
The firing is political. The PAP government wanted to get rid of me.
When I was fired, I was given an hour to pack everything. All my colleagues were asked to stay inside their offices and they were not allowed to come and see me. When one colleague came by to my office, she was chased away.
Within an hour, I had packed and was standing at the security waiting for my transport back. They even prepared boxes for me to carry my things. There were some people who were standing watch over me while I was packing, people whom I did not recognise from my workplace or from Human Resource.
Was I such a security threat?
Until today, I have still not met my ex-colleagues.
Before I received the termination letter, I knew it was coming. 3 days before, I had spoken at the first #ReturnOurCPF protest on 7 June 2014. I knew that by speaking at the protest, the PAP government would not tolerate what I was doing.
They already did not tolerate the articles that I had written on the CPF. The top article that I wrote, “Truth Exposed: The Dirty CPF-HDB Scheme To Trick Singaporeans“, has already garnered more than 500,000 views since I published it in April last year.
This is the article that really started the PAP’s attack against me.
And they were going to punish me further.
On the Monday after the protest, on 9 June 2014, the termination did not come.
The next morning, on 10 June 2014, I heard rumours that Human Resource was asking for last minute meetings with my supervisors.
I went for my usual lunch. When I came back, I sat with bated breath.
An hour before they wanted to fire me, the supervisors at my workplace and Human Resource had a meeting. They asked everyone to stay in their office.
At about 3pm, I was called to the meeting room.
“You know what this is, right?” my supervisor asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
My supervisor left the room. She tried. But she could not save me. They all tried.
Human Resource handed me the letter.
They were kind. They tried too. But they could not help me.
The one person who stood by my side as I packed, smiled uncomfortably and looked slightly embarrassed, as she helped. She was trying to ease my pain. She would know the firing is political.
Another person stood watching, nonchalant. She looked almost like a plainclothes policewoman, or an Internal Security Department officer.
I tried to remain calm as I packed my belongings into the prepared box.
In a way, I was also glad that I could leave. I did not want to drag the hospital down further.
A few days before, I was told that the Ministry of Health had decided to meet with the hospital for the very first time in many years to discuss funding for HIV programmes. They had not done so for several years.
If the hospital did not fire me, funding for HIV programmes could be cut.
This would affect the ability of many patients to receive funding for their medication.
I would rather be fired than have their lives threatened by the government.
People living with HIV now have a very good chance of living a full life just like anyone, as long as they take medication regularly. Me being fired means nothing compared to the chances they have.
When I was fired and asked to leave, I felt relieved.
At least things were going to end at the hospital.
But it was only the start for me.
For the next one year, I faced continuous persecution from the government, was later charged with two criminal offences and had my reputation tarnished by state-controlled media.
And I had to struggle to live.
I was writing on and off for The Real Singapore, before the government forced them to shut down.
Before Yang Kaiheng was allowed to go to Australia to see his ailing father, The Real Singapore was asked to shut down their website.
Another source of my livelihood was cut off, again.
For the last one year, I have not held formal employment.
Who would employ me?
The reality is this – as long as the PAP is in government, I will not be able to work in a government agency, all social services agencies which have to rely on the government for funding, government-linked companies and companies which have contracts with the government, and this include major companies and multi-national companies.
As long as the PAP is in government, I will be made bankrupt.
The PAP controls almost everything in Singapore and they could use these to do whatever the PAP wants to people it wants to hurt. I am not the first. Many other opposition members and supporters have come under the same fate and lost their jobs.
“You know why you are fired, right?” this was what was said to one of them.
Ironically, Singaporeans do not realise that if the PAP is no longer the government, the PAP would not have such power to bully Singaporeans. Singaporeans would no longer be held beholden to the PAP and be threatened by the PAP. But we allow them. We allow them to stay in government. What for, I also don’t know.
But this is how the PAP does it – cut off your means of survival, make it difficult for you to make ends meet, so as to force you to stop critiquing them. Then they will win, they believe. This is their form of prison.
And so, for the past one year, I have been more or less unemployed, except with my stint at The Real Singapore.
For two weeks after I was fired, a friend told me that the cleaner at his workplace had gone on leave and asked me if I knew anyone who could help out. I volunteered myself.
It was not easy. My back was aching after just one day of cleaning. I had to clean the toilets, mop the floor, wipe the chairs and tables, wipe the doors – for the whole office. And do this everyday.
By the end of one week, my body was aching in places I forgot existed.
And I was paid low wages.
They say cleaning is a low-skilled job. They say it thus should not be paid high wages.
Last year, the PAP said that cleaners will earn (only) S$1,000 every month. But this is still half of what a person needs to earn a decently in Singapore.
The PAP makes a big hoo-ha over increasing wages of cleaners from S$800 to S$1,000. They say this is an increase of 20%. Wah, so much leh.
But would the PAP ministers and members of parliament be willing to serve Singaporeans for S$1,000 per month?
Yesterday, I met up with someone whom I used to work with. We chatted and she asked me why I am doing all these.
“But some poor people are really lazy,” she said.
“But what if they are really not capable, why should we pay them higher wages?” she asked.
“What if some people are just not smart enough?”
But that is missing the point.
People are poor not because they are not hardworking or not smart enough. They are poor because they are simply not paid high enough wages. Research has shown this.
The rich (and this is the PAP) also wants to label people who are poor as being lazy because they want to justify that they can then keep the high profits for themselves, and pay themselves high salaries. Research has also already shown this.
I asked her, but why are we judging people according to their academic abilities?
There are people who have gone to ITEs and who become successful in life, becoming businessmen, for example. How many university graduates (me included) can say that? How many of us dare to take the risks?
“Then people who are not capable enough should take on lower-skilled jobs,” she said.
“They should get a lower pay,” she insisted.
But who are we to decide that they should get lower pay, I asked? Who are we to decide that their skills are not good enough?
“There are skills development programmes set up by the government for polytechnic and ITE students,” she said.
But that’s not the point, I said. So what if they are trained with more skills, but their salaries do not increased.
In fact, for most polytechnic and ITE students, their salaries remain stagnant for the rest of their working lives. Singapore has the largest wage gap between skilled and unskilled workers. Also, Singapore also has the largest wage gap between university graduates and those with secondary education.
But do you also know that research has shown that if we pay people who are poor higher wages, they will invest the money into their children’s education, they will be able to move up the social ladder, they will be able to earn higher pay and live better lives.
And they contribute back to society.
Not only that, there will be less mental health problems, fewer crimes, and our society will become better off.
“But some of them are just not good enough,” she said.
See, you are also affected by the PAP’s propaganda, I told her. We grow up in a system where we are told that if you do not do well in exams, you are not good enough. Right from young, from age 8 or 10, it is fixed where a child in Singapore would go. If he or she is deemed exam-smart, he or she goes into a “higher” stream and end up in university. If not, he or she goes to ITE. It is all fixed from young. This is the way our system has become.
And because it becomes a dog-eat-dog world, Singaporeans have to fight over one another, we make ourselves believe that we are better than someone else so that we can get ahead. And again, research has shown that because Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, it has also made Singaporeans become the most self-centred.
But is this right?
This is not the case in other truly developed countries, I told her. In fact, if you are an ‘N’ Level equivalent in another developed country, for example, you will not be judged or discriminated upon. You will be respected for what you do, and people would respect you for who you are.
I shared with her how I was speaking to a Norwegian person and comparing the wages of cleaners in Singapore and in Norway. The Norwegian person took offence with my comparison. He couldn’t understand why I was comparing cleaners as low-income workers. To him, cleaners are equally respected jobs and they should be paid high wages – indeed, cleaners and other low-wage workers in Norway earn at least S$5,000 every month.
Their prime minister only earns S$25,000 every month. In comparison, cleaners in Singapore earn a low S$1,000 and the Singapore prime minister earns nearly S$200,000 every month.
It is horrendous what the PAP is doing.
“But you know, what if people are okay with living the lives they are living now? What if the poor are okay with being poor?” she asked.
I shared with her how many years ago, when I had low self-esteem, I thought that I would never be truly happy but would content with the level of happiness I was at. But when I learnt to overcome my self-esteem issues, I got to a new level of happiness which I never understood before. I got to a level of self-actualisation which I never knew I could have in the past. I finally understood what happiness really means.
And this is the kind of actualisation I hope that others can have – to be truly happy.
I explained to her how new research has shown that for people who live in poverty, their brains actually shrink. As they are forced to make ends meet with what little they have, they are forced to spend much of their brain thinking about how to find food, how to survive, thinking about mundane things and this saps the energy out of their brains. There is very little brain juice left for other productive work.
This is the state that the poor in Singapore is in. They are struggling, day in, day out – at least 30% of them. They hate the PAP government but yet they blame themselves – the PAP’s propaganda worked: if you are poor, this means you are not hardworking enough, you are not good enough. And the poor truly believe that they are not. And then, they have to rely on handouts from the government because they simply do not get to earn enough to live on. And when the PAP gives out a few hundreds of dollars of handouts to these poor, they will vote for the PAP even though they do not like the PAP. But why? Your life is so bad you do not envision how else it can be – at least the PAP gives you a little bit more money.
But they do not know that if they were to vote for the opposition, they would get higher wages and would not need to keep relying on handouts.
But how do you tell this to people whom the PAP have forced into poverty so as to keep them into a perpetual state of voting for the PAP? Smart move by the PAP, but very insidious. But it hurts the poor. It traps them in poverty and cause their brains to shrink, as research has shown.
This is unfair.
This is why I fight, I told her – for a better society.
“But I still don’t get what you are fighting for,” she exclaimed.
Vote the PAP out, I said, exasperated.
Look, I told her, this is what the PAP is doing. They are telling you they cannot give you higher wages because costs are too high because they have jacked up the costs and the rents, and then they tell you, in a high-cost country, prices have to be high, but to do keep costs low, they have to keep your wages low. Then they also give back the lowest health subsidies to you among the developed countries, the lowest education subsidies, and they make Singaporeans pay for the highest out-of-pocket health expenditure in the world, after Switzerland, and the highest university fees that citizens have to pay in the world. And when you become out of a job, you still have to pay for MediShield and for healthcare costs even though you don’t have a job, and the PAP will not give you unemployment benefits. Pretty much, you are fucked. The PAP is telling you, if you lose your job, if you cannot live properly in Singapore, too bad, you are my citizen, and I am not going to take care of you. You are fucked.
And Singaporeans buy it!
“Then you need to get your message across! To many people, it just looks like you are just criticising everything. You are just being anti-government,” my friend said.
“What is your message?!” she asked again.
Vote the PAP out, I said! Now is her turn to become exasperated.
Truth is most Singaporeans won’t know how it feels to be poor or struggling, to lose their jobs or to not be able to pay their bills, until it really happens to them. She admitted to this as well.
But actually many Singaporeans are struggling, but they are willing not to think of it.
Lee Kuan Yew once said:
Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love-it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.
The truth is many people who come to our protests come because they have lost their jobs, they have lost their homes, or their cannot pay for their hospital bills or their home loans.
That is when they break down and see the PAP for what it is.
And they are not just anybody. I know people who had studied even at Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls’ School, and who have lost their jobs for years and have been struggling to survive. These are the people who have also seen the PAP for their true colours.
But how many Singaporeans can see that? How many more Singaporeans have to lose their jobs or cannot pay their loans?
Already, poverty has risen from 20% to 30% over the last 10 years. At the rate it is going, it will continue to rise to 40% or even 45% in the next 10 years.
By then, won’t it be too late for Singaporeans to do something? By then, you will be seeing many people who have lost their jobs or who cannot pay their loans, who will become very angry. And when things flip, would we still be able to manage things?
The reason why I criticise the PAP is because after spending 3 years looking at the policies, I realise that the PAP has been creating policies to hurt Singaporeans for the past 30 years. The PAP no longer care for Singaporeans.
In the first 20 years, the Old Guards, Toh Chin Chye, S. Rajaratnam, actually took care of Singaporeans. Wages went up, CPF interest rates went up and income inequality went down. Singaporeans were benefiting. Singaporeans were protected.
But when Lee Kuan Yew got Rothschild in to advise GIC in 1981, the PAP changed its constitution to remove the aim of “abolishing inequality” from their constitution and replaced it with “self-reliance”. That was when they started with the concept of “meritocracy” and got Singaporeans to rely on themselves, so that the PAP can take Singaporeans’ money and earn for themselves. Then from the mid-1980s, the PAP started creating policies – CPF Minimum Sum, Medisave, MediShield, increase flat prices and university fees and reduce CPF interest rates – so as to make money off Singaporeans and to hurt Singaporeans. Lee Kuan Yew then chased away the Old Guards in the 1980s.
How do you want me to tell Singaporeans this unless they do their own research and decide for themselves what’s going on?
This is why the PAP makes Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world and earn low pay, so that Singaporeans won’t have the time to find these out. We laughed, but I was serious.
I can only tell people this much but the rest is up to them. But most people won’t care until their lives get worse for themselves. But wouldn’t it be too late?
I told her I am tired.
I have been fighting for the past one year now. And I have been impatient. To be honest, I am doing all these on my own. I have been desperate. I have spent 3 years looking through all these – some people have known these before me – and I have seen how the PAP will not take care of Singaporeans. The PAP simply doesn’t care. It just wants to make money off Singaporeans.
How do I share this with Singaporeans? Many of my writings are long because whenever I find out about something, I just write it. What comes, what I write.
Sure, maybe I should come out with a message – maybe “Vote for your future”. But I am not an opposition.
I just want to raise awareness among Singaporeans about what’s going on.
“But people don’t hear you,” she said.
I know. But I am only working on my own. And I want to be true to myself. What else can I do?
Over the past one year, I have been on and off jobs. I shared with her how many people have lost their jobs because they have been replaced. Singapore has the least employment protection policies among the developed countries, after the United States.
“But how many of them really deserve their jobs,” she asked.
But who are we to say.
I shared with her my experience. Do you know, without a job, you question your sense of self-worth? You also start to doubt yourself. It affects your psyche down the road.
Once, because I was afraid I did not have enough to use, I went to a hawker centre and walked around for half an hour, thinking about what food to eat. I was afraid of spending my money that I kept walking around and around thinking of what food is cheap enough to buy, and would still be filling.
It took me half an hour to decide.
Not being employed, not being paid enough wages does this to you.
The other day, I saw an old auntie walked from the food shop next door to the food shop where I was eating. She stopped at the first shop, looked at the food and rubbed her stomach. Then she stared for a bit more before she walked away. Then she walked to the shop I was at, and stopped. She did the same thing, looked at the food, rubbed her stomach, stopped and stared. Then she walked away. But then she returned after a while and stared even longer, before she finally walked into the shop.
And she bought coffee. She tried to point at some food but in the end, she did not buy any.
I knew what it was. I have been there.
I was worried that I would not have enough to use but I thought that I could spare a bit for her. It took me a while before I walked over to her. I did not know how to start to talk to her.
“Auntie, have you bought food,” I asked her in Mandarin.
“Yes, yes,” she said but then she asked me back, “what did you buy?” while pointing to the plastic bag that I was holding.
I did not know why she was asking me about what I bought.
I thought she did not hear my question so decided to ask her again, “auntie, did you buy food?”
She repeated, “yes, yes” and asked, “what did you buy?” while pointing to my plastic bag again.
I just said, “good, good,” then I walked away, thinking that she had bought her food. I didn’t want to go into a conversation about what I bought.
But it was weird, I thought to myself as I walked away. She had been waiting for 10 minutes but the food hasn’t come.
It was only later that I understood what happened.
If I do not have enough money for food, would I tell someone? Would I ask someone else to buy food for me? I would have my pride. And in truth, many people who are poor, in spite of their poverty, have their pride too. They want to use their hands to earn their keep, I was told when I spoke to them. They want to work, but what can they do when no matter how hard they work, they simply are not allowed to earn enough? Are we in a position to blame them when we don’t even pay them enough?
I should have given the auntie my plastic bag. It was only after I was long gone did I realise that was why she was asking about the plastic bag I was holding. There was bread inside.
Next time, I know.
But you see, if people could, they would not want to rely on others. People have their dignity. If they could, they will want to have a job. It gives you self-worth.
Sure, there are some people who might be what we consider as “lazy”. But there are poor people who are “lazy”, yes. But there are also rich people who are “lazy” and who get rich sitting on other people’s money.
If we do not judge the rich for doing that, why do we judge the poor? Because the PAP taught us to?
There are people who would spend their CPF monies in Batam but would you put in a CPF Minimum Sum to trap every Singaporeans’ monies just because a few people went to Batam, I asked my friend?
If you are concerned with how some people spend their money, you get people to speak to them, you counsel them on how they can use their pension funds. You don’t lock up all Singaporeans’ CPF just because of a few people.
If you want to lock up people’s money, then just tell people you want to lock it up. You don’t have to pretend.
But it was time to part ways. My friend had to go.
Do you still catch up with your friends, my friend asked me. Oh, I used to have two best friends but I haven’t met them for a long time.
One of them stopped talking to me, I do not know why. The other earns more than S$10,000 every month and she believes in the PAP. She does not agree with what I do. She said she wants to meet me but does not want to talk about what I am going through. How can we not talk about what I am going through? It has become part of me, like it or not.
Nowadays, I spend most of my time on my own, and with my parents.
It is difficult. How would you feel when you are in your mid-30s and you still have to depend on your parents for a living? It makes you question yourself a lot. It makes you tear often when you think about how your elderly parents still have to take care of you when you are a grown man.
When all you did is question why the government has not been transparent and why it has taken the money of Singaporeans to use but not return it.