State Times Review posted a piece by Malaysian turned US asylum seeker Alvin Tan on the state of Singaporeans, which I believe some Singaporeans agree with.
Although I agree with the gist of Alvin’s rants, its is not that bad after all for some of us. Note that I am writing this as my opinion being a middle class person with a relatively comfortable and uneventful life.
1. We work like a dog for 30 years in soul-sucking office jobs
Honestly, I think this describes maybe 80% of the whole world who are working in thankless office jobs or jobs they don’t like; so its not unique to Singaporeans. Personally, I have been lucky to be working in roles I enjoyed and with relatively good bosses (of course, there were some not so good ones too) and good companies. My office job has never been soul-sucking, except when under a bad boss, but majority of my working life has been enjoyable.
I think a big problem has been the government’s overselling PMETs to the masses, especially part around PME (dropping the T as losers), so much so that many graduate start work with a grand idea of being a manager either immediately or in 2 years time. Anyone who doesn’t become a leader of sorts in their life time are deemed incompetent, has no aspirations or just a loser. This is made worst by the government own scholarly programs where incompetent top scholars are accelerated through the ranks into management positions in a relative short time. Given these ideals, there is no wonder folks can be stuck into soul-sucking job and unhappy with their job (there are more factors of course)
2. Pay $500,000 for cramped flat that we don’t owe, wait for 2 years for flat, glorified subletter
Given that Singapore is a country smaller than most cities, I believe that we have the most successive public housing around, which is good, clean and safe. Personally, I enjoyed living in our public apartments more than a private condo where everyone keeps to themselves. Interaction is lively and we sometimes greet and chat with each other in the lifts or along the corridors. I can afford to leave my door unlocked (which I confess was due to forgetfulness), go shopping and still come home with everything intact. Comparatively, I suspect most public housing in other countries are for less wealthy and they tend to be not as well maintained and not as safe. My mom stays in one of those in Kuala Lumpur in Lorong Hang Tuah, where she was robbed no less than twice and you avoid lonely roads even in the day there. BTW, who in the world don’t need to wait for at least 2 years for their new flat to be built?
As for the $500,000 figure, those are prices for 5-room resale flats in general; it goes below this in less popular areas. Mind you, these are resale prices, new HDB house prices should be lower due to subsidies.
Of course, not everything is great on that front. Over the years, prices have increased, building quality suffered, homes and rooms are smaller, designs don’t foster interaction anymore, yet our government as been slow to react. Some designs are so bad that you need to turn on the corridor light the whole day because it just too dark. At the same time, the government has over the years over-sold to the people the value of our HDB flats as an asset and as a homeowner, albeit Alvin Tan correctly pointing out that we are glorified subletters instead homeowners. We often forget that we are living in public houses, not private,
3. Rental is high and it sucks
Please look at Hong Kong, New York, Paris, London and Beijing. Thanks
4. High prices of COE which lasts for 10 years and high car costs
I totally agree with Alvin that our COE prices are out of control, Singapore cars are probably the most expensive in the world. COE prices are effectively controlled by car dealers bidding for them. They have no interests to keep COE bid prices low, their interest is in selling cars, which drives the COE prices up. The government has had no interests in improving the situation, unless it has political implications like housing and food prices, as they are racking in the money.
Personally, I have no problem with the idea of COE if it helps control the cars on the road. Furthermore, I agree that the control of traffic should be via taxation when cars are on the road like ERP, road tax, distance based taxing, etc, but not when we are buying one. Yet, these taxes should be relaxed for public transport and rebates for firms, especially SMEs in which transport is necessary as part of the business. COE should only be bid by the potential car owner, not transferable and one must owe a COE before one can buy a car. This way car loans and prices are not tagged with COEs, just the market prices of the car, plus tax.
5. The CPF Ponzi scheme, minimum sum, retirement age, monthly payouts
This is perhaps one of the hot topics in our current elections in which no parties has given a viable solution to, except to complain about it. Most governments have a central provident fund of sorts, so Singapore is not unique. The unique problem in Singapore is that our government has again oversold their grand scheme and when the rubber hits the road people realized that they are in trouble because they believed what the government says. To give some credit, the CPF scheme has helped some folks like me who are very bad at saving money when young to pay for my HDB apartment, plus you don’t see the monthly payment.
The most poignant point is the constant bragging that its a retirement fund for old ago, so many Singaporeans believe and trust in that message and don’t really have much savings on their own, only to realize come retirement that they can hardly scrap by with the payouts, let alone enjoy their retirement with rising cost of living and sickness and an inadequate medical insurance via CPF scheme. Furthermore, the constant increase in draw out age, minimum sum and amount one can withdraw frustrates people who already sees CPF as a scam.
In all honesty, there is no denying that retirement age is set to up over the years as quality of life become better and the 55 year old will soon be the new 40 year old, With predicted increase in the cost of living, what is just adequate 10 years ago as a payout is a pittance when withdrawn now. It should be expected that retirement age will grow and gratuity be increased over time, nobody should be denying that this will happen. The issue now, as I see it, is that the current generation of folks who are due to retire or withdraw their CPF monies realized too late that it is not enough to support their retirement and see huge sums being locked in the account. Its a bit too late for the government and the folks now to tell people that they must supplement their own retirement scheme as CPF itself is not enough.
Folks around my generation probably would have less gripe because we have our own investments and retirement scheme outside of the CPF, but also we have turned blue trying to get PAP to make CPF more flexible especially for some needy folks that we may just vote for opposition to force some changes to happen.
6. National service
Personally, I am ambivalent about this. I never hated or liked NS, it was just a job to do, but I have to say that experiences in army have forced me to go beyond what I would have done physically or mentally. These experiences did shaped some parts of me today. However, I never liked the concept of an army because it is one of blind obedience and order to kill, but I don’t doubt the necessity of it in the defense of a country. I don’t understand Alvin’s gripe on NS, the issues he stated are just the laws of our country around NS, other countries like South Korean, Thailand or Taiwan have their own laws dealing with conscription.
7. Foreigners and more of them
I think it is highly acknowledged by now that our immigration policy is pretty screwed up and Singaporeans are unhappy about it. Many Singaporeans are complaining that cheaper foreigners are taking away their jobs. That is no doubt in some cases, however, I beg to differ in some cases. Personally, I shudder to think of working under local bosses because of their reputation of having a “mom and pop” management mentality, short-sighted, minimum staff welfare, lacks people skills, bossy management style, expects you to give everything and work long hours and narrow-minded. Even MNCs with departments full of Singaporean deadwood are a dread to work in; slow to change, slow to response, stubborn to adopt new ideas, overly political and groupie. Personally, I am very glad that I don’t have to deal with horrible local bosses during my career (but I did have good local bosses before, to be fair). I am saying this only in contrast to the fact the some Singaporeans thinks that they are entitled to a job just because they are local and blame the FT when they don’t get it. Of course, there are horrible FT bosses too and I have seen my share of FTs being promoted over more capable local folks. But, the pertinent question to some Singaporeans is whether they are capable of doing a better job and excel in it had they been given the job instead of a foreigner?
The unfortunate side effect of years of social engineering by PAP have resulted in a bunch of Singaporeans who are passionless, short-sighted and soulless job seekers who main aim of work is to be promoted to be a manager and to go home to feed their kids. Of course, the good news is that we are seeing a much more inspired and enlightened generation entering the job market.
Lastly, I don’t think that the government doesn’t give a shit about the plight of Singaporeans, as implied by Alvin. On the contrary, I believe that they wanted to help Singaporeans through those policies. The only problem is the quality of PAP MPs we have, the group think, a party of YES MAN and the arrogance of PAP and their supporters, that drove them up the current path. And to be fair, the reason why some stuff like cooked food and handyman services like plumbing and electricity, remained affordable in Singapore is due to cheap foreign worker who are doing the work the Singaporeans don’t want to do or don’t have the skills anymore to do. Had we been forced only hire Singaporeans for those jobs and pay a higher salary for them, prices like food/drinks and handyman service will rise for sure, but how many Singaporeans are willing to accept that as a trade off? It is really not easy to have your cake and eat, we must be willing to accept these before asking foreigners to give you your job back.
8. Lost of dialects
The lost of the ability to speak dialects in the younger generations is the biggest bugbear of our language policy. It has isolated the younger generation with the older ones creating an uneasy communications barrier and losing out in the rich history of our dialects and their traditions. However, it is great to see the revival of interests in dialects, especially among the younger generation, along these few years. Malaysia still have a very strong dialect speaking culture and maintain many old traditions, perhaps we should interact and learn more from them to revive those that we lost.