Singapore needs a little love and compassion

Mon, 24 Feb 2003
Mellanie Hewlitt
Singapore Review

Everything runs like clockwork in squeaky clean, efficient little Singapore. Well, almost everything at least. And what does the Ruling Elite do if there is a problem in their neat tidy backyard? They address it by way of laws, fines, taxes, imprisonments and law suites, this after all is the PAP way. It has worked in the past and it will always work in the future. But then again perhaps not.

The tiny city state and its ever paternalistic government have a problem which cannot be solved by the usual cocktail of laws, fines, litigation and campaigns. This problem is a highly personal one which extends into the private bedrooms of its citizens. How does a well meaning parent tell its usually compliant and obedient children to “get on with it”, to “make hay whilst the sun shines” and more directly put, to “go forth, procreate, multiply and reproduce.”?

Along with the status of a developed nation, Singapore has also inherited its trade mark problems. Its population (particularly the better educated and wealthier Chinese majority) is not replacing itself and birth rates have been declining continously over the years. And this is a problem which the paternalistic government cannot address in its usual draconian style. No, you cannot impose a fine, and neither can you pass a law to solve this sensitive issue.

And if left unaddressed, there is every potential that the little city-state with its population of 4 million people will “develop” itself to extinction.

The task is growing more urgent because the birth rate among Singapore’s four million people is falling steadily and now languishes at 1.4 children per woman. That’s below the 2.1 demographers say is necessary for a population to replace itself.

In the past, Singapore’s ruling elite have approached the problem with their usual efficiency and diligence, by way of campaigns and policy implementations. Indeed, their attempt to play cupid had not gone unnoticed and has been the source of much amusement.

After several failed attempts, the “Powers that be” finally realized that (at least for matters of the heart, and bedroom type activities) they cannot point a gun to a person’s head and mandate him/her to kick start the domestic baby making factory. No Mr Lee, it does not work this way, that’s not how Adam and Eve started out, and that’s certainly not how the Good Lord created the universe.

Perhaps one reason for the government’s dismal failures is the verwhelming emphasis on academic qualifications and other “hard factors”. The government set-up two different social units to encourage marriage amongst the younger generation. One for graduates (SDU, Singapore’s best and brightest?) and one for non-graduates (SDS). The underlying message of cause was that new generation of Singaporeans should choose their partners and marry within the confines of their own designated Academic Caste System. Hence, it is small wonder why many younger and more liberal minded Singaporeans find this archaic medieval academic caste system highly objectionable and terribly unromantic.

Many may also remember the infamous “Graduate Mother Scheme” which the government tried to implement a decade ago. For those who are unfamiliar, it would be best described as the PAP’s way to implement their version of the Laws of Un-Natural Selection, and propagate the ruling elite’s own twisted version of the theory of evolution.

Graduate couples were then given huge financial incentives and support to have more children. The rationale being that children from graduate couples were more likely to be intelligent and gifted. Of cause the flip side of the equation logically implied that children of non-graduate parents were total misfits and genetically inferior!

This measure of the worth of a human life (accessed solely on academic merits) raised many questioning eyebrows, from graduates and non-graduates alike. And it came as no surprise that the scheme was a colossal failure, a heartening reflection that the Singapore population still retained some semblance of independent thought and dignity when it comes to matters of the heart at least

But aside from the colossal failures of the government sponsored match making programs, a host of other factors account for the declining birth rates. “Go forth and multiply” you say? Well that’s more easily said then done for the average couple in Singapore with an average household income of approximately SGD3-4000/-. Unless you are part of the ruling elite who take home a minimum net income of SGD150,000/- per month (or SGD1.6 million per year), (the average pay packet for a PAP minister), life is not easy in expensive little Singapore.

The start-up costs for a new family can be staggering, with big ticket items like a car and a house. Even a 1.6 Litre Japanese car will cost at least SGD80,000/-, which is the equivalent of a decent 3 bedroom house in some countries. And a small 1,200 Sq Ft apartment can set you back SGD1,000,000.- and more, depending on the locality and tenor. What about government “subsidised” housing?

Well, “subsidised” housing here takes the form of HDB (Housing Development Board) flats which will cost between SGD200,000 to SGD400,000/-, the equivalent of a decent size house in Australia or New Zealand.

And the costs and expenses do not stop here. The government has also imposed compulsory savings in the form of CPF (Central Provident Fund), which is mandatory and ties up approx 20% of the monthly pay of the citizens. There is no access to these funds until you reach the retirement age of 55 years. And if you fall ill or need a operation before this age, good luck matey you are on your own. Then there are the other daily expenses like ERP (Electronic Road Pricing), maid levies, GST, all of which is imposed in a city state which is conspicuously bereft of any public welfare or unemployment benefits.

In short, staggering initial capital outlay required in starting a family here, as well as increasing costs of living, have paved the way for dual income households where both husband and wife typically work 12 hour days just to make ends meet. And after a hectic work day, there is little time left over for other more “romantic” pastimes, let alone raising a child.

Even when there is an increase in marriage rates, there is no sure sign that this would reverse the declining birth rates as the vast majority of couples either opt not to have children, or in the event they do, the wealthy and affluent class (which are most targeted by the Singapore Government) have instead chosen to have children abroad.

One such individual was a banker (who requested to remain anonymous) who stated that he would want his child to have a normal and happy childhood, as opposed to the rigid, oppressive and highly competitive pressure-cooked education system in Singapore. He took a 3 week holiday and arranged for his wife to give birth to their bouncing baby boy in New York, so that the child had the rights and benefits of US citizenship. And theirs is not an isolated case as there are many who have opted for a better and easier life for their children via this route.

In short, far from encouraging increasing birth-rates, a combination of dismal government policies and “social engineering”, and unfavourable work and living conditions (for the locals) have resulted in an exodus of the more affluent segments of the population, further worsening an already bad situation.

At the end of the day, the act of procreation is highly intimate and
individualistic, very personal in nature. One really wonders if years of repressive indoctrination have robbed the native populace of the free will, independence and ability to rise to the occasion, instilling an over-dependent, compliant and submissive culture which is anti-thesis to the aggressive survival instinct that is crucial for reproduction.

But not withstanding the difficult and oppressive social and financial environment moulded by the government, surely our fore fathers and distant ancestors have faced greater challenges in the past, and still managed to sow their royal oats and ensured the continued existence of their bloodlines? So what’s really missing in Singapore’s Procreation Equation? A liberal dose of good old fashioned love.

One can almost picture the look of uncomprehending horror on the faces of the Ruling Elite. How preposterous, marry and procreate in the name of love? But that would mean breaching the Academic Caste System! GOOD HAVENS NO! We cant’ have people running all over the place, haphazardly falling in love and procreating, that’s wrong! That’s not within the prescribed framework of the nicely laid out plans Singapore’s Ruling Elite had crafted for Singapore Inc.

But some would argue that “letting nature take its own natural course” is a formulae that has worked for humanity in the last two to five thousand years. Perhaps its high time some brave hearted martyr ventures forth and informs the “Powers that be in Singapore” that they should try a little bit of good old fashioned love (and throw in the obligatory bouquet of roses) and compassion, if they wished to play cupid.

Perhaps its also time for the overzealous parent to leave the children some slack, they are all grown up and they have to figure this one out for themselves. Alternatively, does anyone have the recipe for Love Potion No 9. If you do, please mark it URGENT and forward it to the PAP.

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