In an interview in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the annual World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “If you’re poor in Singapore, it’s no fun but I think you’re less badly off if you’re poor in Singapore than in nearly anywhere else in the world including the United States.”
Is that what he really thinks, that it is just “no fun” to be poor in Singapore? One can say that it is no fun visiting the dentist or getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. But no fun being poor?
The statement shows a complete lack of comprehension of, or worse disregard for, the pain and hardship that those stricken by poverty have to endure on a daily basis.
Even if he was speaking figuratively and euphemistically, which he was not, it is a jarringly insensitive way for a head of government to talk about the poor. After all, he is charged with the solemn responsibility of taking care of the people of whom the poor must count as priority (the rich don’t need the Government’s help).
It reflects a blase and devil-make-care attitude. This is what must concern Singaporeans most. If the PM can make light of the crushing burden on the poor, our society is in a lot more trouble than we think.
In the same sentence, Mr Lee tells us that our poor in Singapore are better off than the poor in other countries. Try telling that to Tan Jee Suan who killed himself by jumping in front of an on-coming train because he could not earn enough to feed his family.
Try telling that to the thousands who like Tan take their own lives because they cannot cope with their desperate situations. Last year alone, 353 people committed suicide, that’s nearly one person killing him or herself every day.
Try telling that to the thousands who are unable to cope with poverty and as a consequence suffer mental breakdowns. One in ten Singaporeans are afflicted with mental illness, mainly from depression.
Are they really better off than those in other countries? Is it really just “no fun” for these people?
This is a Prime Minister who has never had to eat at a hawker centre or queue up at an ATM to withdraw that remaining few dollars in one’s account, who has never had to take the MRT or wait in line for a bus, who has never had to worry every time the PUB raises the electricity rate or be concerned about the hospital bill when one’s aged parent is warded.
This is a Prime Minister who is fundamentally out of touch with the real, working Singapore. Perhaps this explains why he makes light of the misery that the poor have to endure.
For $3 million a year, we should be able to expect Mr Lee to tell us precisely how he is going to reduce poverty and when he is going to achieve this instead of just spinning us that our poor are better off than those in other countries.