Is this progress?

Chee Siok Chin

How has Singapore as a nation progressed since 2011? How do you measure progress? By unemployment rate? By exports and imports? By GDP? Unfortunately, the GDP does not take into account the quality of life, happiness, income divide, equal opportunity, inclusiveness, civil liberties, etc. In other words, human capital. These are the true measures of the well­being, progress and prosperity of a nation.

Those of us who take the MRT and the public bus during peak hours would know what it is like to be squeezed so tightly that you are literally sandwiched between bodies. This happens even after the second train has gone by and you are eventually able to get on the third. So when PM Lee glibly counsels us about how to make our MRT rides a more pleasant experience, it shows he really doesn’t realise how challenging daily commutes can be and really, how crowded Singapore is.

Remember also that the government admitted in 2012 that the infrastructure was ready to take in the extra hundreds of thousands of new residents. So why did the government bring in all these people when the infrastructure wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready? Is it the lack of foresight? Or is this another case of the government just doing what it likes when it likes.

But what has this to do with the well­being of Singaporeans? Overcrowding has led to escalating housing prices, diminished job opportunities, less effective and efficient healthcare, an over­extended public transport system, crunch in hospital beds, increased stress and a lowering of quality of life and happiness for Singaporeans. These affect us physiologically, emotionally, psychologically, financially and even spiritually.

Despite the overcrowding, the government insists on bringing in another 700,000 people by 2020. This will put an even greater strain on our already over­stretched resources and infrastructure, further lowering the overall livability of this island. Is this progress?

Singapore’s income inequality continues to widen. The Gini coefficient rose from 0.473 in 2011 to 0.478 in 2012. In 2012, the bottom 10 percent wage earners saw real average earnings decrease by 1.2 per cent, while the top 10 per cent income earners saw a 5.1 per cent increase in their earnings. This means that the poor are literally getting poorer in Singapore, whilst the rich are getting richer. Is this progress?

The number of suicides reached a record high in 2012. There were 467 suicides compared to 361 in 2011. That’s about a 30 percent increase. Singapore has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. How can it be progress when more and more people are taking their own lives in Singapore?

A survey in 2012 found that more than half of Singaporeans would emigrate if they had a choice. How can it be progress when more and more Singaporeans are leaving or want to leave where they were born and bred?

A study in 2013 showed that Singaporeans work some of the longest hours among developed countries. Another survey showed that workers in Singapore are the unhappiest in Asia and nearly two-thirds would like to quit their jobs in the next year. The report showed that 23 percent of Singaporean workers felt unmotivated. This most certainly is not progress.

Then there is also a roll­back on the already virtually non­existent civil liberties in Singapore since 2011. Blogger Alex Au is facing at least one charge for contempt of court. Independent film­maker Lynn Lee was intimidated by the police for interviewing the SMRT workers who went on strike. She was threatened by the Attorney-General for contempt of court. Cartoonist Leslie Chew was also threatened with a contempt of court charge for his comic portrayal of the judiciary. The website of the Breakfast Network shut down after the MDA harassed it. The new Public Order Act was tailored for Little India where police are given arbitrary powers restrict movement and close down business. Whilst our regional neighbours like Malaysia, Cambodia and even Burma are making progress on civil liberties, Singapore is doing just the opposite.

So a new direction or approach needs to be taken to address these and other problems. We have presented constructive, workable alternative approaches to the issues. Within the last two years alone, the SDP has put up at least four policy papers to address the problems of population, healthcare costs, and housing.

One of them proposed in our population paper,
Building A People, is our Singaporeans First Policy which the SDP has been advocating since 2001 where businesses seeking to hire foreign professionals will be required to demonstrate that the competencies they seek are not available within the Singaporean candidate pool. We had also advocated for fair employment laws to be passed to protect the interests of workers.

HDB prices are grossly inflated. In our policy paper on public housing,
Housing A Nation, we tackle the issue of affordability by introducing an innovative new Non­ Open Market (NOM) Scheme. This scheme allows Singaporeans to buy flats at a much more affordable rate. This paper also introduces supplementary policies to support young families and foster inclusiveness within our public housing system.

And despite assurances by the government that healthcare is affordable, we know that in reality this is not the case. This is why the SDP launched our
National Healthcare Plan in 2012 in which we propose that, for a sum of about $40 a month (depending on one’s income level), all Singaporeans are covered medically for life.

With all the problems that we have faced in recent years, Singapore is going backwards. This is why the SDP has done the hard work of envisioning a Singapore that provides a new start for all Singaporeans and we will continue to do so.

Chee Siok Chin is a member of SDP’s Central Executive Committee and head of its Training and Development Unit. This is an excerpt of the speech she presented at the Young Guns Forum organised by NUS students on 29 January 2014.

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