Transcript of Chee Soon Juan’s SDP National Day Message 2018

Singapore Democrats

A very good afternoon to you dear friends and fellow Singaporeans,

Let me first thank you for being here with me this Saturday afternoon, it’s always good to be able to talk with you.

I’d like to begin by telling you something that will make you feel uncomfortable. I want to tell you about our future, our country’s future. We’re not in a good place.

This is 2018 and it is a very significant year because it marks the sobering point where, for the first time in our history, the proportion of folks 65 years and older matches that of those 15 and younger.

From here on out, if nothing changes, the slice of the elderly in the population will, by 2030, balloon to twice that of younger Singaporeans. Prime Minister Lee says that such an aging demographic will bring about, in his words, “profound problems”.

A financial and economic “ticking time bomb” is how some analysts put it.

So how did we get ourselves into such predicament? One main factor is, of course, the low birthrate. Our Total Fertility Rate is 1.16 births per woman of child-bearing age. This is the lowest rate in the world. And why is this so? Why are our younger couples not wanting to have more children? Over and over, young Singaporeans say that it is the high cost of living that’s making them put off having children.

So what does Mr Lee do to arrest this situation? He raises the cost of living.

He upped water prices by an incredible 30 percent, raised car park charges, hiked electricity and gas rates, added more ERP gantries and upped ERP rates, increased university fees, inflate Service and Conservancy Charges, introduced compulsory Careshield payments. And soon, he is going to raise the GST to 9 percent.

All this in a city that is already one of the most expensive – if not the most expensive – in the world. Let me relate to you another shocking statistic. In 2001, we were ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as only the 97th most expensive city in the world. In a short span of just over 10 years, we shot up to becoming the most expensive city in the world. I don’t have to tell you that it was Mr Lee Hsien Loong who took over as prime minister in 2004 and was the Finance Minister before that.

The rich don’t really care about the tax hikes, to them its small beer. But you and I, the middle- and the working-class types, we are the ones who feel the sharp end of the axes.

According to a survey, 85 percent of Singaporeans don’t have enough savings for their retirement. Another study, this one done by DBS-Manulife, found that 6 in 10 Singaporeans don’t feel that they are can have a comfortable retirement. Younger folk are no better off – 80 percent of those between 20-35 don’t have savings.

Those in between, the working middle-class also have it bad – half of our households live from paycheck to paycheck. They are one major bill away from financial ruin. This can come in any unforeseen, unpredictable circumstance like an accident, an illness.

I had a friend, a former schoolmate who passed away a few years ago. From out of the blue, it was discovered that he had a malignant tumor in his brain and within several months he died. He was relatively young and so his doctors recommended a more aggressive treatment. His family spent tens of thousands of dollars in the process and had to rely on financial assistance. Mind you, he was one of the better off folks financially.

But even without such catastrophic events, many people are already finding it a challenge to get by month to month, day to day.

Whenever we raise this issue, however, the PAP and its supporters challenge us: so what are your solutions? It’s not quantum physics, it’s simple common sense – that is, common sense minus the greed.

Listen to this: In 2017, the government collected – after paying for all the expenses it incurred that year – it collected a surplus of $10 billion in taxes. And yet, in this time it increased all the charges and fees I just mentioned.

Then there is the hundreds of billions of dollars – some experts estimate that it could be as much as a trillion – in our reserves. Again, common sense asks: Is there a need to raise the GST and other fees when you already collect more than you need?

When you collect so much money, it’s natural that you feel very rich and when you feel rich, you spend rich. This is why the government could spend $800,000 for a rubbish bin centre – the figures that I’m citing are from the Auditor-General’s Office, another $500,000 for a computer system that couldn’t be integrated into an existing one, overpaid volunteer special constabulary officers by nearly $3 million, and on and on. They spend $40 million just for a National Day parade to glorify themselves, overspend the Youth Olympic Games by $300 million, and lavish the People’s Association with $1 billion to carry out their political work.

Why do they care how much they spend? It’s not their money, easy-come-easy-go.

So what’s your solution, again they ask ? Again, as I said, it’s not rocket science: Just stop spending our hard-earned money so carelessly and stop raising taxes and fees to feed your habit.

The people are aching, they are hurting. But when we voice out our pain, like RC members Mr Abdul Aziz did, the ministers accuse us of being ungrateful and not knowing how to value their brilliance.

In the now infamous incident where Mr Abdul appealed to the government to help the elderly poor by cutting 10 percent of ministers’ salaries and using the money to help the older generation.

He was met with an angry Goh Chok Tong who reacted like a cat on a hot tin roof. I want you to listen for yourself what Mr Abdul Aziz said in that dialogue because if we just told you about it, you’d say that we’re making it up. Here’s what Mr Abdul said:

“I am 70 years old, so I am really concerned about issues that are about the elderly. Unfortunately, I would say that the bad picture which has been painted is that the elderly have been forced to work, cleaning toilets, serving tables, just to survive. {Abdul Aziz was referring to ministers saying that the elderly work because the wanted to exercise.) Perhaps this is the exception rather than the whole. I think not many people will believe you if you say that elderly work because they want to mix, because they want to do exercise. Perhaps they work because they need to work. So in this case, may I just suggest that perhaps can we have some sort of an elderly pension fund, for the elderly? We will have an appropriate means test and all that, to make sure it is not being abused. And Mayor will ask me how do we fund this fund? Perhaps, maybe can I say we cut a bit on the defence, one F-15 maybe can pay for the whole fund? Or perhaps even the Ministers with the million-dollar salaries, can we perhaps cut by 10 per cent in order to fund this fund? These are just my suggestions. Thank you very much.”

That’s what this elderly man said, practically begging the government to help the poor and the elderly. How did Mr Goh respond? He did his best impression of Marie Antoinette. “Who is going to clean the table for you?” he bellowed. “Students won’t do it. Shall we have foreign workers to clean the tables?”

So, what? Students won’t clean tables and we shouldn’t bring in more foreigners. So we make our elderly do it? What sort of reasoning is that? What kind of a government is that?

To my younger friends who are watching this broadcast right now, I cleaned tables as a waiter. I vacuumed the floor when the restaurant closed at the end of the night. I helped carry out the trash. I even did odd jobs as part of the maintenance crew at my university: cutting the grass, hauling furniture, digging holes in the stadium. It was back-breaking work and when I got back to my dorm at the end of the day I was dead tired. My hands were calloused and I had cuts and bruises. But I never felt prouder of myself because it was good and decent and honest work. I earned every cent, ever dollar with my own sweat and my own strength. And mind you, I was also a PhD student at that time. It helped pay my way through my studies until I got a scholarship from the university. Hard menial work is good for the hands, it’s good for the body and it’s good for the soul.

I would never have thought of asking the ah kongs and ah mas to clean my table while I sat comfortably under air-con comfort drawing humongous – and undeserved – salaries. Because that’s not who I am, that’s not who we are in the SDP and that’s not who we aspire to be as Singaporeans.

Our elderly and poor have to sleep at void-decks and 24-hr MacDonalds outlets. Out of sheer desperation and loneliness, many take their own lives to end it all. An 69-year-old lady interviewed by The New Paper said that suicide is often discussed by those around her age.

She told the newspaper: “I had a neighbour who…told me she did not have anyone left and saw little point in living when she did not even have enough money for food.” The Samaritans of Singapore say that the number of suicides among the older generation is an at all-time high. “It is very worrying,” the SOS says, “that many elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles.”

What have we become, my friends? When did we become so indifferent to suffering? How did we learn to be so disrespectful to our elders? All this talk about having the most number of billionaires or the best airport or the fanciest hotels doesn’t make me proud, not when we treat our elderly so shabbily and so callously.

Mr Goh didn’t stop there. He was especially angry at Mr Abdul for having the temerity to suggest that Ministers’ salaries be cut to help fund the poor. “I am telling you,” he scolded, “the Ministers are not paid enough, and down the road, we are going to get a problem with getting people to join the government, because civil servants now earn more than Ministers.”

He’s not the only one with such thinking. Ng Eng Hen, the Minister for Defence once lectured the people. “I will tell you squarely in the face,” he said, “that you are getting a bargain for the ministers you get.”

Contrast this with what President Barack Obama said. At the end of his term just before he left office, he told the American people: “It’s been the privilege of my life to serve as your president.”

Privilege. That’s how Mr Obama saw his service. Our ministers, on the other hand, see it as an entitlement. They are so brilliant, so exceptional that we must pay them what they demand. If we don’t pay them what them demand then, as Mr Goh insists, we “are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our Minister.”

Mr Lee Hsien Loong echoed this sentiment. “Singapore has to maintain a high quality of government,” he said, “otherwise we are going to go back down and we are going to be a mediocre country.”

Well, I have news for you, my fellow Singaporeans. We already have mediocre ministers. If they keep telling us that they are so good and so forward looking, then how come they keep committing blunder after dreadful blunder.

There was Mas Selamat escaping from a what was supposed to be a maximum security facility by climbing out of a toilet while surveillance cameras were all not working? Then there was the Hepatitis-C outbreak at SGH which killed eight patients, the riot in Little India which found that our officers were not adequately trained, personnel was insufficient, equipment was not working, the interminable breakdowns of our MRT system, the floods that are theoretically occurring only once every 50 years, the repeated shortage of hospital beds, the HDB lift malfunctions that killed one person and caused an elderly lady’s hand to be torn clean off, concrete slabs and claddings on HDB blocks that crumble off which could very well have ended in injuries and, worse, fatalities?

On the economic front, we’re not doing better. Productivity growth is still at a standstill, GDP growth is a measly 2.5 percent, a level Mr Chan Chun Sing admits is a rather depressing, skills and jobs are mismatched, retailers are exiting the country, employment growth for locals is flat-lining. We’ve even come up with a new term, the “graduate poor”, because our graduates either cannot find employment or if they find jobs are woefully underemployed.

Worse, the ministers don’t seem to have viable solutions for these problems. Mr Heng Swee Keat’s Committee for our Future Economy just repackaged old policies that have failed and presented them as new. Take the example Orchard Road which is dying. The CFE proposes that we fully pedestrianise the belt, forgetting that we did that before and the crowds still stayed away. The government doesn’t know what to do and had to call in an Australian company to help.

The same thing with our MRT system. It doesn’t know how to stop the breakdowns and had to call in the Swedes and Japanese to help.

All these cannot, by any measure, be considered exceptional leadership which the PAP claim themselves to possess. This is mediocrity on full display. Yet, they demand to be feted and treated like aristocrats and be paid their millions.

It gets worse. Mr Goh Chok Tong used the example of Minister of State Edwin Tong. He said that when the PM asked him, Edwin Tong, to be a Minister, Mr Tong went to see him. This is how Mr Goh described the episode, Quote. “He came to see me. He said, at this stage of his life, he has got a house, he has got a mother-in-law to support, a father-in-law to support, his own parents and so on, what should he do?” Unquote

As a Minister of State, Mr Tong is paid a salary of half-a-million dollars – my friends, that’s more than $40,000 a month. If he cannot take care of his parents and in-laws and his family on a salary of $40,000 a month, how does he expect us, the ordinary folk who earn $4,000 a month to do it? And ministers like Mr Tharman still insists that we can buy a flat with an income of only $1,000.

And, by the way, why does Mr Tong have to take care of his in-laws and parents? Don’t they have the CPF savings? Why do our retirees, who having worked all their lives, find that they cannot support themselves when they retire and have to rely on their children? Isn’t this a damning indictment of our social security system?

My friends, we as a society, as a people, will pay for such cruelty and inhumanity we show to our weak and old. This government has lost its moral compass and when a party loses its way, it cannot take the country in the right direction.

At the outset of my speech, I mentioned two factors that contributed to our population growth. One is the cost of living which I have just spoken about. The second is that Singaporeans – young Singaporeans – are leaving the country in droves.

A survey done by the Singapore Polytechnic found that six in ten Singaporeans between ages 15 and 35 are looking to emigrate. A separate study done by the Institute for Policy Studies confirmed the finding – nearly 60 percent of young Singaporeans believe that emigration is inevitable. In practice, more than 200,000 Singaporeans packed up and left as of 2016 and the rate is picking up.

So why are Singaporeans leaving? One reason is that they don’t feel proud to be Singaporean. An online poll recently conducted by Yahoo! showed that a majority of respondents say they are not proud of being a Singaporean. Another study found that the lack of a democratic system caused many to leave. Such ambivalence becomes even more desolate when young people like Dave Lee, Dominic Lee and others sacrifice their lives while doing their National Service. I have heard, as I’m sure you have too, many servicemen ask in disillusionment: Who and what are we defending?

So what does PM Lee do to solve the problem? He makes the system even more undemocratic. The PAP once promised that the Presidency would be an elected one. But when it sees that its candidate might lose, it changed the rules to make sure that Mdm Halimah Yacob ran uncontested.

When you have political system that is manipulated to such an extent, you cannot have a free and open debate. And if free and debate cannot take place, bad things happen – like our HDB flats. Years ago, the PAP said that if we voted for it, prices of our flats would keep rising.

Back then, Lee Kuan Yew vowed that the value of HDB flats “will never go down.” Mr Goh Chok Tong promised that “Every 10% increase in the value of your flat means a huge increase in several thousand dollars in your wealth”, so “it is in your interest to ensure that the value of your flat continues to rise”.

I remember it like it was yesterday when I was at a GE rally. My eldest daughter was about two years old then. During the campaign, the PAP was blasting me and calling me all manner of names. I brought my daughter up on stage and she was skipping merrily along enjoying the outing and the attention, oblivious to the assault that her father was coming under. Now she’s starting university. Time passes very quickly. And in that time, we kept warning voters don’t be seduced by the PAP’s promises. It is impossible for the value of your flats to increase indefinitely. But there was no social media then and our voice was drowned out by the onslaught of the propaganda that came through the SPH and Mediacorps.

But now, after 20 years the truth has emerged. National Development Lawrence Wong finally admitted that your flats, especially the older ones, will decrease in value until they become worthless when their leases expire.

In the meantime, most of you have ploughed in huge amounts to paying for your flat, including your CPF savings which you need for your retirement. We have entire generations of retirees with insufficient funds for retirement and, as I pointed out at the beginning of my speech, the population is aging fast and the situation is deteriorating, and deteriorating quickly. This is an experiment gone horribly wrong.

My friends, if you haven’t realised already, the PAP will say and do anything to get your vote. In the last elections, Mr Lee asked for your trust. Trust doesn’t come from what you say, it comes from what you do.

I know it’s hard to imagine that anything we do can alter the course of politics in Singapore. After all, the PAP has been so dominant for so many years it’s hard to conceive of anything else other than continued one-party rule.

And yet we must. We must find our way back. We must find our nation’s heart again because a people without a heart is a people without a future.

This greed, this lust for wealth and power, this self-centred righteousness from our politicians is going to be Singapore’s undoing. It must end.

To end it, we need an alternative. An alternative that must have the people, not the ministers, as its focus.

Whereas the PAP says: “I, me, mine”, the alternative says: “We, us, ours.”

Whereas the PAP asks, “What’s in it for me?”, the alternative asks, “What’s in it for our fellow citizens?”

Whereas the PAP lectures, “We increase water prices to raise the people’s awareness of water usage”, the alternative says “We decrease ministers’ salaries to raise the government’s awareness of the people’s hardship.”

This alternative is at the very core of the SDP’s vision for this nation. It is a vision borne out of our belief that people come before profits, rights before riches and wisdom before wealth. It is a vision forged from our values, values that are steeped in justice and freedom, in giving everyone the opportunity to succeed, not just the rich, and in ensuring a fair system where all are equal, regardless of race.

We have never wavered from these values even when the going was toughest, when we came under withering attack from the PAP. We stuck to these values because we’ve always believed that holding on to what was right was more important than doing what was popular.

From these values, we have drawn up a series of detailed and comprehensive policy proposals in key areas including housing, healthcare, education, and population growth. They’re all published on our website. We invite you to study them.

Through all our trials, all the ups and downs, I have had the singular honour of working with the men and women who have so valiantly come forward to serve in the SDP. My party chairman Prof. Paul Tambyah, Vice-Chair John Tan, Asst Secretary-General Chris Ang, Bryan Lim, Dr Wong Souk Yee, and the countless others who have worked and continue to work diligently but silently, sacrificially behind the scenes without asking for a single penny. In fact, they’ve contributed much of their own money for the cause. They work because of the dream of one day seeing an open and democratic Singapore become a reality.

Next year will be a busy year for us because we anticipate the general elections then. As a result, we have already started our campaign planning, drawing up our strategy and putting together our action plans.

We will launch our year-long campaign of activities in the lead up to the elections which will include updating our policy proposals and relaunching them, planning a rally at Hong Lim Park, and kicking up our ground activities several notches.

We also look forward to working with our fellow opposition parties. We are off to a cautious start and as I said when we met a couple of weeks ago, there are many pitfalls ahead.

But I believe that if we have our heads and hearts in the right place, we will be able to present to Singaporeans a meaningful choice at the next elections. With Dr Tan Cheng Bock at the helm, I am quietly confident that the opposition as a whole can make consequential progress. As I said, the SDP is not here to spearhead anything. What we will do is our part facilitate this effort and give Dr Tan all the support he needs to succeed.

I cannot guarantee our supporters that we will get it just right and everything will work out perfectly just in time for the next elections. But, as they say, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We must start somewhere and then keep working at it until we succeed. Remember, anything that is worth doing is never easy.

Whatever we do, whether it is the opposition or the people, we must not remain imprisoned by our fears. We must not be kiasi (fearful) If we don’t dream, if we don’t have a vision, if we cannot imagine for ourselves a better Singapore, then we don’t deserve a better Singapore.

But if we know what we want and we roll up our sleeves and set about achieving it, then nothing can stop us.

It is with this pah see buay zhao (never say die) and can-do spirit that my colleagues and I continue to serve this country, and serve it with pride and humility. And as sure as I’m standing here, I will walk that very last mile with you. It is in this spirit that we invite you, dear Singaporeans, to build that brighter, more hopeful tomorrow with us.

Thank you and, once again, Happy National Day!

Watch the video of SDP’s National Day Message 2018 here: