Singaporean and proud of it

August 9, 2012
Singapore Democrats

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Dear SDP,


I was never one for National Day celebrations. Never much considered myself patriotic. Singapore turns 47 on Thursday. It’s self styled independence celebrated in all out spectacular grandeur, the fireworks, performances, televised. Planes flying by, the Chinooks (I think) parading the gigantic state flag. From a ‘performance’ standpoint it is in truth a spectacle. I will always remember gazing out from the ‘balcony’ of my family’s then home in Bedok South Avenue 3, from the 20th floor. My parents, brother and I will always be at the window looking at the fireworks. I wasn’t even 5 at that time. I loved watching.

As Singaporeans we should feel a certain sense of pride. As it was said by some, a humble fishing village to a metropolitan financial centre, one of the most competitive and successful ones in Asia, I daresay the world.

Am I proud? I should be. But no.

Simply put it, what Singapore has achieved through the decades has come at a dear cost. We have sustained ourselves thru both the 1997 and 2008 financial crises. So say the media, our leaders. So say the ones in power to us making us seem like an impregnable financial fortress to the world. Where did our leaders put our money, to sustain and carry us to what seems like the darkest days in modern times? They have put our money in bad investments, with the promise of growth in which benefits the nation. The crisis of 2008 hit. Did we as a people truly benefit when the major banks and investment companies crashed and burned? How could we? Did we receive benefits when the stakes in certain companies were risen? When the CEOs of those companies overseas receive a big payout prior to resignation do we as a people benefit? Were these investments made with the approval of the people of Singapore?

Of course I’m no economist. It just takes common sense to ask questions. How are we able to trust our leaders with our money when it has been said that there was no transparency nor accountability?

The retiring and retired men and women who toiled through the decades will scowl in frustration when that time comes when they try to withdraw their balances from their Central Provident Fund, our self styled compulsory savings schemes. After all pension was scrapped almost two decades ago. The CPF withdrawal age seems to climb northwards. 55, 62, 67 maybe? On the death bed next maybe?

My father advised my mother against opting for the CPF scheme, which was a wise decision as she now is able to draw her pension on a monthly basis. Thankfully she has had a long history of commendable work as a clerical officer and now works in a local hospital.

Our government has always talked of growth and progress. Both of which are welcome. What is our solution? Foreign labour. Oftentimes bought cheap. There is angst against the foreigners in our workforce. Understandably so. The government tells us they are here to do jobs we ‘choosy Singaporeans’ will not do. Understandably so. Construction, domestic workers, janitors, so on and so forth. That is not to say we look down on those professions. I truly from the bottom of my heart salute these migrant workers for doing a fine job. The Indians, the Bangladeshis, the Burmese, Thais, Filipinos. They I look at with admiration. Without them we wouldn’t have buildings, roads, bridges, assistance with cleaner homes, even soldiers to have their bags carried for! (I jest).

What I speak of is the rapid and seemingly uncontrollable influx of foreigners that do jobs we as locals can and will do. The service industries, the IT industries, the finance industries, sports and so on. The angst has built up at the immigration policies, employment practices and how the government continuously lies to its people. They focus on lower wage acceptance by the foreigners, our insistence on NOT taking those jobs. The point is sorely missed. We do our part. We educate ourselves through expensive tertiary and higher institutes of learning but still we lose. Do we have to settle for lower pay when we have so rightly educated and trained our skill sets?  The post millennium push for Information Technology is all for nothing when outsourcing is done at an aggressive rate. I have local friends in the IT sector who tell me of their sad predicaments, the foreigners stay while they get retrenched. Notice I have not made comments on the creative industry. Coming from an arts background, Singapore has weak roots in the arts and creativity field. I have excellent friends I train with in the gym on a daily basis that are in the said industry. Friends from France, Russia, Slovakia, Poland, The United States and some from India and China to name a few. I believe that it is because of Singapore’s lack of proper push for development in the creative industry that talent from abroad has to be brought in. That, I will agree with as seeing their work, they have had prior training and advancement in that field. Remember the Singaporean push for academics, it clamps down on creativity. More on that later.

I’m not in human resources but I sure as hell feel it’s grave injustice towards these fine men and women who work hard for themselves, especially in a city state that has become so expensive to live in.

Everywhere I go, I see mainland Chinese. This isn’t normally a problem but when it comes to service staff, I get extremely annoyed and frustrated whenever Mandarin is spoken as opposed to English, the official working language of Singapore. I get dirty looks as though I was in the wrong. Singapore had a speak Mandarin campaign some years back and even that I found it extremely offensive. We even have a perverted form of language, a bastard language that is Singlish. Whatever happened to pushing for speaking proper English? Why the insistence of imports from a specific country?

True that Singapore was a country of migrants. Migrants who built this country up and settled down here with their families to start a new life and build their futures. This argument is always used to counter the anti-immigration camp of Singaporeans. The situation then was different. Those immigrants from long ago have seeded generations here. Their sons and daughters were the first true-born Singaporeans. Now, it is all about bringing in labour from abroad and giving them jobs, outsourcing so that us as locals have nothing. Sometimes I hear of coffee-shop and taxi-driver talk of the government re-seeding the population with more ‘grateful’ stock. It’s not so hard to imagine and accept this conspiracy theory.

What pains me is the fact that the government paints a beautiful picture of re-employment for the aged workers. To appreciate their past efforts. More experience we can count on, they imply. I was having dinner at Funan the IT Mall just on Sunday evening and there was this elderly lady, I speculate in her 70s. Whitening grey hair, slightly hunched. There she was taking our food trays so humbly, so carefully, smiling graciously as I thanked her profusely. In that split second I felt my heart sink. I cleared my throat but I truly felt a sense of sadness. I remember her still, as she was the same lady who cleared my table so carefully, so humble dare I say even lovingly, 2 years before. I get reminded of the countless other elderly folk who should be enjoying retirement instead of slaving over cleaning agents, dish cloths and mops. I remember the 74 year old man at the National University Hospital telling my family and in 2008 that he worked 10-12 hours a day. No off days. God bless his soul, as he did his job so humbly. I remember the nice elderly lady at McDonald’s, Changi City. I placed an order for a new item and she wasn’t sure of how to key the order in and she asked assistance from her supervisor, a young Filipino in her 30s I assume. The supervisor had a hint of superior attitude in her gestures, the condescending look she gave to the poor elderly lady. These are things I can’t bear to see. What could I do? Knowing my temper, I didn’t want to create a scene. I wasn’t sure if that nice old lady would still keep the job after the ’embarrassment’ I would have caused her foreign supervisor. Sad to say I don’t see that lady at the counter anymore, much less in the back doing food processing. Sad indeed. I can only pray for the people of Singapore to have a heart and do the right thing every 5 years. Did our government push for such ingrates that treat our elderly to be hired? Or was human resource just not doing proper screening for workers in their hired profession?

Retraining. Re-employment. A complete perversion of that ideal. Indeed it is such a joke.

Speaking of training it is the Olympic season, a sporting spectacle once every four years. This year the government saw fit to have a Chinese-born new citizen be the flag bearer. I consider it a direct insult to the other locally trained athletes. One can argue that the paddler is a Singapore citizen. I dare ask if she was trained here from a young age. Sure we all recognise the ‘glory’ she brought to us when she won a bronze medal. What of the locally born and trained athletes who train just as hard? Singapore is a society based on meritocracy, elitism and what have you but I think the Singaporean born athletes will benefit from the morale boost of being the country’s flag-bearer. Why couldn’t any one of the local athletes be placed at the forefront holding their country’s flag? Sure, Feng Tianwei and her team have been doing well in prior inter region and international competition, but there will always be questions thrown towards the authorities’ decision to place a ‘new citizen’ as a flag bearer. It is simply a matter of principle. Was the table tennis team trained since youth in Singapore? They surely weren’t. A representative does not need to be a winner to hold the country’s flag aloft for the world to see. I believe that a Singaporean-born citizen should have that honour. It is utterly embarrassing that our Olympic ‘victories’ come from purchased athletes. It is utterly shameful that in our system of things we weren’t able to churn our true, blue Singaporean born athletes who can dedicate themselves to the sport they so passionately train for.

Again, there are ministers that speak up for their choice in the matter saying it’s not about where the person comes from but what the said person as done for the country. I absolutely REFUSE to accept that rationale. That being the case, Singapore should indeed purchase Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. We’ll have plentiful triumphant moments indeed! The point these ministers make sorely miss the point of our frustration. We as Singaporeans want our local-born sports talent to be featured more prominently and even if they do not win, the fact that they participate is ENOUGH to give us our National Pride.

Champions we can proudly call our OWN.

On the ongoing contention of immigration policies, we suffer the ill effects of those policies. The influx of so-called foreign talent is so vast, our transportation system is starting to buckle. Mass disruptions, overcrowding and so on. Some people from abroad see it fit to comment on our ‘complaining nature’ that these things are bound to happen. True, but we have to really look at the cause of it. The train lines and buses weren’t catered to overcrowding. Eventually once the dust is settled, the 2 million dollar fine for the transport operator has been paid up, something horrible is bound to happen. I pray that for everyone’s sake they will be able to get out of it unscathed. The then CEO of SMRT Corporation saw it fit to skimp on maintenance budgets, in order to maintain maximum profits. With such greedy people at the helm of a public transportation company, how sure are we that these people do their jobs for passion?

We have a government that pays it’s ministers millions of dollars in salaries, a President that functions in a ceremonial fashion. One who within his job scope must exercise ‘authority’ in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet of Singapore. The excuse they give for their high salaries is to draw top talent, to prevent corruption and with it being pegged to the private sector, is reason enough to draw their ridiculous salaries. When the subject of ministerial salaries came up, there was certain resistance. They were justifying their salaries, their own minimum wage. All while opposing the implementation of minimum wage for the public. Oh the poor cleaners!

Whatever happened to serving the people with passion? Do ministers need to be paid so much in order to fulfill their duties as servants of the public? Elected By the people to SERVE the needs of the public? Or are they advocating some sort of…may I say…legalised corruption?

Everywhere I go I see seething resentment for the government. The cause of our misery, our anger, our disrespect. We are indeed an emotional people. A nation of passionate voters. In politics one must use our brains first and foremost. But what of the heart? Do we simply bulldoze through the needs of the less fortunate in the name of progress? Is it our right to say that their lack of effort in school or studies is what put them in the state of poverty in the first place? What every human should do is look at the many. Look around them and see just how much people fall through the cracks in Singapore society.

There needs to be reform within the systems the government set for us as people. Such is education. The push for academics is one which truly needs to change. Education is indeed important and should be the most important aspect of one’s life, after all knowledge is power. However I feel it’s not as simple as having someone absorb everything as easily and flow seamlessly into the next level or education. There exist certain individuals that may not be so good at academics but excel in something that they are truly gifted at. The Arts and Design, Sports, Culinary and Technical skills. Are these people given real opportunities to pursue their interests or are they thrown into the deep waters of the Singapore education system to try and swim. Tell me of an instance that such people are not stigmatised in the smallest ways even. Would a boy who failed his maths and science but is so good at being a striker in football be able to pursue his dreams without resistance? To be the next Pele? Will a girl who dances so gracefully be able to pursue her dreams of Rhythmic Gymnastics but falls short of her academics? Such are things I wish to see such a change for Singapore, that the paper rat race be made redundant. Equal opportunity to everyone given a complete scrutiny of their talents. I believe God is truly a loving and above all, a FAIR God. He blesses everyone with a gift and a gift that should rightfully be cultivated so that they can shine through and achieve their best, unlike having to go through despair at a failed subject that automatically denies them a future.

Thoughts of leaving this country behind for greener pastures have crossed my mind. Truth to be told, Singapore is still my home. At this stage it is hard to say it will remain my home. Speaking of homes a constant subject of frustration are the prices of public housing. People classify them as property, I see it as a home, a roof over one’s head. The government has seen to it that the population can benefit from the sales of property. An 4 or 5 room apartment in Singapore could cost northwards of $500,000! Such is the apartment my family and I live in. Last a property agent called, she valuated my place at $660,000!

Truth is in 1989, the apartment my parents purchased was just $90,000. That’s a lot of money to be made. The flat hasn’t expanded in size, there aren’t robots to greet me, grab my bags and massage me on the way to my room, so why should it explode in value? It is ridiculous.

A minister once said with such conviction and confidence that one could own his or her own flat by the time they are retired. As my brother and I watched that man with the gleaming bald head speak, we lost our temper. Is that man trying to imply that we are chained to our debt towards the house and only able to pay it by the time we are past 55 or 60? That speaks volumes of what our government thinks of us. They still insist on keeping the prices of apartments high. It is a total opposite of what the government (during independent Singapore’s formative years) has put out for us many decades before, that homes will be kept affordable.

Our homes are merely commodity, to be put out, and sold to whomever can and will accept the government’s prices. Public housing? affordable? Or the good old ball and chain? I’m pushing 29. I have no home to call my own. I can’t get married, I can’t have a home to call my own. It’s simply too expensive. The government has seen to it that homes in excess of 20,000 units will be built and ready in years to come. But these are unappealing places, far away places on the outskirts. Where I currently live is considered a matured estate, so everything is out there on the resale market. Read: RICH BUYERS ONLY. Even then these ‘new homes’ will simply not be affordable. These new flats, are way smaller than the one’s built decades ago. How does one live in flats that are not conducive for living size wise? I’d like someone to name me a product that could fetch higher prices the more hands it passes thru. I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to sell my Windows Phone for $1,000 with me being the first user. The buyer would call me a rip off for selling my second-hand device with that ridiculous price. Home pricing in Singapore I feel, goes against common sense. The older a flat is and if has been occupied before, the higher the price. A brand-new home costs less. Would you dare sell your used Ferrari for triple the purchase price?

It pains me to see the state of the nation. Elderly people who toil over tables and streets, healthcare being so expensive, homes being whored out for people to get rich over. The reliance of ‘talent’ from other countries in selected industries that we as Singaporeans can do. There must be some form of change. There must be reform but so as long as we buy the government’s ideas of getting rich through things that we absolutely must not see as commodity, there will be no progress. We can not and must not bend over and allow these things to overrule  the humane approach to care.

Can we as a people demand from our government accountability and transparency for each and every issue that has plagued our society? Can we ask for numbers as to how our money was spent? The population of foreigners turned citizens? Can we demand why there is such a reliance on talent from abroad? Can we demand why the policies set up for us are as such? Can we demand change? Do we have the courage to do what is necessary to effect change and usher in a new era of clean prosperity where everybody benefits?

Our future as a nation, our freedom, our democracy has to start with us. We are people who have the power to ignite the flames of change, the fuel our passion for wanting what is better not only for us but the man next to us. that is what being HUMAN after all is. We only look at the needs of those around us and have enough heart to put those around us above us, instead of learning from the government that preaches materialism. To want change, we have to be that change. All I want is a Singapore governed by a responsible team of competent, caring, compassionate and constructive individuals who truly believe in the simple concept of looking after their people. After all, leaders can lead nothing without the people they aspire to rally. By the people, for the people, a nation with a heart.

I love Singapore, and I am proud to be Singaporean. I love it enough to want to find my way to inspire change in the hearts of those around me first. People may laugh at my dreams, people may think of me as a wishful thinker and an idealistic person. I simply must soldier on.

Happy National day to one and all.

Sincerely, a humble son of Singapore.

Clarence Dorai