Singaporeans need more political space

June 17, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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17 June 2003

Dear Dr. Chee,

I fully commend your efforts and perserverance in attempting to educate the Singapore public.

I feel that our current government is simply not transparent enough. People are trading their freedom for that bit of security, and when it boils down to it, what sort of security do we really have? Certainly not in education, or the workforce, or even medical security. The state controls our economy so tightly, yet provides so poorly for its citizens.

We are encouraged to be entrepreneurs and to think creatively, but the education system in Singapore is structured so that children are not taught to think for themselves. They go to school, absorb the texts and are not encouraged to critically analyze what they study. To me, this foundation forms the core of the typically obedient, unchallenging, perhaps even clueless Singaporean.

I would be laughing all the way to the bank If I had a dime for every time I heard a parent tell his child “You must study hard so next time you can be rich”. We are taught that aspiring to own private housing and transport is a luxury, and I find this truly laughable. I am far from communist, but I believe that every society should be egalitarian, and I would like to see income disparity reduced.

I also find it disgraceful that many fast food restaurants exploit the aged and the very young at starting salaries of three dollars per hour, a percentage of which is further deducted for CPF. Where is the fairness in that? To be honest, working at a fast food joint is not beneath me. What is beneath me, is the sort of pay that you get.

I imagine foreign construction workers are not paid much more. If a minimum policy wage of ten dollars per hour was in effect, I would surmise that Singapore’s unemployment rate would be drastically reduced. Exploitation is just as despicable whether directed towards my fellow Singaporeans or to foreign talent. My secondary school toilet cleaner was a Masters degree holder from India. I feel that if you want to hire foreign talent, make sure they are able to hold decent positions with decent pay. But before you do that, think of what’s closer to home first.

Recently I read a publication by SDP quoting one of our ministers as saying that the reason why they are paid such high salaries is to prevent them from leaving for jobs in the private sector. I’ve always felt that politics was a passion, not a job, and if our ministers are mercenary enough to want to leave the public sector for a cushy private job, by all means, let them. That sort of reasoning is simply no justification for our ministers being the highest paid in the world.

I know from personal experience that our public health system is inadequate. Many medications are not provided to patients who need it because their condition isn’t “severe enough”, because it is “too expensive”. This I was told point blank by a dermatologist at the National Skin Centre. I paid to see a private dermatologist, and was cured in a month, what our national health system could not afford to do in the two years that I sought treatment from them.

Another point that riles me is the way our government invests millions in our military, spending good tax payers’ money to conscript our male youth in the army. This is downright patriarchal, as males subsequently get paid more than their female counterparts because they have the “experience”. Why are women not trained? I do not mean that they should be put through the same physical training as the men; I would like to see an implementation of National Service for women, training them in useful courses like Nursing. Lord knows, we could certainly benefit from that right now.

That there is no freedom of speech in Singapore is downright pathetic. We are thwarted at every attempt to assert our opinions. What I want to know is, why the Singapore government is so afraid of what we have to say. Laws should be made to protect the people from the institution, not the other way around. Why do we not have an independent judiciary?

There is no mild way of putting it, we are oppressed. So much so that we dare not sign our real names in these letters to you, much less speak up in public. Fear of prosecution. I would not be surprised if our IP addresses were monitored on your site. As far as I know there is no privacy act in Singapore, and this fear is well justified, seeing as how the government has already authorised the hacking of hundreds of thousands of singaporeans’ computers once in 1996 and once in 1999.

I am not revolutionary, and I know that things can’t change overnight. I think the PAP has made some praiseworthy policies, but many bad ones too. The least they can do is allow constructive criticism. Until then, the SDP has my support, for I believe that if enough of us Singaporeans support the SDP, the government will sit up and take more notice of just how disatisfied the majority of us are. Those who are not are either too wealthy or uneducated to care.

Please keep up the good work. You offer at least a little spark of hope in this oppressive space.

JANICE