Singapore typically loves to do everything it does with a lot of fanfare, taking decisions on behalf of the people with the assumption that they would benefit the country.
They mostly have but I have begun to get the sense that what was achieved in the first four decades of its life has been squandered away in the last decade.
I am talking about the quality of life for Singaporeans which has taken a dip of late because of the government’s excessive focus on boosting the country’s population, not paying adequate attention to its size.
Inward Orientation: Now that SG50 is behind us, Singapore has to look at ways to reinvigorate its citizens with an inward orientation.
Past solutions may not work for challenges of the day. They may have served the country well in the first 50 years, but Singapore is blessed with well-educated people now.
The landscape and dynamics are different, so saying stuck with the same-old policies (boosting population, keeping local universities off limit for the bulk of Singaporeans, a focus on money, money and money, etc.) will not work.
Fresh thinking and bold new ideas are needed as Singapore steps into year 51 of its journey.
Here is my wishlist for Singapore – some are those that I articulated at the start of SG50 but they are still relevant.
People-Friendliness More Critical Than Business Sympathies
A people-friendly dispensation from the government will justify the name of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). In my view, it has so far been business-friendly which is welcome. But any people-related action must take into account that Singapore citizens also belong to the species called homo sapiens, not just foreign people!
Showing empathy with and interest in promoting business in a manner that conflicts with citizen welfare is anomalous. Assuming that a thriving business is in the interest of the people is true only to a limited extent.
PRs are not Singaporeans
Generally, all country-specific data tend to combine both citizens and Permanent Residents as that may present a more rosy picture of any situation than real ground realities.
Any statistical research must avoid this clubbing. PRs are still foreigners and are here to make money that they can stash in their home countries with no loyalty attached to Singapore. Imagining that treating them on a par with locals will inspire a commitment to the country is akin to living in a fool’s paradise.
Insurance / MediSave / MediShield
Nowhere is the business-friendly culture more evident than in the insurance sector. All insurance companies in Singapore protect ONLY their interests, not that of the people.
Trying to get a policy that will pay 100% of your hospital bills without having to pay upfront is like a wild goose chase.
And if you had any pre-existing conditions, forget the idea of getting a policy as insurance companies love to chase only safe bets.
In other words, they will want all of the money that individuals pay towards their policies but with little benefits for policy-holders.
Even for corporate group insurance that will come smooth for every employee has been made stringent with companies like Prudential.
The government’s own schemes such as MediSave / MediShield also make little sense. If a person is not able to use his own MediSave amount in full for meeting medical requirements then what the heck are the CPF deductions for?
Worse, if your employer credits, say 5k, into your account, CPF unilaterally decides to put the bulk of it in your MediSave account if it was yet to reach the minimum balance.
I will want the government to stop taking away money from my CPF account and parking it under MediSave. I find keeping our funds locked with no meaningful way to use it unacceptable.
Roadmap to Trim Population
For me, Singapore must come up with a roadmap to trim its population. It is way too dense, affecting the quality of life for residents severely. It is around 5.5 million today, having nearly doubled in two decades.
I will want it to go back to 3.5 million and this should not be difficult as 50% of its population is made up of foreigners. Imagining that a low population will affect its economic prospects is a fallacy. The quality of its people is vital, not quantity, for success.
In a world that is going increasingly robotic, with Artificial Intelligence gaining pace, boosting population shows a lack of farsightedness. I find this amusing in a country that is seen as a technology trailblazer.
Economic Chest Not at Cost of Quality of Life
Even large countries such as the US and Australia are not going overboard filling their shores with foreigners. Let us not build our economic coffers at the cost of the high quality of life that Singaporeans enjoyed not too long ago.
Whether my wish crystallises or not, I will take solace from that enduring Beatles’ number, Let it be. If a city bursting at its seams is what Singapore wants, let it be, let it be!
Young and Old – Jobs are Scarce for Singaporeans
Recent reports have indicated that both young Singaporeans and those beyond 40 are finding it extremely tough to find jobs.
That nails the lie of businesses screaming that they are finding it hard to hire people. They will have an axe to grind – like bringing in people of their own clan from overseas and at lower costs.
If there is a skills gap in Singapore, as I have heard from some of the foreigners here, then whose fault is that? Of course, the government’s! If the bulk of Singaporeans are kept out of the universities here how can we bridge any perceived gap?
Moreover, businesses must have an inclination to train local people if there is any skills gap. Most jobs do not involve any rocket science. Skills can be picked up easily. Even the so-called foreign talent they hire come with zero skills. Most pick them up only on the job.
- Foreign talent is welcome if that is designed to fill in some gaps here, not at the cost of Singaporeans with the same skillset. Import of talent has to be need-based, not because of any “more-the-merrier” policy.
Singaporeans, both fresh graduates and experienced professionals, are getting the short shrift because of what appears to be a lax immigration policy despite efforts to apply some controls.
If businesses want to pack up and go because of any imaginary labour crunch they will be the losers. They are here to make money, not serve the country! Stemming easy immigration will also help tackle discrimination of all hues at the workplace.
An imaged borrowed from the Web
Priority has to be given to Singaporeans in university admissions as the lack of it is forcing locals to move out of the country to study. Having some of the best universities here is of no meaningful value if prime courses are grabbed by “foreign talent” and Singaporeans have to go elsewhere in search of learning.
Xenophobia – Liberals warn of an anti-foreigner sentiment raring its head in the country. The government has to take some blame for it. The country is still not xenophobic but, if that happens, the biggest victims will be Singaporeans themselves as the minority races among them can be easily targeted.
May the next 50 years be even more golden than the first 50 with a people-first emphasis where peace, prosperity and harmony will continue to reign!
G Joslin Vethakumar