Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Singapore flames 'uncaring elite' - really ar? But 66% says otherwise methinks ....

[quote] {me in blue}

POSTED: 12:51 a.m. EST, December 19, 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters. "If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

{lesson no.1 in reading statistics - they lie. How does USD $27,000 per year, roughly SGD $40,500 translate into median income as reported by the GHSS of SGD $2,750? Should it not be $40,500 / 12 months = SGD $3,375? Or is SGD $600 a difference so small for our high and mighty Ministers that it does not really matter?}

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the Gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.

{Dear Minister, housing is coming in at around 40% of an average Singaporeans' income, much higher then a vast majority of places in the world, the cost of health care is increasing, and will increase further once your government truly privatises the insurance schemes related to it.

Education? No one is sure of the true number anymore. News reports previously said that Singaporean students are heavily subsidised, up to 90% of their education including tertiary education. And with a dramatically growing number of foreign students who will in 2 year's time pay 10% to 30% more the the local students .... have not the Singaorean taxpayers been funding foreign students all this time then? Over and above scholarships handed out to them which were and are issued by the Government whose revenue source is once again taxpayer monies?

Most wages in Singapore have stagnated for a long time save the likes of yours. Heck, even well qualified middle aged execs have been running on fumes for the last 10 to 12 years! Save it or stuff it.}

Welfare as a dirty word

Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidized and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

{"Education is cheap and excellent." For a local yes, I have to agree. Relative to employability vis-a-vis foreign Unis like Harvard, Yale, Purdue, Cornell, Oxbridge etc? Quite a distance from 2nd tier. Nevermind that we are living in a first world country with nearly first world prices in almost all categories of goods but big ticket and otherwise. Something does not quite balance here I think.}

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on November 13.

{Dear PM, dirty words are for children. Once you mature, as the European democracies have, 'dirty words' become things of need and sometimes of want. Drawing the line between need and want is more appropriate for a middle aged nation like Singapore should it not be?}

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favor of the lower-income groups".

{So 'welfare' is a dirty word and 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system' are five dirtier words but 'tilting the balance in favor of the lower-income group' are ten words that describe in essence what is the same is ok? Shall we leave the semantics to the language and philosophy classes please? We're talking about governance, with multi-million dollar price tags attached here. What must be done should be done in the interest of Singaporeans.}

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.

{And nation-wide, where contested, WP scored with about 374,000 voters .... wonder what would happen if this 330,000 voters were added?? circa 700,000 voters out of 1.2 million which gives WP a minority vote.}

Marie Antoinettes

Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $6,500 a month, while such families make up just 13 percent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical Web site TalkingCock.com, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

{Re-distributive justice at its finest when not properly administered. Just like how upgrading is so blatantly administered - rightly or wrongly? 66% of Singaporeans seem to think that it is fair to penalise other taxpayers who may or may not have a choice.}

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

[end quote]

Dear fellow Singaporeans,

have a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2007 coming up!

May your income be higher then the median as reported in 2006. May you be able to absorb the impending hike in the general costs of living. May taxpayers continue to fund foreigners while our local graduates have a hard time. May you never fall ill and have your medisave and personal savings wiped out. May you never require upgrading for which you are forking out the entire amount in reality. And may you prosper one and all!