By Cheong Wing Lee, Guest Columnist
It has been 50 years since Singapore has been governed by the PAP under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.
Is Singapore better off now than it was 50 years ago?
The answer from most baby boomers is that it is worse. Despite all the gains in materialism and wealth in the country, the majority of the aging population is feeling no better than five decades ago. Many are stressed out by the anxieties due to the absence of a dignified retirement plan, the affordability of healthcare and the uncertain future for their children.
Fifty years ago, Singapore was a British Colony under British rule. The majority of the population neither liked nor disliked the British. They had no opinion and took it as part of life.
During the colonial days, most of the population then were born to accept that the white people were superior. The population then were mostly poor working class, lost without direction and living from day to day.
Fast forward fifty years to present day Singapore and we find the majority of the aging population also neither like nor dislike the PAP and can’t do anything about it. Most of them were born to accept that the “Men in White” are superior.
The PAP has over the years designed policies and safe guards to ensure that the party remains in power indefinitely. The indiscriminate use of the ISD, rezoning of constituencies, formation of GRCs, the monopoly of the mass media and liberal use of defamation lawsuits against opponents practically destroyed all oppositions.
The aging population are generally poor, lost without direction and like the population fifty years ago, living from day to day, praying that their savings will be adequate for a decent retirement.
To PAP’s credit, during the past fifty years,the old guards of the PAP and MM Lee managed to bring Singapore from an improvised third world country to the first world status.
I remembered I was then living in a small rented room in a Chinatown shop-house with only one kitchen, one make shift bathroom and one pull out bucket toilet. The shop-house was shared with 4 other families with a total of 22 occupants.
Within fifteen years I was able to buy a 5 room HDB apartment and own a car. For that I was grateful to the PAP, especially the old guards.
Back then in the seventies, Singapore was bustling with economic activities brought about by Dr. Goh Keng Swee, then Deputy Prime Minister, who led the Singapore industrial revolution.
For the next few decades, Singapore was hailed by the world as an economic miracle . A country without natural resources and yet able to propel itself from 3rd world status to 1st world status with one of the highest per capita in Asia.
The country achieved so many “Number Ones”, i.e. No 1 airport, No.1 container port, No.1 airline, etc, etc. that I lost count. We were proud to be citizens of Singapore.
We were proud of the PAP and we were proud of MM Lee. Many of us were willing to fight and die for the country and him. MM Lee would have left a great legacy for generations to remember.
Ironically the past two decades had eroded that admiration. The addiction of absolute power has made MM Lee developed a deep craze to perpetuate his control of Singapore. It was no longer our country.
In the 1960s when PAP was consolidating its political power base, then PM Lee Kuan Yew pledged to close the gap between the rich and the poor. Instead, after so many decades, MM Lee has created the greatest income gap in the history of Singapore. There are no more middle class, only the elite super rich and the poor.
Singapore has become his country, his personal property. Our pledge for justice and equality for all is only but an aspiration according to him. To MM Lee, only he and the PAP can effectively govern Singapore. All ministers are getting $millions in salaries and bonuses. The top 30 highest paid politicians in the world are all Singapore ministers. The present PM Lee Hsien Loong is getting more than 4 times the salary of President Obama or any other leaders of the world.
All others outside of PAP with opposing views are treated as Public Enemies. Under the disguise of self renewal and recruiting new blood, the entire group of old guards were retired except for himself. He brought in young bureaucrats, technocrats, and scholars who will obey and above all fear him without questions.
This dream team and MM Lee initiated a series of social engineering. MM Lee’s dream is to create a perfect society based on meritocracy. There will be no room for complacency. He wants Singaporeans to be the best of the best.
In the process of social engineering, Singapore becomes a nanny state where the government dictates to its citizens what, how and when to do in every minute aspect of their lives. The ideal dreams of the ordinary citizens turned to nightmares. The citizens are hard pressed to perform to the government’s requirements.
The education system was revamped time and again to filter and segregate the slow learners from the ordinary and the brightest students at a young age.
The brightest students are given the best education, priorities and scholarships with promise of top government jobs and top salaries upon completion of their studies.
These super students are primed to be future leaders of the country. The slow learners and the ordinary students are thrown to the lower rungs of the food chain.
The numerous new education policies cause panic amongst parents who do not want their children to be labeled as slow learners or mentally challenged.
There is a huge surge for private tuition whereby children are forced to endure hours of extra studies to keep up or be one step ahead of the others in their pursuit of academic excellence. The joy and happiness of growing up as children was robbed.
There was no time for children to be simply children. The segregation system is based on an unscientific assumption that if students do not perform well in examinations, they will not do well in all aspects of their lives.
Maids are hired in order for parents and children to devote more time to studies. The repercussion of the overuse of maids resulted in a generation of children not knowing how to do simple chores like boiling water, washing dishes, cleaning, hanging a picture frame, changing a car tire, etc. Few children learn or do anything outside of textbooks. The children are simply not street smart.
Perhaps the biggest mistake was the “STOP AT TWO” or “Two is Enough” campaign where citizens were encouraged to stop at only having two children by curtailing all medical benefits and educational privileges of the third child.
The successful campaign resulted in a sharp drop in birth rate and a mass exodus of emigrants who have more than two children. Even more severe repercussions surfaced two decades later resulting in the present huge influx of more than one million “Foreign Talents”, mainly from China and India.
Just when the local citizens thought that they have met the worst by working as janitors, food courts cleaners and other low paying jobs, they are now challenged by foreign talents from China and India who are prepared to work for less.
This challenge now spread to include regular higher paying jobs like engineers, surveyors, healthcare workers, etc which are traditionally held by local born Singaporeans.
Companies are openly advertising and recruiting the new foreign talents in preference to the locals. The reason being that companies need to stay competitive and be more profitable.
New immigrants or foreign talents are not burdened by national service and reservist duty which put additional cost to the companies. Furthermore, new immigrants are willing and able to work for less pay and longer hours since most of them come to Singapore by themselves and have no family obligations like the locals.
The entire working environment is working against the local born Singaporeans. All of a sudden they have become strangers in their own land.
The country they have sworn to protect has betrayed them. In desperate times like this, when help and reassuring words from the government should be forth coming, instead the local Singaporeans receive advice telling them to lower their expectations. This only add insult to injury.
What the dream team and high salaried ministers fail to understand is that the people cannot go lower than low. Just try to survive on a salary of $2,000 a month or less with a family, then maybe they may understand the plight of the average Singaporeans.
For those frustrated Singaporeans who wants to emigrate to other countries to escape their hopeless predicament, they are walking into another brick wall.
Unknown to most of them, new emigrants to countries like Australia and Canada are also foreign talents who have recently obtained their Singapore citizenship. It must be heart breaking for locals to find out that even the last escape route from their desperate predicament is being challenged by foreign talents who use Singapore as a stepping stone.
There are potential problems looming on the horizon with this huge influx of foreign talents, permanent residents and newly minted Singaporeans. The total number is between 1.6 million to 2 million people under these categories.
These people have no allegiance to the country. Their allegiance is to money. If they do not get employment, they will not get the money to send back to their countries to help their families.
The local born Singaporeans are largely of the “kaisu and kaisi” non-violent type who only complain but continue to vote in the same government election after election. However, the new immigrants are more vocal and hostile. These people will not be easily intimidated and bullied by the authority. The threat of jail to them is like going to a holiday camp with free food and shelter. They have endured much harsher penalties and hardships in their own countries. They are battle hardened and not afraid of dying.
If these foreign talents do go on riots, it will be a security nightmare. Logistically, the police does not have enough manpower to cope with such numbers. Singapore has less than 20,000 regular policemen. Each policeman has to deal with 100 violent protesters. No matter how efficient the policemen are, it is an impossible task even if the reservist NS are called in to help.
On the assumption that these people are contained, there are simply not enough jails to lock them in. Changi Prison will have to be increased at least one hundred times in size. The government has only one solution and that is to keep them constantly employed to maintain peace. Who would then be the unemployed? Ironically it would be the local heartland Singaporeans - strangers in your own country?
So when it comes to the question of whether Singapore is better now than it was 50 years ago, should we be surprised at the answer?
About the Author:
Cheong Wing Lee is an ex-Singaporean who is now living in Vancouver, Canada.
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