A birthday note to Singapore

waihanSingapore is a country. Singapore is not a nation. Not yet.

A country has a physical boundary, although sometimes disputed. It has a political system that governs the life of its citizens. A flag, an anthem, all these and more – trappings of a country – Singapore has.

Passion, love for the nation, with the people being ready to die for Singapore… these we do not have. Well, at least not many are ready to die for the country. Yet there are some who are passionate and care enough to try and make a difference, with or without accolades and fat pay cheques.

What brings about this scenario? My view is that the people are treated as economic digits, workers for Singapore Inc. with hard-nosed accounting taking precedence in every facet of our policy-making. When this happens, our relationship with the country is merely transactional. You try to get the most out of the country. And if it doesn’t suit you, just up and migrate if you have the ability. If you can’t, then swallow your pride and try to make a life on this little diamond.

National TheatrePeople need to share memories and pass them on for a collective identity to evolve and survive. I think of the National Library’s red-brick building at Stamford Road, the National Theatre at River Valley, my primary school at Queen Street… all gone. Soon my childhood memories at Tanglin Halt will give way to the bulldozers of SERS. So too my secondary school at Anderson Road. The unspoken truth is that some of these sites are too valuable to be left to a mere school, even one with 135 years’ history. In the surroundings of Anderson Road, more and more multi-million condominiums have sprung up. The state’s land bank probably would be silly to pass over this piece of real estate and leave it as a school.

The ever-increasing minimum sum of our CPF accounts gives the sense that we’ll never be able to use our hard-earned savings in our own lifetime. Even the Pioneer Package comes with so many strings wrapping up the gift. I’ve seen thin old folks in one-room flats who can do with better meals. Why keep the “gift” wrapped in medical benefits? Why not give outright so they can get better nutrition and hopefully won’t become so ill that they need to use the medical benefits so soon?

Politicking need not come at the end of every four or five years. When boundaries are re-drawn and new names given to electoral wards ever so often there is no opportunity for residents to develop an affinity to a place. (In 30 years, I have lived in Fengshan, Kaki Bukit, East Coast GRC… all without moving an inch from Bedok North.) Fanciful names like Rainbowville, Eunos Ville, etc crop up overnight on big structures of precincts. These do not make for community bonding.

rallyOf course, much has been done for the country by the dominant ruling party, as fair-minded people would acknowledge. But I feel great discomfort that the achievements are on the back of the injustices inflicted on many human beings, among them:

  • Political opponents of the ruling party who had been placed under detention without trial.
  • Foreign workers who do not have fair recourse to abuse by employers.
  • Home-makers who do not receive any significant economic recognition (other than the wife relief granted to taxpaying husbands).

And a very frightening divide in the us-versus-them attitude is practised in the $100 daily levy imposed on Singaporeans entering the casinos in the country. The message seems to be: it is alright for non-Singaporeans to empty their pockets… they are welcome to gamble away their fortune here. But our citizens need to be protected (the $100 levy being a futile attempt anyway in deterring the gamblers). What kind of value does this beggar-thy-neighbour policy imbue in our people?

On Singapore’s 49th birthday, an accidental political construct by the way, I wish that we be a more caring and accountable country. Both towards our citizens and towards other nations. We don’t always have to be the top dog. There is a place to progress together, not progress at the expense of others.

Too idealistic perhaps. But without ideals, is life really worth living? And without ideals, can we truly build a nation?

By Chan Wai Han

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