Life in Singapore – Utopia or Dystopia

Singapore possessed an endless string of world rankings and claims, i.e.

1. “The happiest place in Asia.”
2. One of the best welfare system in the world.
3. One of the best health care system in the world.
4. One of the best education system in the world.
5. One of the lowest income tax in the world.
6. The most efficient and honest government in the world.

The list goes on and on and on. The country is obsessed with world rankings and claims.

Most observers and visitors to Singapore are stunned but impressed by such a vast display of world rankings and claims.

Is Singapore such an Utopia as claimed? The answer is probably YES from about 10% of the population comprising of the multi-million dollars highest paid ministers in the world, the highest paid public civil servants in the world, the high salaried expatriates, the successful businessmen, the rich and famous, tourists and short term visitors.

These are the elite who can afford to pay $5 million to $30 million for a house and has no hesitation disclosing to the media that they spent $20,000 for a few days of French cooking lessons in Paris or spent $40,000 a year sending their two and three years old children to “baby gym” and “baby motivational” classes or post on Internet that the “poor should get out of her elite uncaring face.”

For this privileged caste, Singapore is indeed fantasy-land. It is a fun city with world class casinos, streets of bars, pubs and karaoke clubs, great restaurants of all cultures, theaters, 5 stars hotels, plenty of young and inexpensive social escorts and prostitutes from China, Philippines and neighboring countries. Prof Tommy Koh, former ambassador to UN, was reported that he entertained western ambassadors and consulate staff for “fun-filled” evenings. He preferred the Filipino girls in Orchard Towers over those in Duxton as those girls were “cheap and low quality”. The homes of these elites are well maintained by the services of cheap maids and they live like royalties.

For the remaining population, few would consider Singapore a fun city, let alone “the happiest place in Asia”. There is a small percentage within this remaining population who are in the “comfort zone” and contend with status quo where they could enjoy occasional touches of happy moments. These are people in the senior management positions, senior civil servants, senior military and police officers, relatively successful businessmen who are able to buy cars, private condominiums, the cheaper end of private houses or in worst case, the executive or 5-room HDB apartments. They have maids and take overseas vacations and enjoy some luxuries of elite lifestyle.

For majority of population, life is tough having to work 12 hours a day for both husbands and wives to pay off the mortgages for their 99 years lease HDB homes and 10 years lease cars, pay for children tuition and make ends meet. If Singapore is a fun city, most of them are simply too busy to feel happy or enjoy the luxuries of life. Singapore’s workforce has the reputation of having the longest working hours a day in the world.

How did Singapore with all the world ranking and claims deteriorate to such a pathetic state where the majority of common citizens are depressed, oppressed, stressed and agitated resulting in increased divorces, violence and suicides?

The Hard Truths are the fear of losing their current jobs and difficulties in finding new jobs, the raising cost of living, the anxiety of inadequate CPF for retirement, the lack of affordable health care, the fear of being homeless and the lack of welfare for seniors. In this meritocratic society, the handicaps, weak and the old are expendable and left to the care of their families. The State has in place laws for parents to sue their own children for financial support. The government does not want to waste its resources on the expendable. Singapore has an inexorable policy of survival of the fittest. Those citizens classified as underachievers or a burden will be sidelined and be left to rot.

Singapore leaders have a despicable habit of mocking other countries’ welfare systems to champion their own. In his 1996 National Day speech, then Prime Minister Goh said “People often want the government to assume the full burden of the cost of medical care and provide treatment free to Singaporeans. Because of the painful lessons learned in other countries we have not done this. All the countries which have done this—Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and Communist China—have failed. “

Contrary to SM Goh’s bold prediction 15 years ago, Canada’s welfare and health care systems are still firmly in place with high approval rating by the government and public. On the other hand, despite its world ranking, Singapore’s own welfare and health care systems have deteriorated to an extend that it is considered a mockery by its citizens. The joke amongst the citizens is that you can afford to die but cannot afford to get sick or old. All government hospitals have been converted to profit based private enterprises. There are no longer free medical care. Citizens have to pay for all medical services and medications with limited subsidies.

Singapore may rank better in the world by WHO but in reality Canada has a much better system. For example:

Case No. 1 – I am a kidney transplant patient who has gone through 5 years of dialysis before the transplant. The medical cost for the 5 years of dialysis, the transplant operation, the ICU and general hospitalization, the post transplant medication for the rest of my life are FREE. I did not pay a cent other than paying for the national health insurance that amounts to about $50 a month per person.

A patient in Singapore would have to cough between $200,000 to $300,000 from his/her medisave or beg for help from relatives and friends to pay the medical bills. One serious illness would effectively wiped out a giant portion of a person’s pension fund.

When I was unable to drive to hospital for dialysis, special handicap bus was arranged to pick me up at my residence and send me to and from hospital. All I have to pay was C$2.50 per trip.

I was paralyzed from neck down when I discharged from ICU. The Canadian health system has rehab program to enable me to participate in international dragon boat races. All my dialysis and medical treatments during overseas competitions were reimbursed. In 2008, I managed to win a Gold Medal in the San Francisco International Dragon Boat Race against normal healthy competitors under the Recreational Category.

In a callous society like Singapore, most end stage kidney failure patients would be left on their own or rely on the help of relatives and friends for rehabilitation. Those patients who managed to walk independently would consider themselves fortunate. None would dare hope for the government to provide training or pay for participation in international competitions.

Case No. 2 – An ex-Singaporean has tunnel or straight eye vision but the doctor did nothing in treating her when she was working in Singapore. When she immigrated to Canada, her family doctor discovered her eye defect and sent her to an eye specialist. She was diagnosed as “legally blind” and classified as a handicap person. Health care
workers were dispatched to her work place to check if the environment is friendly and prevent her from hurting herself. As a handicap, she cannot be fired because of her medical condition. All these services and medical treatments were free under the Canadian Health care.

A ludicrous incident happened when this lady returned to Singapore for a visit. An ignorant immigration officer confiscated her blind person walking cane as he regarded it as a dangerous weapon. She tried to explain to him that she was legally blind but the immigration officer told her that as long as she can see, she is NOT blind. He thought she was faking to take advantage. Not much of a testimony for a 1st world country.

Case No. 3 – Mr. Bernard Chan, an ex-Singaporean and YPAP promising member, has a special needs daughter that cost him thousands of dollars a month to be looked after when they were living in Singapore. When they immigrated to Canada, his daughter was immediately placed with 7 other special needs kids and taken care of by a full-time teacher, an assistant and watch over by a nurse and a specialist. All these services for FREE. He need not pay a cent. It is all covered by Canadian health care system. Fast forward. On reaching 18 years, his daughter was given a monthly
inflation-indexed allowance of Sin $1,500 (C$1+S$1.3), free medical and drugs, free dentistry and glasses (Sin $ 400 every 2 yrs). She can enroll for all kinds of studies and even dance, swim or social dance … all paid for FREE. Monthly bus is half price at Sin$45 per month …unlimited bus and train travel. The social services even got her a
part-time job doing packing to build up her self-esteem and she cannot be fired because of her medical condition.

Case No 4. Senior citizens living alone have regular visits by social workers to ensure that their meals are cooked, clothing and homes kept clean. They are given regular medical checkups. Again all these services are free under Canadian health care.

Examples can go on and on. It is puzzling how Singapore was ranked 6th best health care in the world by WHO versus Canada at 30th ranking when it fail to provide these basic compassionate services.

DPM Wong Kan Seng, on Jan 17, 2011, said, “We will not leave behind those who need more help. The surpluses we have set aside in good times can be tapped on to look after the needs of the old and poor. We will continue to enjoy quality education, healthcare, transport and other social infrastructure.”

Do Singaporeans still believe all these political rhetoric and empty promises? Do they really feel better off than Canadians? Canada may not have the best health care or welfare systems in the world but as Canadians we are proud of our health and welfare systems. Its policies are compassionate and fair to all citizens. We are motivated to die for Canada without hesitation.

On the other hand, Singapore health care and welfare systems are designed for selected elite. For example, when Mrs Lee was ill in London, a 747 jumbo plane was converted into an air ambulance within 24 hours to fly her back to Singapore. MM Lee boosted that it was a world record that could only be achieved by Singapore. Do the leaders spare a minute to care for the sick, weak, elderly and homeless to score another world record? In MM Lee’s latest book, “Hard Truths to keep Singapore going”, MM Lee challenged citizens to die for each other. For a statesman who prided himself as vision extraordinaire, MM Lee should easily forecast that it would be difficult to motivate
citizens to die for the country that is run like a circus by ministers drawing obscene high salaries with no accountability, no apology, no responsibility, no transparency and no shame.

In 1991, Prime Minister Goh promised Singaporeans that Singapore will achieve “Swiss standard of living” within a decade. Now, twenty years later Singapore’s standard of living is more like Russia than Switzerland.

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” — Confucius


Wing Lee Cheong
North Vancouver, BC,Canada

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Posted by Contributions on January 30, 2011.

Categories: Opinion, Society

14 Responses

A very good article.

Like or Dislike: 10 0

by IT IS NOW OR NEVER on Jan 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm (Quote)
This, is the hard truth.

Like or Dislike: 12 0

by Xi Luo on Jan 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm (Quote)
I am not arguing with Wing Lee Cheong’s assessment of Singapore, but his uninhibited and categorical praise of Canada’s system is misleading. Nothing in this world is free. The “free” services that the author so happily talks about is borne by the increased taxes on the rest of society. This creates a drag on economic growth. Canada has been able to afford this because of its natural resource wealth. BUt for how long? There is tremendous waste in Canada’s health care system. Many of the services are provided inefficiently. The fact that Canadians do not pay a cent for their medical treatment is also a problem. Enough people abuse the system that the cost of maintaining the system is starting to be worrisome. SM Goh may have been wrong about the timing, but he is not totally wrong. Canada’s current health care system is unsustainable in the long run. A simple search through the various Canadian newspapers will confirm this.

Canada spends a significant amount of resources on the health system. Singapore cannot come close to matching Canada’s resources. Canada has the good fortune of having much natural resources that the world currently values. So it can afford to be generous. But even its natural resource wealth is finite.

The reason why Canada’s health care system is ranked so poorly is because the level of service is poor, the long wait times for many procedures is intolerably long and dearth of primary care doctors is alarming. The hospitals in Canada are understaffed and over-crowded. If you are suffering from a serious, life threatening condition, then you will likely get good treatment. But if you need knee replacement surgery, then be prepared to spend 5 to 6 months waiting in agony. Worried that you might have cancer? Too bad, you still have to wait months before you can get to use an MRI machine. The author also forgot to mention those news stories of patients dying in Canadian hospitals waiting to see doctors or waiting for hospital beds. Don’t know if such problems exist in Singapore since I haven’t lived there in ages, but the situation in Canada is not as rosy as the author makes it out to be.

I am happy to be living in Canada and have renounced my Singapore citizenship without reservations. But let us be honest and realistic. Canada’s health care system should not be the role model. Look instead to countries like Germany where quality of medical care is better, the system is more sustainable and costs are better managed.

Like or Dislike: 4 7

by BoredAccountant on Jan 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm (Quote)
It was foreseen in 1994 by Catherine Lim:
“But while the PAP ideology remains the same, the people have not. Higher education, a more affluent lifestyle and exposure to the values of the western societies, have created a new generation that is not satisfied with the quantitative paradigm but looks beyond it to a larger qualitative one that most certainly includes matters of the heart, soul and spirit. While idealism, charisma and image have a special appeal for the young, feeling in general is an essential element in everybody’s life, occurring at the deepest and most basic level of human need.

The absence of this affective dimension in the PAP framework is what has alienated the people from their leaders. It is easily seen that the main criticisms levelled against the PAP point to a style deficient in human sensitivity and feeling — “dictatorial”, “arrogant”, “impatient”, “unforgiving”, “vindictive”.

The PAP of the founding years are long gone – in its place is a monster that is making lives miserable for the masses; except for the rich and influential who lord on the downtrodden.

Let’s reclaim Singapore for Singaporeans.

Like or Dislike: 13 0

by Bartholomew on Jan 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm (Quote)
Canada’s welfare not free lah…. taxpayers pay for it. If we want such a system just gotta vote for it. I seriously don’t know where my money is going? Upgrading, Upgrading and more upgrading? Or digging roads? What worth is that? Better spend the money on the poor, disabled or disadvantaged. Put them on a level playing field.

Like or Dislike: 7 0

by jaja on Jan 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm (Quote)
hush this is the truth PAP don’t want you to know or demand after all only million dollars ministers can have a S$ 8 heart bypass rest well might as well try to jump in the “waterfront lake”

Like or Dislike: 0 0

by Itbonkers on Jan 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm (Quote)
this cheong guy is a very bitter 62-year-old man.

Like or Dislike: 0 0


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