What do you want to change in Singapore?

Posted: July 10, 2009 by fievel in Labels: , , ,

Straits Times featured a write up on our newly minted NMPs today. A lot of bloggers in Singapore has written and read about the fact that Mr Siew Kum Hong did not successfully obtain a second term as an NMP, despite garnering a lot of support for his outspoken and vocal style when it came time to bring up real-life Singaporean issues in Parliament.

The reason Mr Siew had so much support from the people is that he was willing to voice out our concerns in order to effect changes the people want. As such, I paid special attention to the portion of the report on what these newly PAP-selected NMPs said they would like to change in Singapore.

One thing about Singapore that I would like to change:

Teo Siong Seng, 54, Managing Director of Pacific International Lines
"The weather, so that we can have four seasons. Here, it's either hot or hotter."

Paulin Tay Straughan, 46, sociologist, Vice-Dean of NUS Arts and Social Science
"I think we are way too focused on academic excellence. I don't remember being so intense when I was in school. But now, I find that our kids are really being pushed very hard. It will really be good if we can strive for a middle ground where there is better balance in work and leisure."

Lawrence Wee, 63, Executive Director of Presbyterian Community Services Singapore
"The pace of change. Let some parts of our heritage remain to remind the older people of landmarks they grew up with or they may become a bit lost. Don't change too fast or we'll be just a land of glass and steel."

Viswa Sadasivan, 49, Chief executive of Strategic Moves, a media training and consultancy firm
"To change the worship of academic excellence and the way people put so much importance on paper qualifications."

Calvin Cheng, 33, Media Entrepreneur
"Our self-image. We may be a young nation, but our constituent cultures are ancient. As a cosmopolitan city, we need to welcome foreigners and make sure we attract the best talent. But this does not mean we always have to look to the outside to define ourselves."

Audrey Wong Wai Yen, 41, Artistic co-director of The Substation arts venue
"I would like us to be a more gracious society and that we can improve on our civic responsibilities."

Terry Lee Kok Hua, 57, a veteran unionist
"That we are not too kiasu, care and share more for others in order to achieve happiness for all."

Mildred Tan-Sim Beng Mei, 50, Managing Director of Ernst & Young Advisory
"This is not so much change as something we could become better in. I was struck by Hong Kong's response to severe acute respiratory syndrome. They were hit worse but could come out and rebuild and adapt. Its ability to change and respond is something we could learn from."

Joscelin Yeo Wei Ling, 30, former national swimmer, owner of swimming school
"The traditional mindset that it is not possible to succeed in academics and sports at the same time, and that you have to give up one for the other."

My question to you, the Singaporean on the street, is, what are the changes you want to see in Singapore and do these NMPs sound like they will be represententative of you?

A friend asked me this recently, "What are the 3 things you will change about the way Singapore is run if you were, um...you know, the Prime Minister?" (Note: this is entirely for the sake of discussion over a kopitiam session and not meant to be provocative)

..and my answers were...

1) I will not peg our politicians' salaries to that of the private sector.
My reason is that, beyond a comfortable amount of salary, it does not take even more money to get a civic-minded person to run our country. Even if we need a top-notch banker to be Minister of Finance for example, the true test of whether he will do a good job for the country, is not in his ability to fetch a higher salary in the private sector, but that he was able to fetch that salary in the private sector and yet willing to take a pay cut to serve the people. I mean, it's like passion over money. If a vet chooses to become a vet instead of being a doctor in Singapore simply because he would earn more money and not out of love for animals, then I doubt he will be all that great a vet. Fact is the high salary creates the problem that it will attract the wrong crowd...
Corruption prevention was another reason for the high salaries; but really let's look at the alternative...you see, drug trafficking is prevented by capital punishment in Singapore...punitive rather than rewarding. It sure works doesn't it?

2) I will enact a minimum wage law
Minister Lim Swee Say recently said during the 2009 tripartism forum that the absence of a minimum wage law allowed many employers to cut wages during the crisis and hence saved jobs. I beg to differ because a minimum wage law can protect Singaporeans at the very bottom of the labour food chain. The jobs that suffered a wage cut (hence saved) would not even be anywhere near a minimum wage of say, $4 or $5 an hour, jobs that a security guard, a cleaner auntie etc would fetch. This would would prevent employers from resorting to unfairly cheaper foreign labour that costs even lesser. $4 x 10hrs/day x 30 days = $1200. At least we give a Singaporean senior the opportunity to work to the bones and fetch an income to live like a human proper. A minimum wage law is the least our now arguably 1st world nation can do to save, protect and bring along our ultra low income fellow Singaporeans in the quest for further economic success. It is well documented that the capitalistic nature of the modern world creates a widening gap between the rich and poor. Without a salary floor to protect these Singaporeans as our cost of living continues to balloon, we are not bringing everyone along as we 'progress'. Yes it might be expensive, it might be a social cost, a dead weight loss or whatever you call it, but should we not govern with a bit more conscience?

3) I will report the country's progress not in GDP terms, but in GDP net of inflation for the average Singaporean. I may even go one step further and measure the happiness quotient, or attempt to reflect the happiness of Singaporeans, perhaps with a study into how many Singaporeans are thinking of leaving our shores, or are leaving our shores. Basically I propose a less materialistic and more humanistic approach. (This seems to resonate with what some of our NMPs are suggesting...)
We all know statistics is a tricky subject. GDP does not measure true benefits to our people, as it can be very unevenly distributed (go wiki Singapore's GINI coefficient), or that inflation can have it all taken away.

Anyway, the list goes on...

What would YOU like to change about Singapore?