In LIFESTYLE

Singapore, Our Homeland

My detest for local news has recurred again. Every piece of news on The Straits Times front page and Main Section irks me. There was a time when I had to read the news everyday but I have come to terms that I am better off reading a novel than The Straits Times. We ordered the Print Version of The Straits Times every weekend because I still enjoyed reading The Sunday Life Section. It is interesting to read The Strait Times when the reporters or correspondents write about something other than the news.

This is the first National Day which I spent with my 2 sons but it did not carry any significance for me except that I spent it with my family. The last National Day Parade (“NDP”) which I felt extremely proud of my country was the one and only NDP that I attended when I was 15 years old. The Parade was glorious and I felt extremely proud to be One People, One Nation and One Singapore.

However, in recent times, I have never felt more insecure than to be a Singaporean. Singapore is 47 years old and our country is populated mostly by Baby Boomers and those who are born in the 1960s. Our birth rate is nearly 1, which means we are not even replacing ourselves and we are importing foreigners to fill up the cracks, rifts and gaps in our xenophobic society and population. Many Singaporeans are averse to opening up Singapore to foreigners especially skilled foreign workers. Singaporean skilled workers are worried that they would be replaced by the cheap labor provided by Chinese, Indian or Filipino employees. Many employers are also turning to the cheap labor provided by these immigrants because they do not have to pay the required Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) for these foreign workers. I believe that it would be sooner than later that the prejudice we have against foreigners could escalate and become a national crisis.

Like the Australian Government, it is up to our Singaporean Government to take steps to ensure that Singapore belonged to Singaporeans. All Singaporeans should be entitled to Housing Board Flats at a subsidized rate. This was the motto and vision when HDB was first established to look after the housing conditions of Singaporeans. In recent years, HDB has been using private contractors to build their new flats and each flat costs an arm and a leg to most young Singaporeans. Without their own flat, many young Singaporean couples opt to wait for their flat before they get married. They want to accumulate enough savings to buy a four-room flat at S$400,000 before they get married. By the time they have such savings, they would be in their late 20s. A few more honeymoon years and the female’s biological clock is ticking and many couples face difficulties in conceiving due to age. The Government has turned to funding and subsidizing IVF treatments for couples who have difficulty to conceive. The success rate of IVF is only 30% and it does not guarantee that you will any have children at the end of 3 IVF cycles.

Besides the low birth rate, I am also concerned if Singapore will sink like Venice. There was a big scandal when our MRT trains broke down last year in December 2012. Many passengers affected by the breakdown described scenes of confusion, as they tried to make sense of the situation. Commuters reportedly banged on train doors and some even used a fire extinguisher to break the windows of a train stuck underground due to lack of ventilation. Hundreds of passengers were stuck on the train traveling from Somerset to Orchard during peak hour. When the train stopped suddenly, the electrical power appeared to have been cut off, and the train was in total darkness and the worst part was the air-conditioner was not working.

Passengers were stranded for one hour in the darkened environment without air-condition or ventilation, and it was very hot and stuffy in the train as the doors were all closed. There were many angry passengers who tried banging on the windows to break the windows, in the hope that air could come in because the train was very stuffy. For hours, there was no announcement to the passengers to keep them calm or relate to them what was happening. The passengers simply waited in darkness without food, water or enough oxygen to survive.

After the very public embarrassment of the breakdown and how inadequate SMRT was when faced with such situations, the CEO resigned and a COI process and inquiry was started. The COI did not come cheap because SMRT and LTA spent S$10 million dollars employing industry experts and lawyers to assist with the COI process, which was deemed important to LTA. Credible experts and legal eagles were hired to ensure an optimal outcome. As a result of the process, LTA had greater clarity about what happened during the December incidents. So-called measures have been taken to improve reliability and strengthen the regulatory framework. The measures were not published or publicised.

I believe that these monies could have been more wisely spent on engaging engineers from Japan or buying necessary equipment or train parts to fix the broken MRT trains, instead of frivolously using the funds to employ highly qualified expert panel and legal eagles to reiterate again that SMRT was at fault for not changing the trains’ outdated equipment and also responsible for poorly maintaining the trains.

The monies could also be given to Ministry of Education to provide free preschool and kindergarten education to all the preschoolers. If this has been done, I would definitely give birth to another child, hopefully a daughter. If I know that the government will pay for 6 months’ maternity leave, pay for my prenatal and postnatal medical expenditure with good Singaporean doctors and not doctors imported from India and also my child’s preschool education, I would be the first in line to have another baby. However, this is not the case and we Singaporean parents have to fork our own retirement monies to pay for premium childhood education and enrichment classes for our children so that they do not lose out in the Rat Race in “Super Kiasu Singapore”.

The breakdown of the SMRT train should be recognized as a failure by SMRT to maintain the trains in tip-top condition. The trains have been in use since its inauguration since 1987. It is an old system so it needs repair and maintenance. There is nothing wrong with admitting that the train was old and needs repairs and maintenance, which was not carried out timely. The biggest blunder and mistake that was made was that no one responded to the failure of the trains in Dec 2012 and many Singaporeans were stuck in the train system without food, water and oxygen. Where is the Civil Defense or The Fire Department when we need them?

The smokescreen was again to ask someone to take the wrap and this time it was SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa who resigned and stepped down as president and CEO of SMRT. After her departure, the train continued to have problems and stoppages were imminent and looming. It is unavoidable to have such stoppages since we are a small island and most of our land have been reclaimed. I believe the reclaimed land is still raw even after 20 years. By building so many train systems underground and by digging into the foundation of the reclaimed land, it is inevitable that there will be problems with trains. I am not sure why we need so many train tracks or train stations when our buses are running to so many location providing a cheap and convenient mode of public transport. Furthermore, we have so many companies providing cab services, so traveling around our small island without building so many train tracks is an easy and achievable task. Things are simple so we should leave it that way. By digging underground, the foundation of the reclaimed land would become unstable and we surely do not wish to see a repeat of the collapse of Nicoll Highway which occurred on 20 April 2004.

It is appropriate to quote Confucius here. He said “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Without question, I agree.

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