With inadequate living wage, lacking opportunity for better paying jobs, increasing cost of living, long hours of work (12 hours work is common), job insecurity, limited unemployment welfare and inadequate social protection, this social issues are pushing the people into stress and unhappiness.
As Singapore celebrates it 45th birthday, economic data show that our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 13.1 per cent in first quarter of 2010 was one of the strongest in the world. The Government claims credit for its decisiveness in minimizing the global recession's impact of on businesses and workers via its tripartite commitment to wage cuts, cutting production costs and skills upgrading.
But the people are not smiling. Singapore was just recently ranked by the Gallop poll as the 81st happiest country. With inadequate living wage, lacking opportunity for better paying jobs, increasing cost of living, long hours of work (12 hours work is common), job insecurity, limited unemployment welfare and inadequate social protection, this social issues are pushing the people into stress and unhappiness. No surprise, the Gallop poll claims that the majority seems to have poor quality of life with 75% of the people struggling and 6% suffering for their survival.
After two years of close to zero economic growth it is easy to claim the bounce as higher growth however global economic recovery is still weak. Dark clouds are still swirling in the horizon - lightning may strike soon again pushing the global economy into deep recession.
Post-recession, the global economic landscape may not bring much relief ahead. Hinterland countries like China and India no longer compete on lower price alone but also on production capability. Developed economies with high costs of living like us are focusing on the need to be cost-effective to attract investments, generate growth and most of all create decent work and paying decent wage.
The Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) for Singapore has mandated the focus on Skills, Innovation, and Productivity. In the midst of all the hot talk of "Upturn the Downturn", the Government sadly failed to upturn the work benefits and living conditions of the average Singaporean and Permanent Resident.
When times were good, we the citizenry worked hard together under the Government's bidding to build up two types of capital - financial capital, by being one of the most pro-business economies in the world; and social capital, by being one of the most pro-worker nations in the world. The Government, without ever pausing for breathe, now wants us to sustain our economic growth by becoming a "Cheaper Better Faster" economy, by pushing our workers to become more productive, capable and adaptable. As a result, businesses have become more profitable but job opportunities and wages of workers have not got better.
Regrettably, the much-vaunted Integrated Resorts (IRs) have not fully produced the promised creation of jobs for Singaporeans. Instead, the human capital sought after by the IRs has gravitated towards non-Singaporeans as raw employment data trends of both would allude to. Beyond the SPUR and Job Credit programmes of the Government, the fruits of economic recovery have benefited state coffers and employers more than workers.
Sadly, the failings of various public infrastructural systems have also cast further aspersions on the Government's famed efficiency. The probable negligence of various state agencies led to the unimaginable flash floods and fallen tree structures of late. Property has been damaged extensively, businesses suffered costly disruptions and innocent lives have been lost with no clear avenue to recourse or accountability by the state.
Incredibly, the high-handedness of the State in persecuting political commentators does not set the minds and hearts of Singaporeans at ease. Freedom of assembly and association have been denied clearly in the recent episode of the State prosecuting members of the Opposition parties on their usual benign on-the-ground outreach activity in the community. Freedom of expression and speech has been infringed in the State's knee jerk persecution of the foreign author of an insightful publication that throws new light on the penitentiary system and imposition of death-penalty in Singapore.
Is this Singapore the type of homeland we truly want to be in? This 45th National Day, Think Centre calls on the Government and fellow citizenry to reflect, review and reset our bearings on the following:
1) Leveraging on the tightly-knitted tripartite movement, the Government should institute minimum wage and decent working conditions for the low-skilled working poor.
2) Leveraging on the ethos of meritocracy, the Government should be proactive in censuring the relevant state agencies and bureaucrats for their failure in due diligence and be generous in compensating the affected segments of the citizenry.
3) Leveraging on the spirit of a caring and sharing society, the Government should be more compassionate towards the underprivileged in Singapore society. More policy revisions must be made immediately to cater to the human security needs of fellow citizens who are more easily marginalized especially single mothers, children with special needs, and disabled persons.
4) Leveraging on compassion, the Government should re-examine the purpose of the death penalty and capital punishments perceived effectiveness. A sentence of life imprisonment for the most serious offenses would keep us just as safe. We should also offer more help and guidance to troubled kids before they turn to drugs and crime.
The Singapore then would truly be a home where we want to be - caring, safe, humane.
We wish every Singaporean and PR a Happy National Day.