Where Are We Headed?

Singapore’s future is uncertain. 5 years ago, I was still very confident if someone were to ask me what I feel about Singapore’s progress as a society and country as a whole. Definitely on the right track. Our future is bright. Today, if you ask the same question, I would stop and think. Let me write my thoughts out before giving you an answer.

Like a typical Singaporean student, Singapore always strive to be the top at every list. Singapore is ranked the 15th most liveable city worldwide in the Monocle liveable city index,  ranked No.1 worldwide for the ease of doing business by the World Bank in 2011,  ranked the 3rd the most competitive country in the world, ranked No. 2 in 2010 on World Health Organization’s World Health Statistic’s Infant Mortality Rate. And the list goes on and on. While these rankings add to the glossy image Singapore portrays to the world, the average Singaporean on the street isn’t bothered by all these achievements. “Singapore has found enviable economic success since 2007,” Malaysian bank CIMB said in a note published. “But the fruits of its success have not filtered down to everyone. The masses complain that if wealth is measured by happiness, Singapore is far from being El Dorado”.

5 years ago, a typical conversation between Singaporeans would be connected to food, shopping and materialism. Now, try striking a conversation with a coffee shop uncle, a taxi driver, or a young executive at Orchard Road, and you will be greeted with unhappiness over the huge immigrant population, high cost of living, and worsening public transport. You get an idea about the general sentiment Singaporeans have towards their country and government these days. They are now disgruntled, angered, disappointed with the way things are being run in the country. Where have the positive energy once seen in this forward-looking nation, a country with a hardworking workforce and people so proud of their achievements gone to? It seems like everyone do not know where they are headed, and are very uncertain about the future.

Many friction points were highlighted in last year’s General Elections, in which our ruling party suffered its worst setback since Singapore gained independence in 1965. The PAP won only 60% of the votes, and voters sent some high-key ministers packing. Singapore’s political scene is slowly flourishing, and as the population becomes more educated and the middle-class becomes more vocal, more opinions are being raised. Flaws are surfacing, and with the internet as the platform for opinions and discussions, Singaporeans are becoming more bold in criticising the government’s policies, and the dealings with the recent spate of events which caused public outcries.

Firstly, Singapore is now one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. Due to the huge influx of foreigners, demand for everything from housing to basic necessities have gone up, and so cost of living has gone up to unprecedented levels. While the upper and middle class Singaporeans are still able to ride through the tides of rising costs, the low-income Singaporeans are generally feeling the pinch. This brings us to the next problem that Singapore, like other globalised cities are facing; the ever-widening income gap. While incomes of the upper-class increasing more than ten fold over the past decades, mostly driven by rich foreigners taking up permanent residency in Singapore, (the most recent addition to Singapore’s list of billionaires is Eduardo Saverin, Facebook’s co-founder), the low-income Singaporeans have not seen any increase in their incomes at all.

Secondly, the huge influx of foreigners into the city has irrevocably changed and effected the population dynamics, and is causing huge discontent among Singaporeans. It has become so serious that anti-foreign sentiment is very strong, and I have to admit I am one of them. 5 years ago, I welcomed foreigners to Singapore with open arms, feeling very proud that my country is so well-liked by foreigners, who seemed very keen to live and work in our country because of all the positive things you can think about the city. I was more than happy to host these foreigners and to make them comfortable in their new environment. 5 years later, I realise I was so wrong about this whole idea of bringing in more foreigners to make our population more diverse and the city more vibrant with different nationalites and cultures. Now, when I walk on the streets, I feel like I am in a foreign land, sometimes I think I am in Philippines, sometimes I think I am in Bangladesh, or maybe China, and when I go to the posh Orchard district, I am almost certain I am in Melbourne. While I understand the government’s foreign talent policy as a must to maintain Singapore’s population and spur economic growth, I somehow feel that this policy has gone beyond control. I feel overwhelmed by this huge immigrant population. Imagine out of 5 million people, only about 3 million are born Singaporeans. The rest are either Permanent Residents or foreigners on work permits. 5 years ago, I thought those who just got the Singapore passports, or are PR are loyal to Singapore, and love Singapore for what it is. But today, I realise I am very wrong. Thanks to news reports, I hear foreigners complaining about our country and people, and to some extent, call us DOGS. People I know carry their new Singapore passport but are constantly badmouthing about our country and praising their homeland. Rich foreigners are so skeptical about everything here, (read the expat forums), and many more. Now I really do not know what and who I am fighting for. If I were still in army, I will most definitely be angered by the thought that I am fighting for those individuals who are not even loyal to our country.

Thirdly, our public infrastructure is definitely being strained by the huge increase in population. We were once well-known for having one of the best and more efficient subway systems in the world. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently, it is almost like an utopia. But the recent spate of events suggested otherwise. Within my 5 months of working, I have been plagued by more than 5 MRT breakdowns, and the whole commuter experience is something I thought I would never experience in my own country. Newspapers churning out reports about happenings in the country are making everyone’s jaws drop, and even foreigners are getting a little puzzled by the growing problems surfacing in Singapore, including major flash floods in many parts of the country over the past few years. While it is possible that privatisation of the public transport results in profit-taking and decrease in incentives for maintenance, I believe the inadequate planning and inability to sustain a population of 5 million are the main reasons for the rapidly degenerating public transport.

These are the few major issues plaguing us, and causing our government to be in a disadvantaged position.  However, one cannot deny the effort our government is putting in to address these sore points. They have begun tightening the immigration policy, and stress the ‘Singaporeans First’ mentality, that Singaporeans will still be at an advantage over the foreigners. They are taking steps to improve the public transport system, and promise to add more subway lines every year to meet the needs of the rapidly increasing population. They have slashed their ministers’ salaries by about 35% and bonuses are now linked not just to GDP growth but to growth in median income and the incomes of the lowest quintile of earners.

So, it seems the government is really making an effort to make Singapore a better place. But the main character isn’t reciprocating. That typical Singaporean on the street only knows how to complain, he thinks he is now more vocal, he has more freedom of speech, and starts bad-mouthing the government, and stir the anti-foreign sentiment among other Singaporeans. He does not give opinions, he is not bothered about suggestions to improve the entire situation, and only wants the government to spoon-feed him and wait for some results. We have to blame the government for this partially because over the years, we have been ‘looked after carefully’ by the government. They give us a set of strict rules, we just follow, and listen and do. Now, Singaporeans become more well-educated and knowledgeable, and are forcing a fuller democracy, when we see things not running the way we want, we start to complain, and ask for better. I admit, I am one of them. Come one everyone. Get up, and do something for our country. Don’t just sit there and complain, we are getting nothing out of it. Make an effort to make things happen. Stop complaining about foreigners stealing our jobs. Look at our own attitude, and the foreign boy at the corner. I would rather be served by a foreigner than a typical rude and proud Singaporean waiter. Singaporeans want higher positions and do not want to be overshadowed by a foreign talent. Are you up for it? Are you even capable of being better than him in the first place? If you are, by all means fight until you are able to secure that position. When foreigners complain about Singapore, dont just stand there and agree with them. In their eyes you are just a fool who does not even have any pride at all for your country, and all the more they will look down on us.

Singapore, which has always played a dab hand at economic restructuring in the face of a rapidly globalising environment, is facing a serious social problem today. Yes, in this constant rat race for economic success in this 21st century, with constant insecurity, constant competition plaguing everyone, there’s this anxiety over one’s means of livelihood. But I believe that while it is the government’s duty to solve these problems, it is every individual Singaporean’s effort that can make a difference. While I complain about all the social problems we are facing now, I am very determined to do something to make Singapore a better place, and I am rooting for all Singaporeans to do the same. Our forefathers created a metropolis with their bare hands within a few decades, and while we enjoy the fruits of our success, I think it is time for us to do something to spur our country to even greater heights, and not stumble under these challenges. So are we headed in the right direction? I seriously do not know, it is not for me to answer, but for every Singaporean to think about.

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