Truly & really re-generating S’pore

Tan Jee Say — former PPA to former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong — but better known to me as a makan kaki from a monthly lunch group I attend, has been making small waves recently by allowing political website The Online Citizen to publish a (white?) paper he’s cobbled together called New_Economy_-_Jobs_and_enterprise_Singapore_15_Feb_11

Click the link above and you shall receive the full paper intact.

He’s followed that up with a guest appearance as a panelist last night for TOC to critique the Government’s Budget 2011.

Since everyone and his Reform Party want to remake and/or regenerate Singapore (hope springs eternal in every dumb ass’ breast) be4 it goes the way of Egypt and Tunisia — and perhaps Bahrain, Libya and who knows where else? — let me add my two cents’ worth of regeneration mana.

Topping all else that must be done is that Singapore must rethink its housing for all policy be4 all those who can’t afford it are crushed generation after generation by a well-intended policy that a significant part of its beneficiaries have no strength to accept.

I had written previously that it’s nuts for the garmen to promise affordable housing for all and that it should concentrate its efforts on the bottom 20%.

Today, I’m revising that to Yes to a roof for all. But no to home-ownership for all.

Sure, in theory, owning a property is a good store of wealth as well as an appreciating asset in the long run.

But unlocking that value of that property depends a lot on the timing of the sale and purchase.

Many Singaporeans, given the good economy that’s bubbled along for decades, would be able to enjoy the gold mine that’s their home.

Unfortunately, there are also many who aren’t cut out to own their homes: among them will be those who can’t buy their first home without government subsidies and grants. Who later can’t pay their mortgage without huge hardship to themselves and their family, so that they become the epitome of the Chinese proverb of “ten pots and nine covers”.

And from this group will be the sub group who fail to keep up with their instalments and have their property repossessed or sold at a significant loss.

Take a look at the high number — 53%! — who can’t meet their minimum sum requirements when they turn 55 and know that there are many sad individuals in there for whom the lure or the trap of property ownership hadn’t done their route to a safe retirement any good.

So my suggestion is that the Government slays this major sacred bull of homeownership for all and accept that there will always be a thick undercrust — say 20% — who won’t be able to benefit from home ownership. Perhaps quite the contrary. And then work out how to look after them from cradle to grave.

Of cos, at the start of each Singaporean’s life, it’s impossible to tell with accuracy who will fall into that undercrust, because those who start at the bottom 20% needn’t end up there; while those who didn’t start there, could, due to life’s vicissitudes, descend into the abyss.

What a far-sighted government should do is

  • ensure there’s always low-priced public vanilla rental housing for the bottom 20%. It’s done a marvellous job at keeping one-room rental flats at $26 per month. There should be more of such housing.
  • use the funds that would have gone into providing subsidising home ownership (grants of every variety to encourage home-ownership) and allot each living Singaporean a lump sum for an annuity to yield enough to cover basic but spartan living cost at age 65. So rich or poor, from birth — or from whenever the scheme begins — here is something concrete to ensure you’ll have a crust in old age.

With these two gi-normous safety nets, I say the Government should then withdraw from all but defence, law and order, education and health, about which latter two, more will be aired in a subsequent post.

This way, those who want to stay poor, can. Those who want more, can aim for the sky and not have the way they earn, spend and invest distorted by vacillating policies that try to handle the dynamics of change but end up not pleasing a lot of people in the meantime.

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3 thoughts on “Truly & really re-generating S’pore

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 21 Feb 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  2. I truly enjoy the linked article and it gave me fresh perspective, I agree with some of the perspectives, especially on education since having seen up close how elementary, middle and high school works in the US. It’s truly amazing how much Singlish our teachers speak and how much some of them gave up on the students.

    Our Casinos should be seen as a surgical strike to cure sudden discovery of a failing economy. Longer term, it’s about “eating right” – about basic education and growth. The other area which will hit us sooner than we can foresee is the impact of our aging population. 20 years ago, Casino is a no-no. 20 years later, we have 2 of them. Similarly with Minimum Wage. The intelligence and proof out there cannot be wrong. But it will take time, hopefully not 20 years from now. With intellects of the same mindset in parliament, it is hard to convince the majority from group think. Defence and Home Land Security are separate. I can agree that expenditure in MHA should be kept, but perhaps budget for defence can also remain instead of an increase. In a GE year, you will never find the admission or change in major policy like telling the bottom 20% to give up hope on owning a home. Hope gives purpose of survival much like those lying in ICU relying on hope to persevere. Similarly, if we nail it down and say they are now hopeless, they will give up trying. They are the ones who are not on the internet nor have the means to blog. I feel that the classification is politically not right. Once labelled as bottom ( much like Its the End :), the 20.1% will ask why aren’t they given the tender loving care, then why not the 25%, 35%. Where shall we draw the line ? Based on the budget we set aside ?

    On a broader stroke, the paper has a few points worth thinking about but nothing that the government is not working on. Easier to say Shut down casinos. Then what is the immediate fall back plan ? The rich can easily liquidate and migrate out of Singapore if the economy dives down. Once the decision has been made, Singaporeans must rally behind it. It’s not as if we are forced to gamble. If we feel that every “immoral” or unhealthy activity must be taxed, we can always make it S$1,000 per entry to the casino, $100 each stick of cigarette and $1,000 for each visit to the brothel, castrate all rapist etc. So, everyone can visit JB to smoke all they want and come back. I love the old days. But the old days are not going to come back. The $70K HDB will never be back. Neither is the teaching of grammar in Primary school. Nor is the participation in the Malaysian Cup. The world has changed and the new order of the day is to try something new. Look at sports and tell me why a small city state like Singapore needs to have Gold medals Olympians. Look at the cost of reaching our goal and tell me if the money can be better spent elsewhere in Singapore. 30 years ago, we don’t have a world class table tennis team. Today we have, but what is the “value” of this achievement to the bottom 20% of the population ? It’s non-edible 🙂 With momentum, It’s not easy to change course without causing some friction. Whoever is steering this ship has to believe the direction will lead us to the promised land with sufficient fuel and enough passengers left when we reached the destination.

  3. Uncle Keng, your comment is so comprehensive that I don’t know how to respond. Other than to say that we can’t legislate away vice, poverty, greed.

    Also, a clarification: I never said that the bottom 20% should give up hope. I made quite clear that this bottom 20% is as mobile as those who began there choose to be and that bad luck and/or bad behaviour can bring even those in the top 20% to the bottom 20% be their life is over. So no one is condemned to remain at the bottom 20%.

    Where the Govt can help is uplift those born into the bottom 20% — but if they prefer to stay there, no amount of asset enhancement can raise them up. Alas, alas!

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