Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Inflation drove this man to loansharks

Daniel De Costa and Glenn Tan

Mr Sim Wee Lee, 37, has had enough of the vandalism done to his property. So fearful has he been for the past 2 years, wondering when the next act would be committed, that he resorted to installing a closed-circuit television (CCTV) outside his apartment in Block 112, Aljunied Crescent (MacPherson constituency).

The worst case occurred last week, when the area outside the door of his apartment was vandalised twice in just three days.

Calling the police did not seem to help at all. They would arrive just to inspect the damage, and would then advise Mr Sim to call for them again if another act was committed. This cycle would then repeat itself.

The case was eventually brought to the Criminal Investigation Department’s (CID’s) attention, and they assigned officers Tan Buck Siong and Vince Yeo to investigate. They have since been investigating this for the past two years with no outcome or resolution.

Frustrated, distressed, desperate, Mr Sim wrote to the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM and consecutively, the Second Minister for Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam, only to have his e-mails gone unanswered. He subsequently also sought his MP’s assistance on this matter, but to no avail either.

Finally, an Assistant Inspector (ASP) Javier Sim called him to enquire more about the case, but mentioned that the police did not have the technology nor the knowledge to extract the footage of the culprits from Mr Sim’s CCTV system.

ASP Sim did however promise that if Mr Sim would co-operate and work closely with the police, these instances of vandalism would stop. The case is still pending today, and Mr Sim still lives in fear for himself and his family.

Mr Sim’s tale of woe

It all began when Mr Sim, a sales contractor, found it difficult to cope with rising prices, inflation, and the ever-increasing taxes imposed by the PAP government. He has to feed a foreign wife, and a daughter whom he had adopted from Vietnam to save her from brutal and harsh living conditions, where she would otherwise have been forced into child labour or prostitution.

All he wanted was for her to have a brighter future in our country, but he has had to pay more than double to educate his adopted daughter here as a foreigner, and to have her placed at the Bethel Student Care Centre, because the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has repeatedly rejected his applications for his daughter’s Permanent Residency.

He then turned to the South East Community Development Council (CDC) hoping for assistance. Unfortunately, Mr Sim did not qualify.

The CDC’s income ceiling for those who apply for financial assistance is $1,500. As a salesperson, Mr Sim’s monthly income is not fixed. Mr Sim was told that because it is possible for his income to hit above $1,500 in a good month, they could not offer him financial assistance. The CDC refused to accept the fact that most of the time, he struggles to survive on less than $1,500 a month, and during unusually bad periods, he may earn nothing at all.

Mr Sim currently owes the Housing and Development Board (HDB) more than $10,000, and his utility and conservancy charges are in arrears of several months. He has even been threatened with disconnection of electricity and water supply.

After examining all his bills and income documents, the CDC replied that their establishment was solely to find jobs for people and that they would provide no other assistance, and they blatantly turned him away.

Desperate, helpless, and without any other alternatives, he turned to loansharks.

He had been faithfully servicing the repayments on a weekly basis even when they vandalised his property, as he says he wants to be a man of principle, and would return what he has taken from someone else. He has since paid off the principal sum.

But the loansharks wanted so much more to the point that their demands became unreasonable and very unbearable for him. They demanded 75% of the interest to be repaid within a very short period of time, and threatened him with more of such instances of vandalism if he failed to meet their demands.

The vandalism has embarrassed Mr Sim and caused him to be ridiculed by his neighbours, and their lack of sympathy increases the burden on an already burdened man.

Burning questions

Mr Sim must be one of many people who go unnoticed by the Government and society, suffering in silence because of economic hardship and the fear of being attacked by loansharks and the stigma of being a loanshark borrower.

Mr Sim’s case brings to the fore many burning questions. Is our police force equipped and prepared for this cyber age if they don’t even have the “technology or knowledge” to extract and utilise a digital recording? Is our CID doing enough in serving the citizens that it has sworn to protect? Why is the CDC, no less than a quasi-governmental body, so inflexible in granting aid, and contradicting one of its three main aims of “assisting the needy”? Where is the compassion from HDB for a family man with an unstable income to pay his service and conservancy fees?

Remember, Mr Sim would not have needed to borrow money had he been able to cope with the rising cost of living. How many more Mr Sims are out there?

Does unbridled inflation destroy lives? You be the judge.


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