But Mr Wong had to pay $300 for lift upgrading - through govt handouts. Andrew Loh.

“They gave me an umbrella and a teddy bear.”

The following is an update to the earlier story of Mr Wong Tai Phong titled, “A victim of bureaucratic red tape and inflexible policies.

Andrew Loh

“Luckily you didn’t come yesterday,” Mr Wong says to me as I enter his house. “Why?” I ask. “I had diarrhoea the whole of yesterday,” he says. I ask if it was because of something he ate. He answers that it happens once in a while and that he feels better now. I could see that he looks a little pale.

As he invites me to sit, I ask if he has eaten. “Yes, eat already. I cooked cabbage, rice and tau kua,” he says rather proudly. “That’s good. You should not skip meals,” I said. I then explained to Mr Wong that we’re looking into helping him, particularly about resolving the issue of his uncle’s death certificate and the ownership of the flat. I also told him we will help him cash the $40 cheque from his town council, as mentioned in our earlier report.

“It’s not easy,” he says, “it will involve a lot of money.” I said yes, it might but there are ways to resolve his problems. “Please don’t think of funny things,” I said to him. “Lets just take it one step at a time.” Mr Wong smiles and says nothing.

“I have a whole stack of bills I haven’t paid,” he says as he hands them to me. They’re from the National Healthcare Group, National Heart Centre and the Singapore National Eye Centre. The bills were for amounts of $125, $38, $85 for various treatments and consultations.  “How to pay?” he asks. “You don’t pay soon they send lawyer letters.” He proceeded to show me the plastic bag full of pills which he has been given by the polyclinic. They are for his hypertension, high-blood and stomach ulcer. “Do the pills work?” I ask him. “Yes. If I don’t take them the vein in my head starts to throb.” I told him to continue to take the medication regularly if they help make him feel better.

As our conversation went on, Mr Wong brought up the issue of the lift upgrading which was completed at his block in 2006. “The grassroots people kept coming to knock at my door, asking me to vote,” he says. “You know what they gave me? They gave me an umbrella and a teddy bear,” he says as he shakes his head. I smile. “Did you have to pay for the upgrading?” I enquired. “Of cos!” came his reply. “Three hundred dollars!” I ask if he was able to pay the amount, which was actually $319.57 according to the HDB tax invoice he shows me. “Of cos not. But that time government gave some money, GST rebate or something,” he says. “They gave me $300. I took the money and pay them back for the lift upgrading,” he shakes his head again. “It’s right-hand give, left-hand take back.”

Mr Wong insists on paying what he owes the government. “I don’t want to owe them anything. Everything I owe, I pay them,” he says adamantly. “You owe them, you die.”

“Look at the ceiling,” he urges me. I look up and was quite shocked to see areas of spalling concrete with the metal rods exposed above the threshold to the kitchen. “The kitchen also,” Mr Wong tells me. Indeed, the ceilings in the kitchen, the toilet and in his bedroom are literally falling apart. “You go to HDB, they say you have to pay for the repair,” he says. He has resigned himself to living with it.

I then urge him not to worry about things too much and to go out and walk or maybe take strolls at the nearby mini-park. “Go there? I go! But two times I go, I lose my EZ Link card,” he says. I didn’t know what he means. “I fall asleep and the card slips out of my pockets,” he explains, “and other people take them.” The same has also happened to his identity card. “I had to go to ICA [Immigration and Checkpoints Authority]. First time, fine $300. Second time, fine $600. Third time you will be charged,” he says. When he lost his IC once, the counter staff asked if he had instead sold his identity card to someone else. “I was so upset! I asked her, ‘How to sell? You tell me how, I go sell so I have money to eat!’”

Again I tell him to take things easy and be patient. “Some people have read your story on the website and they offered to help,” I told him, hoping that this will cheer him a little.  “There’s always conflict in these things,” he says. I ask him what he means. “Some people will not believe my story,” he says. “But ask them; can you eat rice with just an egg and some sauce?” I kept silent.

“Can I have your bank account number, Mr Wong,” I ask him. “Sure. It’s there,” he points to a writing pad on the floor. On it was scribbled some numbers. I told him that I will let those who want to help him know about it and maybe he will be able to have some money to get through each day while we try to resolve the other problems he is facing.

As I got up to leave, I ask him what he will be doing the rest of the day.

“I’m going to the library,” he says and smiles as he closes the iron gate.

“I have no more books to read.”


Author’s note:

We are seeking ways to help Mr Wong resolve the issue of the death certificate and have written to the Mayor and MP of Mr Wong’s area. We have also gotten in touch with a Commissioner of Oath and have been advised on the possible ways to proceed.

We are awaiting the MP’s advice at the moment.

If you’d like to help Mr Wong, please email us at [email protected] .