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Canadian's letter to Straits Times smacks of ignorance. Andrew Loh.

Canadian tells S’poreans to “be grateful”

Andrew Loh / Contribution from Leong Sze Hian

Click to enlarge / Straits Times, 31 July 2009

Mr Eric J Brooks is a happy man – happy with how Singapore is. In his letter to the Straits Times Forum Page on 31July, his effusive praise for the Singapore government is unabashed. “After living and working in six countries, I have known for a long time that no country takes care of its people the way Singapore does,” he writes.

Mr Brooks is a Canadian, according to the Straits Times letter’s heading, “A Canadian writes – Be grateful, Singapore”.

Coming on the heels of the recent Temasek Holdings fiasco of Charles Goodyear’s premature departure and revelation of hefty losses, Mr Brooks’ praises of the government somehow ring hollow. Referring to Singapore’s economy which, he said, “has recovered from the collapse faster than any other country”, he lauded Singapore’s “years of good economic management.”

He went on to compare his native Canada with Singapore – from public housing to rubbish collection, from sheltered walkways to service and conservancy fees. Singapore comes out tops in all these areas, as far as Mr Brooks is concerned.

One would take Mr Brooks’ words with a pinch of salt – especially when in the same Straits Times edition of 31 July where his letter was published, this headline appeared on page three:

Straits Times, 31 July 2009

And followed by this on the front page of the Home section of the same day:

Straits Times, 31 July 2009

Evidently, Singapore has not “recovered from the collapse”, as Mr Brooks mistakenly claims. In fact, government ministers have repeatedly warned against assuming this. “It’s too early to tell” is a common and regular refrain from ministers.

We do not know how well Mr Brooks knows Singapore or Singaporean life. We also do not know how long he has lived here – if he is living here at all. His letter does not say. Perhaps Mr Brooks should not dwell too much on the superficial, such as covered walkways or rubbish collection, but look deeper at the real issues.

Here are a few he should ponder on:

- 750,000 people don't have any kind of medical insurance.

- 116,600 unemployed (resident unemployment rate of 6%) without any unemployment benefits.

- Only 3,000 people qualify for Public Assistance of $360 a month.

- Elderly working for $600 a month as cleaners with only 2 days off a month.

- Elderly collecting used aluminium drink cans and used cardboard boxes for $1.30 and $0.40 per kilogram respectively.

- One of the highest public transport fares to bottom 10% income ratio in the world.

- Bottom 10% of employed households have per capita monthly income of only $360.

- 417,000 roll-over their credit card debts - one of the highest in the world.

- One of the highest public housing price-to-median income ratio in the world.

- 40% have less than $40,000 in their CPF at age 55, and average only have $60,000+, when the CPF Minimum Sum is now $117,000.

- Highest ministers' pay to average income ratio in the world.

- HDB visited 60,000 HDB flat-dwellers last year who had difficulty paying their mortgages.

- In the United States, typically when you default on your home mortgage, you just lose your home. In Singapore, you may lose your home, life CPF savings and may be made bankrupt too.

Finally, Mr Brooks should note that it was only about four months ago that a survey by life insurer AXA found that Singaporeans were the least optimistic about the future among citizens of eight Asian countries. This was reported by Channelnewsasia:

Angela Lau, head, Branding & Communications, AXA Life Insurance Singapore, said: “They're not so confident about their health and career, and how they are going to cope with the challenges in life. For the career perspective, they are actually very concerned about job security.

On reflection, Mr Brooks’ letter is not a surprise, given that National Day is around the corner and our “nation-building” Straits Times is up to its old tricks again.

Mr Brooks’ letter occupies prime space in today’s forum page – right at the top with that big bold headline exhorting Singaporeans to “be grateful”, from a foreigner no less.

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