Straits Times’ outrageous opinion piece on homelessness

By Callan Tham

The Straits Times, true to its form of operating as a government mouthpiece, publishes this gem of an opinion piece disguised as ‘Prime News’ entitled Life’s a beach but it’s no holiday (complete with the accompanying photo below):

MR I.B. YUSOF, a father of four young children, sold three Housing Board flats in nine years, netting $90,000 in profits.

Flush with cash after the first two sales, Mr Yusof, 44, took out a hefty bank loan and upgraded to a four-room flat in 2005. At the time, the sole breadwinner, who has a hearing-impaired wife, earned only $800 per month. He hoped to get a better job to pay for the new flat.

Unlike in some countries, where people are often too poor to rent – let alone buy – their first home, homelessness in Singapore is often the result of personal irresponsibility, stemming from avarice or divorce and dysfunction.

The story of Mr Yusof is true, but the conclusion is a swing and a miss. Ms Basu, the author of the opinion piece, made the conclusion that homelessness is self-inflicted in most cases when she can neither prove nor disprove the claim, and also manages to define divorcee as a ‘personal irresponsibility’. ST publishing this as ‘Prime News’ is just further proof that journalism is not practised at the paper that most Singaporeans ‘trust’.

Aside from the wilful redefinition of personal irresponsibility, it is also apparent to me that Ms Basu has failed to ask the right questions. HDB policies allowed Mr Yusof to sell his flats in order to realise a profit on his assets; this has been repeatedly heralded by the PAP government. If HDB confined itself to its original goal of providing functional and affordable public housing for citizens, this scenario might not have materialised.

Instead, HDB flats are marketed as ‘assets that grow over time’, not the neccessity that a roof over your head is. This strategy has been largely successful, and we are now reaping the whirlwind with increasing costs of new and resale flats. The HDB policies do not encourage home ownership, but instead promotes the use of a flat as an asset that can be used to increase personal wealth.

Other policies such as denying access of rental flats to single parents, based upon the fear of ‘an explosion in divorce rates or illegitimate births’, discloses the naivete in policy planning. Divorce is an unfortunate circumstance, but hardly an irresponsible move, and does not merit penalties. The undeserved social stigma is absurd enough without further punishment in national policies. And this goes without being questioned by Ms Basu (left) and even used as an unflinching justification of the policies.

This article is almost a personification of why the public remain largely uninformed and uneducated on policy issues due to dogmatic defense of the PAP’s policies, and further evidence (as if we need any more) of why a free press would do more to elevate political discourse than one controlled by governmental interests.


Original article was first published on the Trapper’s Swamp blog

The ST Senior Correspondent in question, Ms Radha Basu, can be reached at [email protected]


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