By Andrew Loh
This article is updated with the video of the minister's remarks. (Please see below). Read also: Vivian Balakrishnan - Wannabe tough guy's fall from grace on TOC Facebook.
At a forum organised by REACH, the government’s online feedback portal, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said:
"If you were a poor person, anywhere on this planet, Singapore is the one place where you will have a roof over your head, where you will have food on the table. Even if you can't afford it, we will have meals delivered to you.”
Dr Balakrishnan did not clarify who he meant by “we” when he said “…we will have meals delivered to you.” One assumes that he is referring to the government, or more specifically, his own ministry.
If this were so, it would run contrary to what we have witnessed on the ground. In my interaction with various sections of poor people and homeless people in Singapore, I have yet to come across any government department or ministry which provides free meals to those who cannot afford them.
Instead, the free meals are provided by religious groups, non-governmental organizations and well-meaning Singaporeans. (Please see some of these in the list at the end of this article. Courtesy of: Hub Pages. )
Perhaps the question we should ask Dr Balakrishnan is: Which government agency or ministry provides free meals to the poor – and deliver to them as well? If this is indeed so, could the minister provide the details – which government programme does this, what kinds of meals are provided, what are the criterias to qualify?
With the increasing number of homeless and poorer Singaporeans in our midst, giving full publicity to such government programmes, if they exist, is of paramount importance. After all, it could be a matter of life and death.
Dr Balakrishan will forgive this writer if he (this writer) sounds guarded about the minister’s assurance, especially when this writer remembers the dismissive and condescending tone of the minister's reply to MP, Dr Lily Neo, in 2007. Dr Neo had asked the government to increase the amount those on the Public Assistance scheme receive.
Dr Balakrishnan rejected Dr Neo’s appeal with these words (see here):
“How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”
If the government does indeed provide free meals for those in need, why is it that during the recession of 2008/2009, when long queues for free food could be seen at places like the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, the government did not make it known then that it also provides free meals?
Why is Dr Balakrishnan saying so only now - after the bad times are over?
While the minister may now declare that free meals will be provided and even delivered to the poor, one hopes that the minister will not just make empty promises – and spend more time on the ground getting to know the reality which an increasing number of Singaporeans are facing.
Otherwise, we can dismiss the minister’s words as just hot air from the Ivory Tower.
Headline picture from the Straits Times
Here are some of the places that provide free meals (from Hub Pages):
Singapore Buddhist Lodge. The Kim Yan Road temple serves free vegetarian breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7am to 7pm. All are welcome regardless of their race or religion. In the queue one can find all sorts of people, from the homeless, unemployed, foreign students, foreign construction workers and of course some freeloaders who work nearby.
The Central Sikh Temple. The temple in Jalan Bukit Merah provides free vegetarian Indian lunches every day.
Nativity Church. This Catholic church at the end of Upper Serangoon Road provides free breakfast and lunch every day.
The Lutheran King of Glory Church in Norris Road, serves free meals every Sunday to ndian workers dring its Taml service.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. This Buddhist temple at South Bridge Road provides free meal from 12.30pm to 6.30pm every day.
Tian Tao Temple at Sengkang invites foreign workes to its Sunday breakfast buffet.
Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society. They have meal centres in Toa Payoh (Blk 31 #01-663 Lor 5), Telok Blangah (Blk 3, #01-504, Telok Blangah Crescent) and MacPherson (Blk 90, #01-103, Pipit Road).
Sri Krisna Mandir. The Hindu religious group at No 9, Lor 29, Geylang. serves free vegetarian food from 11am to 10 pm daily. All are welcome.
Care Corner Seniors Activities Centre. The Centre at Toa Payoh, Lor 7 Blk 5 #01-131 serves free breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea for senior citizens. (http://www.carecorner.org.sg)
Free Hawker Meal Program. If you are a needy resident living in Tanglin-Cairnhill area, you can apply for help at the Tanjong Pagar GRC. The GRC, under the free Hawker meal Program provides $36 worth of meal vouchers every month to needy recipients for a year. You can exchange the $3 voucher for a free meal at selected food staff at some of the coffee shops in Bukit Merah View and Henderson Road.
Sutha Restaurant. This restaurant at Cuff Road provides free breakfast (from 7am to 9am) and dinner on weekdays only and lunch on Sundays. This is for stranded Indian workers in Singapore whose beds are the concrete walkways along Cuff Road. These distressed migrants are abandoned by their employees after their work injury or they are duped by the agents. To qualify for the free food, participants are asked to show a Special Pass (a govt-issued document, which means they do not have a work permit) or evidence that they are injured / have a case pending (a letter from a doctor/lawyer plus a work permit). It is funded by the Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) together with One Singapore.
Lamea Restaurant. The TWC2 provides free dinner for Bangladeshi at Lamea restaurant at Desker Road. (http://www.twc2.org.sg)
ACMI. A Catholic humanitarian group called the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People or ACMI, feeds migrant workers three times a week at its premise in No 2, Highland Road. The site is beside the Church of the Immaculate heart of Mary (http://www.catholic.org.sg/acmi/soupkitchen.htm).
The Migrant Workers Centre in Rangoon road provides free lunches once a month in parntership wth neigbouring restaurants. The center is a joint effort betweeen the NUTC and the Singapore national Employers Federation.
YWCA. Their meals-on-wheels for Elderly distributes free lunches to needy, frail and homebound senior citizens in Banda Street, Bukit Merah View, Cantonment Road, Holland Road, Lengkok Bahru, and Mei Ling Street.
Their Meals-on-wheels for Children program provides free dinner for children from Low-income families who are schooling in Zhangde Primary School, New Town Primary School, Queenstown Primary School, Gan Eng Seng Primary School and Beyong Social Services. For more information on the meals-on-wheels program, please contact Ms Celest Ling at 6223 1227.
The Willing Hearts, a secular group, distributes free food in 10 areas, among them Ang o Kio, Bukit merah and Hougang. Call 9690-2086 for more information.
Dr Balakrishnan's remarks: