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Stop using the poor for your political agenda

Andrew Loh

It is upsetting to see when politicians hijack the plight of the poor for their own selfish political agenda.

On 4 September, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was quoted by Channelnewsasia, in a report titled “SM Goh asks Singaporeans to view problems in perspective”, as having said the following:

"It's important for those who are facing problems of success - like inadequate car parks and housing at the top end - to think of those who are struggling to make a living everyday. There are many people who are not able to benefit from our overall success. So just remember that, as we also try to solve our own problems at the top end.”

The Straits Times quoted SM Goh thus:

“I want to put these challenges into perspective with the overall needs of our society… There are still some poor people. Those who are disabled and those who needed help (sic).”

On the surface, it may seem there is nothing wrong with what SM Goh said – until you see it in the wider context.

In recent months, there has been a growing chorus of complaints among Singaporeans over a myriad of issues – such as the huge number of foreigners in Singapore, the crowded trains, and the flooding in many areas whenever it rains. There were also unhappiness over the spending on the Youth Olympic Games and increasingly the question of what it means to be Singaporean.

The finger for all these complaints is pointed squarely at the government and its policies – and rightly so.

And so in steps SM Goh, attempting to hijack the plight of the poor in order to put the problems “in perspective” and deflect criticisms of his party’s policies.

This is, however, not the first time that SM Goh has used the problems of the less fortunate for political purposes.

In 2006, during the General Elections, he too brought up the less fortunate– in Hougang.

“Old people, the disabled, the wheelchair-bound. I saw many of them in Hougang… I feel we should help them. This is not politics. Whether Eric Low wins or Low Thia Khiang wins, we are going to help the old people in Hougang… They struggled with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, they struggled with me. Today, they’re in their 70s. Without them, we won’t have today’s Singapore for the young, Internet-savvy Singaporeans. So we never forget them. We will help them regardless of the outcome.”

The PAP’s candidate, Eric Low, was defeated by the incumbent Low Thia Khiang. SM Goh, who was given the task of winning back Hougang for the PAP, as far as I am aware, stopped taking an interest in Hougang after that. Indeed, immediately following the elections results, Eric Low himself put a stop to all the programmes which he had been doing in the ward prior to the elections.

Gone too were the S$100 million upgrading plans which SM Goh had dangled before Hougang voters during the hustings.

So much for wanting to help the poor. It was an empty promise made for purely political purposes.

So too was SM Goh’s promise during the 1997 General Elections – that if voters there voted for the PAP candidates, they would have a “direct line” to him, the then-Prime Minister. By the next elections, however, the entire Cheng San GRC had been erased from the electoral map.

In any event, SM Goh’s latest concerns for the poor, going by what his fellow ministers have said, are misguided.

In 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the increase of the GST by two per cent, to seven per cent. This, he said, was “in order to tilt the playing field in favour of” the less well-off. He said then, “[My]  purpose is to help the lower income group.”

And just earlier this year, in March, MCYS Minister Vivian Balakrishnan laid to rest any concerns about the poor. The minister 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. You will get healthcare.  Do not lose sight of the fundamentals. And I am confident that we have done our duty for the people who need our help.”

Taking all these in perspective, one can only conclude that SM Goh’s remarks on Saturday are nothing but pure political distraction for the government already seems to be doing all it can to help the needy.

Yet, there is more that the government can do and should do. If SM Goh is serious about helping poorer Singaporeans, he should seriously look into the following, among others:

- Wage depression of the lower-income

- The growing number of those who are defaulting on their mortgage loans

- The escalating housing prices which is making it difficult for poorer Singaporeans to purchase flats

- Concerns of the poor over healthcare costs

SM Goh could also question the government on some of its spending which have raised questions about whether it would have been better to use these to help the poor. An example is the S$387 million spent on the Youth Olympic Games. He could also ask the Prime Minister if his plans to “tilt the playing field in favour of the lower income group” have worked out as the Prime Minister envisaged.

There are many things SM Goh could do and many questions he could ask of his government, if he were truly concerned about the needy.

But will he?

Alas, one suspects his “concerns” are nothing more than political smokescreen, to camouflage the shortcomings of his government’s policies which are hurting Singaporeans, as the next General Election approaches.

Instead of asking Singaporeans to view things in “perspective”, SM Goh should instead stop displaying fake concerns about the poor in his shameful attempt to hide the failures of the PAP’s policies.

For if he were truly concerned, perhaps he should first return to Hougang and make good the promise he made to the “old people, the disabled, the wheelchair-bound” in that ward.

Or has the Senior Minister forgotten about them?

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Picture from Straits Times.