Trust in public institutions: Unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly?

Trust in public institutions: Unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Kishore: I’m worried about SG blogosphere’s cynicism towards our public institutions” (TR Emeritus, Apr 13).

Lack of trust in Singapore’s public institutions?

It states that “Mr Mahbubani feels that if this middle ground is not developed and a significant percentage of Singaporeans begin to demonstrate a lack of trust in Singapore’s public institutions (i.e. by showing increasing cynicism towards them), trouble may begin to brew, like riots and social disharmony.

Unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly?

He said, “If the blogosphere and the mainstream media cannot agree on a core consensus of preserving and supporting key public institutions, we could end up with a messier Singapore, becoming an unhappy frog rather than a happy butterfly.”

For argument’s sake – about 6 years ago?

After reading the article, I vaguely remember writing an article about 6 years ago. So, I googled and found the following:-

World class? 15 dimensions to ponder on

Posted by theonlinecitizen on May 12, 2007

*This is an update on the previous article “The first tier of the first world – beyond the bottomline

By Leong Sze Hian

Singapore has been voted as the top choice of location for expats in the world and also the best asian city in the 2007 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

However, the Senior Minister has voiced his concerns about Singapore‘s brain-drain.

So, why are Singaporeans leaving and may not be returning, when it is the best place in the world for expats to live and work, and the best for quality of life in Asia?

The answer may lie in some statistics for the last year or so.

The Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in his inaugural speech in the Distinguished Speakers Lecture series of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) on March 21, said that “it is quite puzzling that Singapore is still aspiring to be world class, when it has exceeded world-class standards in many areas” and cited “10 dimensions in which we have achieved or exceeded previous ‘world-class’ standards”.

In the annals of corporate history, many once revered brand names have fallen by the wayside, because they failed to adequately, constantly and continually address their shortcomings, and internal and external criticisms. This failing may arguably be applied to the history of nations too.

In the context of his speech which was on building the Singapore brand and national branding, I think we may want to take a step backwards, and do some critical self-analysis of our current weaknesses, and try to improve on them.

In our perhaps zealous attempts to become world-class in so many things, we may have paid insufficient attention to some 15 dimensions, which I shall describe below.

Singapore was ranked 130th out of 178 countries for Happiness, 40th out of 41 countries for Libido, 30th out of 35 countries for Courtesy, 5th in the world for Prisoners Per Capita, 105th in the world for Income Equality, 154th for Press Freedom by Freedom House, and 15th out of 16 countries in the Asia Democracy Index.

Dimensions relating to income:-

Income distribution continued to widen – the Gini coefficient increased from 0.468 to 0.472.

Percentage of employed households with household income from work below $ 1,000, increased from 5.4 to 5.7%. Average monthly income from work per household member among employed households was only $ 300 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 540 for the 11th to 20th decile.

Average monthly income from work per household member among non-retiree households was only $ 160 for the 1st to 10th decile, and $ 470 for the 11th to 20th decile. With about over one million households, does it mean that about 90,000 non-retiree households are still surviving on only $ 160 average monthly income from work per household member?

The 1st to 10th decile among employed households had the lowest number of working persons at 1.28, supporting the highest number of average persons in the household of 3.92 persons. Generally, the larger the average household size, the lower were the average number of working persons. This trend persisted until the 70th percentile for average number of working persons.

Number of part-timers has more than doubled over the decade from 51,400 to 112,300 expanding their share of employment from 3.5% to 6.3%. The median monthly income for part-timers is still the same at $ 500 compared to 10 years ago.

In view of the 118 per cent increase in part-timers for the last decade, does it mean that more residents are working for income of $ 500 that has not changed for 10 years?

Since “retiree households who had no income from work comprised 5% of all resident households in 2006″, and “8.5% of resident households had 0 number of working persons”, does it mean that 3.5% or about 37,000 households are not retired but have no income from work ? How many of these – about 37,000 households are living with no income from work, because they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves indefinitely or for a prolonged period of time?

Whilst the Resident labour force increased by 27 per cent for the last 15-year period from 1.373 to 1.737 million, Unemployed Residents increased by 149 per cent from 28,000 to 69,600. This means that the Resident labour force increased by 1.6 per cent per annum, and Unemployed Residents increased by 6.3 per cent per annum.

Dimemsions relating to expenditure:-

2. As at the end of last year, banks have repossessed 1,445 HDB flats financed with bank loans since the start of bank origination in January 2003. In recent months, the rate is about 60 cases a month.

This means that 1.6 per cent of HDB flats on bank loans have been foreclosed. 7 per cent of the 89,000 HDB flats with bank loans which is about 6,230 HDB flat owners have not been able to pay for more than 3 months. Some of these may become foreclosures.

From 2002 to 2006, some 360 households voluntarily surrendered their flats after defaulting on their HDB concessionary loan repayments. HDB’s annual report said that it provided financial assistance to 28,386 flat-owners in its last financial year, Does this mean that 28,386 flat-owners had difficulty paying their HDB concessionary loan monthly repayments or HDB rental?

In the HDB’s last two offers of 2-room flats, about 42 per cent of the applicants were 55 years and older, and 56 per cent had household incomes of less than $ 1,000 a month.

3. According to the Yearbook of Statistics Singapore, water, electricity and gas tariffs increased by 8.6, 2.8, and 4.2% per annum from 1995 to 2005, against inflation of just 1%. The number of electricity accounts in arrears is about 3,600 and the number of Pay-As-You Use (PAYU) meters is about 12,500.

4. MediFund paid out $40m to 290,000 Medifund applications approved last year. Does this mean that the average Medifund payout per patient was about $138?

According to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) web site, “for FY2001, a total of 157,190 Medifund applications were considered, of which 156,780 applications or 99.7% were approved, amounting to a total disbursement of $27.2m “.

Does this mean that the average Medifund payout per patient in 2001 was about $174? Why is it that the average Medifund payout per patient has declined from $174 in 2001 to $138 last year, when as I understand it, the average costs of hospitalisation have gone up?

According to MOH’s “Affordability of Healthcare Data”, the average hospital bill size for Class C was $858 and $495 at the 50th percentile. So, does this mean that some needy patients may still be financially stressed in having to pay the shortfall between their bill and the Medifund payout, by instalments to the hospital after their discharge?

According to the MOH’s web site, polyclinics “served about 100,000 dental patients”. According to the DOS, there were about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work and about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile.

Each visiting the public dental services once a year, would total about 377,640 dental attendances per year (assuming 3.6 average household number of persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile, and that all the 0 income households are mostly retirees and others who can afford private dental care).

How many can afford the private dental consultation rates starting from $45 compared to the polyclinics’ rates from $12 to $20.50 for adult Singapore citizens, and from $6 to $10.50 for children and the elderly? Since the polyclinics only served about 100,000 attendances last year, and some went to private dentists under the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) and about 3,000 under the Public Assistance (PA) scheme, where did the rest of the lower-income Singaporeans go to for dental treatment?

5. The Ministry of Education helped 35,000 school children in its Financial Assistance Scheme.

At the announcement of the setting up of the ComCare Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $ 40 million in assistance.

Why is it that it would appear that about two years later, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent ($ 68 divided by $ 40 million), against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families (90,000 divided by 35,000) ?

About 60,000 Singaporeans did not sign up for the Progress Package.

6. In 2005, the $4 million Public Transport Fund set up and funded by SMRT, SBS, Comcare Fund, the 5 CDCs, SLF and NTUC, received more than 92,000 applications for 80,000 vouchers worth $50 each. The funding organisations pitched in with the $600,000 needed to pay for the extra vouchers. The total of $4.6 million divided by $20 means that about 230,000 people received about $20 each to help pay for the transport fares increase in 2005.

Even if we assume that all the about 104,900 households in the 0 to 10th decile with no income from work are retirees and others who can afford the fares increase, we are still missing about 147,640 (377,640 (3.6 persons x about 104,900 households with average income of $1,180 in the 11th to 20th decile) – 230,000). Does this mean that they did not apply for transport vouchers?

7. According to studies at the National University of Singapore, the average propensity to consume (APC) which is measured as the ratio of private consumption expenditures to GDP, has fallen steadily over time from 0.82 in 1960 to 0.43 in 2003.This has produced the lowest ratio of private consumption to output in the free world.

Dimensions relating to net worth:-

8. Household Net Worth increased by 3.8 per cent per annum from $ 548 to $ 660 billion from 2000 to 2005. However, after adjusting for inflation, CPF contributions and the interest on CPF balances, and cash savings and investments, does. it mean that household net worth may actually have declined?

65, 69 and about 75 per cent of CPFIS investors did not beat the 2.5 per cent interest on the CPF Ordinary Account for the first 9, 10, and 11 years of the scheme on a cumulative basis. What were the statistics after 12 and 13 years of the scheme ?

Other dimensions:-

9. Last year, there were 120,000 ex-offenders whose records were spent, 11,000 ex-offenders are being released every year, plus the current 14,453 prison population – how many ex-offenders in total are there in Singapore , since only those convicted of minor crimes and who remain crime-free for five years may have their records marked as spent and those convicted of serious offences and jailed for more than three months or fined more than $ 2,000 cannot have their records erased ?

According to the World Prison Population List of King’s College London International Centre for Prison Studies, the prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) for Singapore, at 350, was the fifth highest in the world.

10. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database September 2006, Singapore is ranked number one in the world for current account balance in percent of GDP ratio.

Singapore‘s ratio of 28.5 in 2006, is more than double the second ranked country, Switzerland‘s ratio of 13.3. Singapore‘s US$132 (S$205) billion foreign reserves has been ranked number one in the world on a per capita basis.

11. According to a report on the “WELLBEING OF CHILDREN” : “Children (under 14 years) who seek psychiatric counselling – 16,487 children sought psychiatric help at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2002. 2,485 of them were newcomers.(Source: The Straits Times, October 5, 2003)”.

12. Only 1 per cent of patients in Class A or B1 wards who sought to downgrade were successful, according to a report in Parliament in April 2007.

13. According to the recruiting firm Hudson‘s survey published in May 2007, Singapore workers suffer the 2nd highest work-related stress inAsia, with 52% of employees reporting being stressed.

14. The British Council study on the walking speed of pedestrians published in May 2007, found that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers. The British Council said people’s walking speed is a reliable measure of the pace of life in a city.

15. A 2007 survey of 15 industrialised countries including Australia, Canada, USA, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan, found that while Singaporeans are most active in saving up for retirement, they end up with one of the lowest retirement income levels.

The study, conducted by the AXA Insurance Group, showed that the proportion of Singaporeans contributing to a savings plan, mainly through the CPF, outstripped that of other countries.

Yet, among the 15 countries, the average retiree in Singapore has the lowest retirement income.

The Budget Debate is over. Like a company making its strategic plans and setting its goals for the future, perhaps we could look at some of the above statistics, with the view that some of them may be considered useful as benchmarks for measuring Singapore‘s progress and performance in the future.

Some of the above may also help some of us in thinking about what we hope to achieve and concerns to address for our future.”

Unhappy frogs vs happy butterflies?

After reading the above, I hope that most if not all Singaporeans may agree that the often apparent “disagreements” between the blogosphere and the mainstream media or the subjective absence of a core consensus of preserving and supporting key public institutions, is a healthy state of affairs – because diversity in itself may be a virtue – we could end up with a messier Singapore, becoming an unhappy frog which is constantly debating in earnest to seek a better life for all the “frogs” on our island, rather than a happy butterfly that may be in ignorant bliss that all is well when it may be otherwise.

Extracts from the Economist magazine:

“Mr Mahbubani’s Asian triumphalism is as futile and unconvincing as the Western triumphalism he deplores. That is a shame, as the recommendations he makes for how world governance should be improved are sensible: Chinese and Indian membership of the G8; an end to American and European hogging of the top jobs at the IMF and the World Bank; reform of the UN Security Council to give permanent, veto-holding status to more Asian countries. All are regularly made by Western intellectuals too, even though he claims such minds are determined to maintain the supremacy of the West.” (“The future of Asia: Eastern approaches“, The Economist, Feb 7, 2008)

“Such views make sense. But he provides few reasons to believe that the world will now follow his prescriptions—such as an overhaul of the United Nations—desirable though many of them may be. It hardly helps that Mr Mahbubani can be sloppy with facts. In arguing that it was Asian “engagement” as opposed to Western sanctions that produced reform in Myanmar, for example, he keeps Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest a year longer than the Burmese authorities did. He is also guilty of argument by non sequitur. He suggests that allegations of American torture invalidate American reservations about academic freedom in Singapore. And he can be cavalier with evidence. The claim that China’s government began to worry about its environment only after warnings from the United Nations Development Programme is attributed to a sole, anonymous “Chinese policymaker”.

Much of the book reads as a continuation of disparate arguments Mr Mahbubani has made over many years in his fulminations against the shortcomings of Western political leadership. The theme of “convergence” and his optimistic take on it are not enough to turn a disjointed flotilla of a book into an ocean-liner.” (“The future of the world: Floating hope“, The Economist, Feb 9, 2013)