Others should learn from Police co-op on how to help Singaporeans?

By Leong Sze Hian

helping-hand

I refer to the articles “Was Iskandar Rahmat given help?” by Void Decker (TR Emeritus, Jul 19) and “Has the Singapore Police Force failed Iskandar Rahmat?” by Anon (TR Emeritus, Jul 17).

Police co-op helping officers in financial difficulties 

The former states that “It is a sad irony that the most recent newsletter from the co-op, published in April, was a piece titled “Helping hands — Where to get financial assistance?” For Iskandar, this came too little, too late.”

The latter article states that “Could the SPF look into giving members of the SPF some form of financial help and advice when they are faced with financial issues?

  • … Giving them a loan to pay back the bank, could save them from being made bankrupt.
  • … Look into what issues they have that caused the debt and help from there.
  • … Provide them with counselling.”

Need for financial counselling

What struck me when I read the above, particularly the last line – “Provide them with counselling” – was whether the counselling refers to “financial counselling”?

I followed the link in the above referenced first article to the co-op’s newsletter (April to June 2012 issue),

True story of how an officer’s family was helped

Sister born with congenital conditions was the starting point of the family’s financial woes 

According to the article, a young police officer faced financial hardship since the birth of his younger sister, because she was born prematurely with many complications such as a weakened immune system and learning disabilities.

The baby was consigned to a potential lifetime of medication and countless hospital stays.

Father retrenched – could only get occasional odd jobs

His father was also retrenched from his job and could only supplement the family’s income by taking on odd jobs that were sometimes hard to come by.

Mother became sick

His mother developed hypertension and fibroids were found in her uterus, which required her to go on long-term medical treatment.

She became too weak to work and stayed home to take care of the sickly newborn.

Borrow money from all over – pay medical bills

In the few years following his sister’s birth, they had to resort to borrowing from friends, relatives and finally licensed moneylenders in an attempt to pay off hospital and utility bills.

HDB flat repossessed

All these measures to keep the family afloat were insufficient to keep their flat from being repossessed by the bank.

Total proceeds from the sale of their HDB flat went towards the payment of outstanding bills and settlement of arrears.

The increasingly troubled family was now faced with a mountain of debts, with no roof over their heads.

Lucky have a great superior

His superior noticed and referred him to the Police co-op which gave him a total loan of $30,000, repayable over 5 years, providing him with enough cash to pay the deposit he would need to secure a rental flat, and settle his immediate debts.

This saved him from losing his job due to indebtedness.

Apply for financial assistance?

Although the Police co-op had settled his total debt, he recognised that he needed long-term financial assistance. He sought help from the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund and Mendaki.

He also approached his Community Development Council (CDC) for financial assistance.

No longer have to eat instant noodles anymore

The co-op did a follow up on his case after a year, and was relieved to hear that he had successfully applied for a 2-room flat. With the family’s financial problems lessened, he no longer had to sustain himself on instant noodles and save on costs and could concentrate better on his work”.

Where would he be, if not for Police co-op’s help? But how and why did this happen?

The Police co-op must be applauded for helping this officer and many others. What this true story may highlight is the need to examine how this police officer ended up in this situation in the first place? Also, what help was rendered to him prior to the intervention of the Police co-op?

Something wrong with the Singapore “system”?

Such an exercise may uncover lessons for our system of “self-reliance”, as what happened to this officer can, and may have happened or be happening to many Singaporeans.

Apply Medifund?

For example, as to “In the few years following his sister’s birth, they had to resort to borrowing from friends, relatives and finally licensed moneylenders in an attempt to pay off hospital and utility bills” – did his family apply to Medifund for help to pay for his sister’s medical bills? Were they successful in their application and what percentage of the medical bills were paid by Medifund?

Disabilities’ Convention ractified with reservations? 

In this connection, Singapore has just ractified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but with reservations such as that only children diagnosed with congenital or neonatal conditions from 1 March 2013 will be fully covered under Medishield.

Medishield still excludes older children with congenital conditions?

So as the new amendments only took place after 1 March 2013, older children like his sister will still have her congenital or neonatal conditions excluded even if she is covered under Medishield.

Was his sister or rather could his sister have been covered under Medishield with exclusions after she was born?

What help did they get before Police co-op help and advice?

With regard to “Although the Police co-op had settled his total debt, he recognised that he needed long-term financial assistance. He sought help from the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund and Mendaki.

He also approached his Community Development Council (CDC) for financial assistance” – this seems to imply that he only did the above after receiving help and advice from the Police co-op.

MP’s help?

Did his family seek help from their MP? What was the outcome?

How much financial assistance did he get prior to the Police co-op helping him, by which time they had already lost their HDB flat and were saddled with a mountain of debts?

CDC and Mendaki’s help? 

Similarly, did he approach his CDC and Mendaki for help and what, and how much assistance was given to his family?

How much assistance did he get after the Police co-op’s advice and how much is he getting now?

Financial counselling?

Did he seek any financial counselling or did anyone help his family with financial counselling, prior to the Police co-op’s help and advice? (Note: it was over a few years of financial difficulties before his superior (who must be applauded for what I call “going beyond the call of duty”) noticed his apparent troubling signs and referred him to the Police co-op)

Rent from open market? HDB rental flat?

In respect of “(giving him a loan and) providing him with enough cash to pay the deposit he would need to secure a rental flat” – does this mean that he was renting a HDB flat in the open market? Did he appeal through his MP to the HDB to give his family a HDB rental flat given their dire circumstances (last year, MPs in 1 GRC alone sent 5,500 appeal letters to the HDB), by waiving the 30-month waiting period after selling a HDB flat (even for foreclosure cases) before one can apply for a rental flat?

Wait 6 years for flat after foreclosure?

As to “was relieved to hear that he had successfully applied for a 2-room flat” – did his family have to wait out the 30-month debarment period before they could apply for a new BTO HDB flat which may take about 3 to 4 years to build. Thus making a total waiting period of about 6 years to get a flat after their flat was foreclosed.

Falling through the cracks?

How many Singaporeans may have fallen through the cracks like this officer’s family and how many more in the future from the 200,000 needy families (according to the distribution of face masks during the recent haze to 200,000 needy families) in Singapore may fall through too?