Below is the full speech of Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah at the last Singapore Democratic Party rally in Bukit Batok SMC for the Bukit Batok By-Election.
Friends, fellow Singaporeans
Some of you know that I spent some of the best years of my life at St Andrew’s School. The school is more well known for sports especially rugby than for stellar academic performances.
However, more importantly, St Andrew’s has a reputation for values. Recently, I was very pleased to see a report of the unveiling of the Jacob Ballas Memorial at the Kiwi Cup in January this year. What really caught my eye was one of the guests of honour who cut the ribbon at the opening. He was the former speaker of parliament, Mr Michael Palmer. Yes, he disgraced himself, let down his family, the people of Singapore and the voters of Punggol East in 2013, but he paid the price, lost his parliamentary seat, lost a lucrative job as speaker of parliament and deservedly suffered public embarrassment. Yet, in Jan 2016, St Andrew’s School accepted him back as an old boy who was not defined solely by his acts of bad behaviour. That made me proud to be a saint, someone who is part of the St Andrew’s family.
That is what I was talking about when I referred to judging Mr David Ong in my statements last weekend. The SDP is a democratic party – Dr Chee does not vet our speeches. This is something which is difficult for the PAP to understand. The SDP is a party which actually trusts the people.
In fact, Dr Chee has no idea what I am going to say in the next few minutes, he just knows what topic we have chosen. Sometimes we make mistakes. In the first rally speech, a couple of speakers made jokes about Mr David Ong. Dr Chee called us out on that in person, by email and he spoke out at the second rally reminding us to stop criticizing Mr David Ong personally. As you can see, that has not happened in the subsequent rallies. It is sad that those remarks have been distorted so badly by our media and politicians.
I would not be surprised if tomorrow’s newspapers are full of accounts of cabinet ministers proclaiming how astounded they are that a Professor of Infectious Diseases is promoting adultery. Yesterday when I was at a bookstore, a distinguished former journalist came up to me and asked me why I said that “Character does not matter”. I said to him, “I never said that but your former colleagues in the Straits Times did”. He shook his head and said that he is no longer with the paper.
That is what I was referring to during the first rally when I pointed out how the odds are stacked against the alternative parties with the PAP’s control of the media and the people’s association. Some of us have tried to correct that by literally putting our money where our mouths are.
Last year was my jubilee year, my 50th birthday year. I made a decision to give a biblically significant proportion of my income that year to causes which I believe in — my church, in particular a new building in Jurong that is being helped a lot by DPM Tharman, charities working with people living with Autism, AIDS and other diseases, groups that work with migrant workers , educational institutions such as NUS and organizations that promote freedom of speech and democracy such as The Online Citizen and the Singapore Democratic Party.
I know that there are many others who have done the same.
Last year, a NUS Professor told me that he wanted to contribute to the SDP but did not want his name to be recorded. He asked how other people did that. I half jokingly told him that people bought umbrellas and mugs. To my surprise, after the election, he told me that he now had a whole collection of SDP umbrellas and asked if I wanted a couple of them! This climate of fear is slowly disappearing.
Many of us were very encouraged to see Phua Chu Kang’s mother, I mean Neo Swee Lin, here on this stage on Tuesday night. Two years ago when Dr Chee was selling books at Raffles Place, people would cross the street to walk on the other side. This week, there have been lines of people waiting for hours to get Dr Chee to sign his books and to take selfies with him. When I spoke up in GE 2011, many people thought I would lose my job and be forced to work in Mt Elizabeth treating rich people from the region. They were very surprised when I was promoted to full Professor with tenure in 2013. In the last week, I have received a tremendous amount of support from many senior people at work.
The knuckle duster era is well and truly over. We have a mountain to climb but with the help of all of you good people who have come forward to speak up and to give generously, we will reach the people of Bukit Batok. We will reach them with the message that Now is the Time for change. We in the SDP are like our candidate, Dr Chee. We will not give up, no matter how high the mountain is, we will keep climbing.
People always ask why? Why do you bother? I will tell you why. Firstly, we campaign because we see injustice around us and we hope to put that right. We want a better Singapore and are prepared to work for it and give to the cause if we have the means. We hope that an independent voice in parliament will make a difference. We believe that now is the time to put Dr Chee Soon Juan in parliament.
In 2011, the SDP raised the issue of healthcare costs and since then, the government has more than doubled its healthcare expenditure from 4.7 billion dollars in 2012 to 11 billion dollars in FY 2016. Despite this huge increase in expenditure, there are still major gaps in healthcare coverage for ordinary Singaporeans. For example, during our home visits, we have encountered numerous individuals who missed out on clinic appointments or procedures for simple reasons such as having no one to take them to the clinic or hospital. Some of them did not respond to standard drug treatment and needed expensive non-standard drugs which are only covered by complicated means-tested subsidies. None of the numerous incredibly complex medical support schemes such as medishield, medisave, medifund, pioneer generation package, CHAS blue and CHAS orange routinely provide support for transportation to and from clinics.
What is the point of having the best medical care in the world if you cannot reach it? That is another classic example of a policy that looks good in some scholar’s office but has serious concerns when applied to the real lives of elderly and disabled residents.
When the SDP launched our healthcare plan in 2012 it was written mainly by my GP colleagues Dr Tan Lip Hong and Dr Leong Yan Hoi together with a team of healthcare professionals. They see patients in the heartlands day in day out, we called for a genuine universal health insurance program that provided evidence based healthcare to all in Singapore. We agreed that everyone should be covered by the universal health insurance but suggested that the government pay the fees for those who could not afford to pay rather than locking them up. That seems to be the way that Medishield Life is structured. If you don’t believe me, read the MOH website which states very clearly, and I quote “However if an insured person is informed that he is restricted from leaving the country until his premiums are paid, but still tries to leave the country, he will be arrested.”
Medishield Life which is the flagship of the government’s healthcare reform is an improvement on Medishield in that it covers pre-existing conditions. Thanks to a parliamentary question by Mr Gerald Giam of the Workers Party, we now know that Medishield was the world’s most profitable public sector health insurance policy. With Medishield Life, the premiums have gone up across the board but the deductibles have barely changed. What this means is that for those over 80 in a C class ward, the first $2000 in a calendar year is not claimable under Medishield Life. You have to pay in cash or medisave.
It is obvious that the majority of hospitalisations are actually not covered by Medishield Life because of its high deductibles. Very few outpatient procedures are covered mainly in the area of cancer and kidney failure. As a result, according to the Minister of Health during the recent COS debate, the Medishield Life payout from Dec 2015 to Feb 2016 was only $136 million. If we multiply that by four or even five, it reaches a total of $680 million a year or less than 5% of the estimated total healthcare expenditure – both public and private in Singapore every year. The rest of the 95% comes from government subsidies, employer-funded health insurance and out of pocket expenditures including medisave. In other words, Medishield Life which was featured on all those fancy videos is a very small part of the complex healthcare financing system in Singapore. Where did all those billions of dollars in extra spending go to then?
Those are the kinds of questions that we need someone brave enough like Dr Chee Soon Juan to ask in parliament. Mr Murali has proposed engaging my colleague Dr Carol Tan and her healthcare cooperative to help needy seniors but we are arguing that these seniors do not want charity, they do not want handouts. They want fairness, they want dignity, they want to have equal access to evidence-based healthcare. You know that Dr Chee will press for this in parliament. Tell your makcik and your pacik, your Ah Em and Ah Pek, your Mamma and Maamee to vote for CSJ to get a fair deal in healthcare. They know, they do not want some fancy wayang. They need the assurance that they can afford to get sick and do not need to suffer and die needlessly in modern Singapore.
Dr Chee is someone who has spent the last 20+ years speaking up for the last and the least in our society. He has been called all kinds of names including a political failure in the foreign media by Minister Chan Chun Sing. In spite of this, he has remained dedicated to the cause of freedom and democracy for Singaporeans.
I have no doubt that in a few years’ time, Singapore will become a normal developed country with a freer press, and open discussion and debate on political issues that are relevant to all Singaporeans. The government will become more transparent and accountable and there will be freedom of expression for talented Singaporeans.
At that time, everyone will try to claim credit for the opening up our society. I am reminded of an encounter I had with someone who had worked in Eastern Europe for many years long before the fall of the iron curtain. He told me that after the curtain fell, everyone rushed in to provide social and other services but the people there recognised him more than anyone else.
The reason was because he had been there for years when the going was tough. Their comment to the others was – when it was hard and risky to help us, where were you? When it was not popular to take a stand, where were you? When Singapore becomes more free and everyone tries to claim that they had been enlightened democrats all along, the people will ask them, “Where were you?” Since the passing of the late great Mr JB Jeyaretnam, there is probably only one Singaporean who can stand up hand on heart and say, “I was there, fighting for you every step of the way” – Dr Chee Soon Juan.
Now is the time, vote Dr Chee, Vote SDP.