Singapore's $880,000 rubbish bin. Photo - Terry Xu.

Fair and just society? The statistics say otherwise

By Leong Sze Hian

The consistent rhetoric of “a fair and just society” over the years, should be assessed by way of the statistical outcomes to ordinary Singaporeans, and in comparison with international norms and standards

I refer to the article “Pre-school moves continue effort to build ‘fair and just society’ ” (Straits Times, Aug 26).

Talking about “a fair and just society” for 60 years already.

It states that “”If we get this right, we will foster social mobility and sustain a fair and just society.”

The phrase “fair and just society” is not new. But it is noteworthy for the comeback it has made in Singapore’s political vocabulary of late.

If you look just at the National Day Rally – the biggest political speech of the year – and its shorter cousin, the National Day Message, the expression has been uttered six times by PM Lee since 2011 – once each in 2011 and 2012, twice in 2013, then once each again in 2015 and 2017. They were spoken in the context not just of education but housing, healthcare, social mobility and individuals giving back to society.

In contrast, from 2004 (when Mr Lee became Prime Minister) to 2010, this set of words did not appear in either annual speech – although, it must be said, some policy announcements were in a similar vein.

But there can be little doubt that the phrase is in vogue. And it is probably not an exaggeration to say that since 2011, PM Lee has made the “fair and just society” an integral part of his vision for Singapore.

The “fair and just society” slogan has deep roots in PAP history. It was central to the PAP’s early platforms, and was repeated at least up to the 1970s.

In 1957, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then still in opposition, said at a by-election: “We want to establish an independent, united Malaya in which we shall establish within the framework of the democratic non-communist system a fair and just society, a socialist society in which no man can exploit his fellowman.”

He won that by-election, and, less than two years later, voters made him Singapore’s first Prime Minister in the 1959 General Election.

The 1963 Yang Di-Pertuan Negara speech to open the Legislative Assembly, written by Mr Lee’s Cabinet, included the line: “No single factor is more likely to bring about a more fair and just society than equal opportunities for education for all.”

At the 1976 General Election, Mr Lee again said: “In a more fair and just society, (the communists) have not made much headway.”

PM Lee Hsien Loong has acknowledged this link to the past. Recording the 2015 National Day Message at Victoria Concert Hall, he said: “It was here that Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched the PAP (in 1954) and inaugurated the long struggle for a fair and just society.”

Countless protestations about “a fair and just society”, but … ?

Arguably, after countless protestations about “a fair and just society” in our history – how can we continue to say this when:

  • unmarried single mothers are still being discriminated against. For example, unmarried single mothers below the age of 35 with children are not eligible to buy BTO HDB flats. This is arguably in breach of the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Singapore has signed and ratified.
  • higher income mothers can get as much as $80,000 a year in procreation tax benefits, when lower-income mothers may get very little.
  • our GINI coefficient (inequality) is the second highest in the world.
  • under section 34 of the Town Council Act – upon the issue of a writ of election, 80% (100% if the party that wins is a different party) of the accumulated surplus has to be transferred to the sinking fund.*
  • the next reserved election is estimated to be such that more than 99 per cent of the populace may not be eligible to stand for election, and for that matter – an estimated over 95 per cent of all the presidents of all the countries in the world may not qualify too, with a notable exception by the name of Donald Trump.
  • in the two years from 2015 to 2016 – it is estimated that almost none of the 11,400 jobs growth (37,300  foreigners’ jobs growth) to locals – actually went to Singapore born true-blue Singaporeans (61,005 new PRs and 42,917 new citizens granted in the same two-year period).
  • the real rate of return on our CPF Ordinary Account may be the lowest of all national pension funds in the world since 1999.
  • from a cashflow perspective – the Government  may still not be spending a single cent on CPF, HDB and healthcare (total annual Medisave contributions plus the annual interest on total Medisave accounts’ balances may exceed total annual government spending on healthcare and withdrawals for medical expenses and insurance premiums).
  • Singapore has been in the bottom 10 in the world for the least number of United Nations human rights conventions signed and ratified.
  • Singapore is 4th in the Crony-capitalism Index 2017 (The Economist).
  • we have the highest paid Ministers, Members of Parliament and top civil servants in the world.
  • Singapore has been rated only partly free at 4 out of 7 for political rights and civil liberties (where 1 is most free) by Freedom House Freedom in the World 2013 Index.
  • Singapore is 81st on The Economist Democracy Index 2012.

“A fair and just society” – statistically please?

The consistent rhetoric of “a fair and just society” over the years, should be assessed by way of the statistical outcomes to ordinary Singaporeans, and in comparison with international norms and standards.

One example is meaningless?

In this connection, what’s the point of citing at practically every National Day Rally – one example of a family that has risen economically to justify that meritocracy is working well in Singapore – without any statistics to justify the assertion?

* The Town Council Act effectively deprives the town councils and their residents from utilising the accumulated surplus for operating expenditure, and is also unfair to the residents who vote for a different party other than the incumbent party.

Leong Sze Hian

Leong Sze Hian is a statistician who was formerly the president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals. He is also an alumnus of Harvard University.

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