We get it. Absent an election, the next best way to demonstrate you are the people’s president is by living as they do—in a HDB flat. The only problem? Mdm Halimah Yacob lives in two where most of us only have one. The people are not amused. We know a farce when we see one. 97% of Mdm Halimah’s own race (Malay?) cannot afford to own a jumbo flat or better. The figure is 95% for Indians and 78% for Chinese (General House Survey 2015).
The first farce was the use of unreasonable eligibility criteria to disqualify all other candidates, effectively turning the election into appointment-by-criteria. We, the people, feel we have been robbed of our vote. We wonder if the PAP has pursued its own political interests at the cost of the nation’s founding ideals of meritocracy and multiracialism. And we suspect that Mdm Halimah will be no less pliant that previous appointed presidents, or presidents the PAP supported.
Rather than address those issues, Mdm Halimah now seems intent on perpetuating the farce that she is the people’s president. But her decision to continue living in her jumbo flat is likely to impose significant costs on the very people she claims to be serving.
Living in her HDB flat does not mean that the Istana no longer needs to be maintained. It doesn’t mean that taxpayers no longer have to fund the security services required to protect Mdm Halimah. No, it simply means that the effort must now be doubled. Mdm Halimah’s protection detail must work overtime to secure two instead of one estate.
Not only that, they face the challenge of keeping the president safe in a place with multiple possible points of entry, and where foot and vehicular traffic cannot easily be restricted without incurring the ire of neighbours. Even residents in the unit above and below Mdm Halimah had to be subjected to daily checks by security officers because their close proximity to her flat poses a security risk. After all, it’s far more difficult to tunnel your way under the Istana or parachute in from the sky. So, as the risk increases, so must the efforts of the police.
But what if the police choose to relax security instead? What if, as TOC’s investigation suggests, the police chose not to conduct identification checks on everyone in the vicinity? What if they decided that there is no need to restrict movement to Mdm Halimah’s floor? Quite clearly, this would mean that Mdm Halimah would be at greater risk of an attack here than she would in the Istana. Much as we may say #notmypresident, this is not a distinction terrorists would make. Any attack on Mdm Halimah would therefore represent an attack on the office of the presidency, and consequently also an attack on the nation.
In essence, then, Mdm Halimah’s decision to continue living in her jumbo flat creates a dilemma for the police. Either they inconvenience residents and increase the cost to taxpayers by imposing stricter security measures, or they allow Mdm Halimah to continue to place herself at greater risk of harm. There’s an inevitable trade-off to be made here. The more secure she is, the more her neighbours must be inconvenienced and their privacy infringed, and the more taxpayers have to pay. Security ain’t free, especially not when one is in an open estate and constantly travelling to and from the Istana.
Sure, taxpayers are willing to pay for official trips overseas even if these trips are purely symbolic and meant to bolster our international reputation. But the symbolism of Mdm Halimah’s gesture here is non-existent. Her decision to continue living in a jumbo flat is more an indication of the inequality that exists in our society today than of her identifiability with the common man.
Mdm Halimah’s daily travel between her flat in Yishun and the Istana neatly illustrates this dilemma. A motorist has uploaded a video showing how a long presidential motorcade took almost two whole minutes to drive past him (he was pulled over to let them pass). The fuel, manpower and vehicular costs required must surely be considerable. Add to that the inconvenience caused by motorists. The police’s assurance that this motorcade is only used on major occasions and will not be a daily occurrence is no assurance at all. It merely suggests that on other occasions, the president will not be adequately protected. Either that, or the large motorcade was a waste of resources to begin with. None of this would be necessary if Mdm Halimah chose to stay at the Istana. The additional costs here are created, not by any need arising from her office, but solely because of her personal decision to use taxpayers’ dollars to keep up the pretence that she is the people’s president.
It’s time to end the charade. Mdm Halimah, it’s time to go back to the Istana and get to work. Let the police do their job and show that you care about the people in other ways. Let’s start by donating some or all of your $4,267,500 salary to needy Singaporeans.
Edit: TOC has investigated the claim that the flats below and above Mdm Halimah's flat were checked daily. TOC has found that the claim is without merit.