School parking (Source: Straits Times).

Time for government to stop putting a monetary value to everything and focus on the social aspects

by James Lee

One of the news that has raised the ire of Singaporeans recently is that of the new parking charges for teachers. Whilst I am not a teacher, I see the merits and demerits of such a policy. The argument for such a policy is for fairness across all public agencies. The public officers who work in other agencies are all subjected to parking charges, so what makes teachers so special?

The argument that a teacher puts in more hours after work, pays out of their own pocket money for classroom improvements, sacrifices their own time to mark exam scripts is flawed. I do not deny the sacrifices an educator makes, but is that not the same for every public servant?

By this logic then, the Prime Minister’s million dollar salary is justifiable because he does not have holidays, takes a vacation once a year, has to (work) attend meetings and grassroots functions even on weekends. Yet we have people baying for blood whenever his million dollar salary is brought up? What about the foreign worker who cleans the road when everyone is sleeping, clears the rubbish chute, and yet is not allowed to share the same living space as Singaporeans on the train and in public spaces. By the same logic, they should be demanding for a HDB flat each because they are doing a job which no Singaporean wants to do. Oh the hypocrisy of it all…

The issue here is not about teachers sacrificing more, therefore they should be at least entitled to free parking. Every Singaporean son can claim the same and the comparisons would be endless. The issue here is with the government taking a monetizing approach to everything – parking spaces, baby bonus, staying healthy (10,000 steps challenge) etc. Every incentive or disincentive is money. Want a better Total Fertility Rate? Give more baby bonus, tax rebates. Want people to stay healthy? Give out NTUC vouchers for walking 10,000 steps a day. Whilst the monetizing approach works, it creates an unhealthy obsession with money and further reinforces the notion that Singaporeans are only obsessed with making money. This is why we are not a caring society. This is why we have so many who fall through the cracks. We have been reported as being the unhappiest in South East Asia.

The government’s approach of monetizing everything is what drives the flawed argument in the second paragraph in the article, “Much more unseen and unheard sacrifices that teachers have to give for their students“.

The writer attempts to monetize teachers’ contributions (personal sacrifices, overtime) in order to justify that they deserve equal or more than the amount they would have to pay for parking. I don’t blame the author for coming up with the argument. Simply because he is a product of our society, and our society teaches that everything you do has a monetary value to it, be it direct value or opportunity cost.

However, not everything can be given a monetary value; it just isn’t an apple to apple comparison. Being a teacher or public servant should be a calling – to educate the next generation, to pass on knowledge, to inspire, to mould and shape young minds. However, we all know that this is not true anymore, at least for a good 90% of the educators. It is a well known fact that teachers get paid well, and that probably is the only reason why people want to join the profession. The downsides of the job are just, downsides that come with every job that just needs to be dealt with.

It is the same for having kids – it is not because parents want tax rebates or enjoy child care leave. It is simply for the joys of having children and that is not something you can put a value to. If the government does not give out baby bonuses, people who want a family will still have children regardless of a $5,000 baby bonus or a $50,000 baby bonus. It is no secret that what parents want more is more flexible work arrangements, better child care support, more employer support for employees with young families. No parent I know directly hopes for more baby bonuses because we all know that is a short term solution that becomes an end in itself once the funds run out.

It is time that the government stop putting a monetary value to everything and focus on the social aspects. At this point, I would like to refer to what Louis Ng Kok Kwang and Shiao-yin Kuik mentioned exactly one year ago as ‘the public service having lost its heart‘.

This policy should not have happened and serves as a perfect and timely reminder of that phrase.