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The irony of politicians preaching inequality and the stigma of public transport and HDB Living

By Augustine Low

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Ministers have been talking about the dangers of inequality and elitism.

Isn’t that most ironic, coming from the world’s highest paid politicians? The very people who make in one day what many families make in one month!

Do they know what it’s like to worry about unpaid bills, medical expenses, children’s education and the fear of retrenchment? Preaching is one thing, having empathy and solidarity as a result of experiencing day-to-day struggles is another.

PM Lee has also just said in Parliament that there is no stigma to taking public transport and living in HDB flats because it is shared experiences which gel the people.

The inescapable fact is, the majority of Singaporeans are accustomed to public transport and HDB living, so the sting of stigma is furthest from their minds.

The questions is: How many politicians and top officials take public transport and live in HDB flats? Are they the ones feeling the stigma and unwilling to put up with the inconvenience?

Let’s take Taipei’s Metro. It is certainly more reliable than our MRT system.  So reliable that Singapore has sought the Taipei Metro’s help to review operations here.

The Taipei Metro is nationalised and majority-owned by the Taipei City government. The Metro boss is in effect Mayor Ko Wen-je, and guess what – he takes the train to and from work every day.

Thailand’s Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt also regularly takes the train, bus, motorcycle taxi and boat to work. He even urged his Ministry’s senior officials to ride a public bus at least once a week to find ways to improve the service.

In Singapore, how many top officials from SMRT, LTA and the Transport Ministry regularly take public transport? If it can be done elsewhere, why not in Singapore?

They say talk is cheap, actions speak louder.

If there is a problem with inequality and elitism, it is perpetuated from top down.

If there is a stigma to taking public transport and living in HDB flats, it sure isn’t felt by ordinary Singaporeans, who are used to it because they have no other option. They have grown up with it.

Augustine Low is a proud but concerned citizen. Voicing independent, unplugged opinion is his contribution to citizen engagement.