MP Lim Biow Chuan said if reelected in GE2015, he hopes to champion character development in schools and a less intensive curriculum in education.

Being punitive permeates every aspect of Singapore’s public services

From the way a disabled senior citizen was callously denied aid from the government to how ex offenders are treated upon release after serving their time make one thing very clear. Every aspect of our government ranging from aid to rehabilitation is very punitive in nature. Do we agree with this approach? Is this approach counterproductive? Are we even aware that this is happening?

I leave this to the reader to read, digest, debate and decide. I simply want to point out that no matter what channels we have set up to ostensibly help, the over arching governing principle is punitive.

Take the senior citizen who was denied help simply because a friend had donated some money and he had a small amount of CPF money. By no means (no matter how you look at it) can this given senior citizen be considered well off. Juxtapose this seemingly petty rejection to the multi million salaries of our ministers and the staggering amounts we have just stumped up to pay for the accommodation of a world recognised tyrant (Kim Jong Un). Are we penalising older people who no longer have economic value? Are we punishing someone for being old and sick? Are we blaming them for not being in a position to draw a high salary or be in a position of power? Is this the society we want to perpetuate?

These are issues that we may not actively think about because they do not concern us. But we should think about it because God forbid, this plight could befall someone we know – it could even happen to us! Do we want to live within a system that is so harsh?

I am not suggesting that any one particular person is to blame for this phenomenon. As discussed in another article, it is blind acceptance of an ingrained mindset that we blindly adhere to that has created this unforgiving system. But if we were all to take a step back, does this “blaming” mindset need re-calibration?

Do we subconsciously view the weak among us as somehow less worthy which has in turn affected the framework by which we judge our more vulnerable citizens? This framework is then blindly followed to the point we no longer think about whether or not the framework works. This then reinforces the flawed framework which has a further impact on the vulnerable.

After an ex-offender is released, it should really be a blank slate. He has served his time and should thus no longer be treated as a prison inmate. I know that this is easier said than done but an MP such as Lim Biow Chuan should really know better than to make ignorant statements to encourage a wrongful stereotype. His simplistic examples of ex-offenders and the types of jobs they are seeking are quite shockingly myopic. That is part of the problem of our punitive system – our insistence at forcing nuanced issues into black and white simplicity. I.e. There is only one right or wrong . If you are not at a certain position in society, it must be solely because of your fault and therefore we must punish you – even when giving aid or offering a job, we are still punishing you! Circumstances and background of a given scenario are completely not considered.

In short, certain ideas of meritocracy were formulated and since then, that is the only model for meritocracy that we recognise. We try and force the vulnerable among us into our world view and if they do not comply, we withhold aid from them. While I am not suggesting that all objective standards be removed, we do need to recognise that standards are never static and ought to be reformed when required. Another point to consider is whether or not the pervading view that we all spouting is really our view or is it simply an ingrained idea that we have been taught and which we have subconsciously assimilated?

I would like to close with an excerpt from The League of Parents and Small People against “Pocket Kering” by Elizabeth Quek and Rose. 

“In a Singapore which employs rigid social engineering and embraces meritocratic ideas, there are colonising ideas and imposed societal norms that mothers must work to earn money, place children in full time childcare, place elderly family members in institutions, family mediation to agree upon elderly parents’ allowance. Most of the time, if these families do not conform to the above, despite their reasons; financial subsidies for education, financial assistance and even housing would be withheld from these families. Cultural differences can also play an influential role in our perceptions of parents. It is unreasonable to assume that we completely understand the diverse sociocultural and economic influences that shape parental attitudes and behaviour. This is especially true when a family from a different class or cultural group comes to us for help. Families have an existing ecology of thoughts, emotions and behaviours, based on their unique history and traditions. Assuming that we automatically know what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parenting in a family from a different culture that our own shows disrespect for these ecologies and can do more harm than good.”

Dear reader – you be the judge. Is our government too punitive? Have we blindly followed to the point that we are also unwittingly punitive to those around us?

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