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Photo: CNA’s video capture

Citizens comments on PM Lee’s speech about rising cost of living on National Day Rally

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government will do its part to help alleviate the worries of Singaporeans feeling the squeeze of rising cost of living.

Delivering his speech in Chinese at the National Day Rally on Sunday (19 Aug), he said: "We will make sure that HDB housing, healthcare and education are affordable so that Singaporeans do not have to worry about them".

“I know that not everyone’s wages grew. For some, their wages have stagnated. Others worry about losing their jobs because of economic restructuring. Some have lost their jobs, but they are the minority, fortunately. There are also retirees who no longer have incomes and are worried about their savings running out,” he said.

“Therefore, for these Singaporeans, when prices increase ... they feel as if ‘their wallets have shrunk’.”

PM Lee said that while ‘measures are in place’ to lessen worries caused by the rise in water and electricity prices, Singaporeans also have a responsibility to ‘look after (their) own wallets’ amid lifestyle changes.

“Each of us has a responsibility to ‘look after our own wallets’ – save water, save electricity, and at the same time, shop around for the best prices and be a smart consumer,” he said.

Citizens reacted – mostly negatively – to the speech of PM Lee reported by Channel NewsAsia on its Facebook.

Many commented that the speech is hollow, as it does not offer concrete steps to help Singaporeans overcome the rising costs of living, and instead only rehashes old promises which basically tells people to just accept things as they are.

Wong Hong Teng wrote:

One of the worst rally speeches. So far, basically nothing has been done, except repeating the old broken record about how they care about us by giving U-Save Vouchers, then asking Singaporeans to accept the price hike with the electricity, water, S & C and carpark charges, followed by GST, transport in future. In the end, asking us to save and save, or blaming us for not being able to cope with the rising cost of living because we spend more, not the government's fault. I think he had forgotten to mention the other reason for rising cost of living, which is the government hiking [the price of] everything.

Harbhajn Singh said:

I’ve lived 54 years, and, I suppose, 33 years as an objective adult, in Singapore. I have always supported the ruling party. Do I believe that the people in power who make the decisions and strategies have ALL OF OUR best interests at heart? A RESOUNDING NO. I have lost faith [in them], and I realise that it’s all about money. Singapore could’ve been an Utopia. The ruling party has given up its God-given chance to make it one. If they reflect properly, they would know it. TIME FOR A CHANGE.

Harbhajn Singh also wrote in response to netizen Cheng Kim Siang, who said that he still has faith in the PAP government and that he is
"thankful for the 53 years of good living" as "nothing is spoon-fed"
:

Mr Cheng, I’ve worked for 32 plus years. I’ve paid my taxes when needed. I’ve voted PAP ALL MY LIFE. I’m not shy to say it. I have a younger wife and kids. I would shut up if I was single... but I worry for them, as they have a long life ahead of them. I believe it’s not gonna be easy anymore.

Wilson Wong wrote:

Mr Singh, I definitely feel you. At the moment what is being said is that the government wants to take care [of the citizens] but what they lack is in how they are going to do it. The information I read through the MSM is that it is more defensive rather than visionary.

And I think that's the crux of the issue. The way things are communicated are less than ideal. No one is a perfect communicator or orator save for some like Winston Churchill, JFK and very close to home, our own Mr Tharman.

What has contributed to this sense of helplessness is the fact that the problem is not being tackled. Yes, the issue of cost of living is being aired... but rather than giving probable solutions, the speech sounded more like giving excuses. Again, the [poor] communication skills has lead to the impression that all of it is about money.

Of course money is needed to run things... What is not said is why so much is needed in the first place. For me, it is always good to be prudent... but why become so prudent until everyone can't survive, people can't have kids, people have more stress? Again, not asking to raid the reserves, as some people would start to talk about it, but more about WHY... Why such a high level? Are our costs escalating beyond control? Who is in control? How to control it if it is a problem?

So much to say, but not much was said. And there lies the issue... When you leave a communication vacuum, then people really have no sense of what is going on and hence, losing faith.

Again Mr Singh, I feel you totally because we are not hearing things that are needed to be said.

Simon Sim commented:

If measures are indeed in place, why not cut the chase, be direct and announce those plans?

Wai-Cheong Loh wrote:

Hollow and no substance in the Mandarin speech... Basically telling Singaporeans to just accept what it is.

Several citizens commented that the speech was made only to smooth the path for PAP's campaign before the coming election:

Lim Kengboon Ryan wrote:

National Day Rally or election rally? Speech seems to be same as election rally speech. Explaining these and that to justify why.

Tay Vincent commented:

Sure or not... Is it because election is just round the corner?

Fabian Wong wrote:

Please say it after the election. Win hearts from there. Pacifiers only work for babies.

Other comments focused on the link between their CPF and HDB purchase:

Kelvin Peh said:

I use my CPF - my contribution to 'buy' an HDB flat. What I used did not earn the interest that the government could have given. Why I must pay back that interest that the government could have given me if I hadn't used it?

Say you put your $ with me. I promised to give you interest. But you withdraw your $ to buy an investment I offered, and I ask you to pay interest on the $ that I offered to pay interest for but didn't, because you used it to invest in a product I offered...

Jack Tan wrote in response to Kelvin Peh's comment:

Wrong. You cannot put it this way. You have to separate housing from CPF. Housing is just that: for you to live in. It does not generate any returns unless you rent it out or sell it at profit.

CPF is for retirement. It can generate guaranteed interest, and when compounded for 30 years, generate a huge sum when you keep the money inside. So when you use it for housing, it can no longer generate interest for you.

For example, if you draw out $5000 at age 25. That $5000 will become $21000++ by the time you reach 55.

Let’s say you say the house at age 50, and you just return $5000. How much do you think that $5000 will be when you only put it in for 5 years? Confirm you will not hit the minimum sum. Ultimately, the interest that you ‘pay back’ goes back to you when you reach withdrawal age at 55 and 65, because it's in your CPF account, under your name.”

Sophia Tan wrote:

I want my CPF as promised at 55... It is my money and I can't use it... What a joke!

Cheng Adrian said:

Give us our CPF at 55, thank you.

Jonus Jun commented:

Government will have another upgrading project for those HDB flats that are reaching 70 yrs to retain the value of the house... What is the value you are talking about? If the value of a 5-bedroom flat in AMK costs $700k at 37 yrs, at 70 yrs how much will a buyer pay for it? $300k? Imagine how much the seller is going to suffer a loss...

Pat Eng wrote:

We are no longer a 'child' nation. What about releasing the CPF as originally planned and the let people look after themselves?

Raymond Tan said:

You say no worry for HDB housing, but we face a different story. When we apply for HDB flats, we always receive letters from HDB stating our application number. Already out. HDB will later send us a letter informing us of the remaining flats left. All of these balance flats are sold at a high price. If we can’t accept all of these balance HDB flat, HDB will stop us from applying for HDB flats for one year. We have really lost our confidence in [the] Singapore [government].

Christopher Lim wrote:

No need to worry for HDB, as they will end up taking back the flats after 99 years or earlier.

Martin Archie Lee commented:

HDB's CEO Dr Cheong Koon Hean said in a forum last week that buyers of resale flats should pay less for older flats because these flats have a lease of 99 years.

This is bad news for Singaporeans who paid premium prices for the flats, because we were promised that the value of our flats would appreciate over time. Moreover, many used our CPF savings to service the housing loans.

Because of the government's asset enhancement promise, retirees are now hoping to monetise the flats to fund our retirement. But what is happening now is that as the flats age, their resale values drop, putting retirees in a financial nightmare.

Such a development, however, does not have to end in disaster. There is a solution and it is found in the SDP [Singapore Democratic Party]'s alternative housing policy.

Other citizens lamented about the price of food in the country:

Alan Tan wrote:

Now where to find economical rice $3. He is trying hard on the false info he gather from his dogs. Water is being taxed 3 times more, what logic is that.

Marcus Tay commented:

I eat rice with $1 vege and 1 meat, already $3.50. I think soon I need to tell them no vege no meat, only gravy, maybe $1.00.

Cheng Kim Siang said:

My place's economical rice: 1 veg and 1 meat = $2.50.

Vincent Law wrote:

Seriously. It's not about the brand of infant milk. Bellamy's is $40 here. It's $25 in Australia. It's 80% more! Why is he blaming people for choosing expensive milk?

TK Wong wrote:

Try Canadian maple syrup too. It costs about $15 in Singapore, $10 in Australia and about $13 in Malaysia.

Saravanan Naturopath wrote:

Breast milk is free, but women cannot breastfeed, as they are very stressed. Secondly, they have to go back to work after maternity leave, so cannot continue. Thus, people buy formula milk. When it comes to feeding their child, no parent would choose a cheap chemical mix from China.

Netizens also reacted against PM Lee’s comment, in which he stated that ‘when prices fall we become forgetful’:

Tay Chin Peng wrote:

"When prices fall, we become forgetful."

I know one such example: Increase in bus fare due to hike in oil prices. When oil prices dropped, you became forgetful.

Adrian Djong said:

I will never forget: When oil prices per barrel fall, petrol pump prices never fall because of additional tax imposed, but when oil prices per barrel increases, petrol pump prices increase with it. This is just one of my vivid example.

Some netizens touched on exorbitant water and electricity prices:

Ong Liang Wei wrote:

Water 30 percent, electricity is high and what’s the oil price now? 70 plus for Brent and they make it 23.65 cents kilowatt, compared to over 140 dollars for Brent back 10 years ago, and electricity price back then is 25 cent plus watt.

Yong Ching Goh said, in response to Ong Liang Wei's comment:

Yes you are right. He was saying the electricity tariff was slightly lower than 10 years ago without mentioning the cost difference.

Ong Liang Wei replied to Yong Ching Goh:

Speaking about that, SP services is making a lot of money with 400m plus in profits for last year. Btw, cost of running electricity should not be that expensive, as Singapore does not use oil to burn, but instead uses natural gas. Transportation cost is minute compared to generating energy or storage from crude oil.

There are also several comments relating CPF withdrawal:

Ong Joo Huat wrote:

I am permanently disabled, and upon reaching the age of 55, the SSO helped me to submit an application to withdraw all my money in OA. However, CPF top management asked me to get a doctor's assessment to proof that I have a terminal illness and only have 60 days to live, because only then will I be allowed to withdraw the full amount in my OA.

Jenny Tung said:

Well to be fair, some people do get better or last longer than their prognosis. What happens if you spent it all before you actually died and have no work? I think they are just doing their due diligence.

Ong Joo Huat commented, in response to Jenny Tung:

I am permanently unfit for all type of employment due to an accident in 2012. I have 3 kids, and all of them are still in school, with the eldest having just completed her diploma, while my second daughter is attending NUS this month, and last is my son who is in Primary 3. My wife is working part-time at McDonalds. The Social Service Office did not want to help me in obtaining financial assistance when I reached 55, and that is why they submitted the withdrawal of the full amount to CPF on my behalf. Do you think the 5K and monthly $240 is enough for me to survive till my second daughter finish her university in 3 years time? If you were in my shoes, will you still make that comment?

Some netizens have touched on the cost of healthcare, drawing parallels to the markedly lower cost of healthcare in Australia:

Karen Goh wrote:

Last year I ran out of blood pressure and cholesterol medication while visiting my son in Melbourne, so I went to get a prescription for the purchase. To my surprise, the BP meds that I paid $75 for in Singapore was only $11 in Australia. Same case for cholesterol meds. I was given the brand-name medication, not the generic version. Curiously, I checked with the pharmacist on the pricing of other medications that I was familiar with, and all were within 40% to 70% range cheaper then in Singapore. I was really upset.

Wilson Wong said:

For foreigners, there is no subsidy. Even foreign students (I once was one) have to pay health insurance to get cheaper medicine. And here's the joke, my knee operation is cheaper in Melbourne Private Hospital than Singapore Private Hospital, and on both sides I have insurance. Good thing I have rider, if not I will be paying through my nose using a student pocket money.

Mitra Nathan commented:

Healthcare is a business in Singapore. And it’s not affordable at all. Sorry boss, you failed big time!

Some netizens commented on the high costs of education in Singapore:

Nazri Mooiz wrote:

Make education free for Singaporeans.

Evelyn Chan said:

Education is still cheap for primary and secondary schools. Wait till you get to polytechnic and above. Paying $1.4 k every semester (about 2 months). Transport about $80, her pocket money about $350. How to save $500 every month after household bills?

Others gave their thoughts on choices – or the lack of it – in the country:

Ed Sim wrote:

PM touched on several topics with regards to cost of living. At the end of the day, it is about choices.

Wilson Wong said:

While I agree that it is about choices, some choices have already been made for us in one way or another.

Expensive COE, so cannot drive... Stuck with MRT or buses. I made the cheaper choice, but it is still a bad choice.

Or buy HDB because I can't afford private property. Even if I can afford private property, I can't buy HDB if I earn more than 10K a month, even though it is well within my budget and want to save money to start a family and get a car to ferry the family, rather than getting stuck with prams in trains and irritate other train users especially during rush hour or peak time.

See, it is easy to say it is about choices, but when the choice is already made for you, and the people who run the system are incompetent enough to make it a crappy choice, what other alternatives do we have?

Several netizens commented on the issue of GST vouchers or the eligibility for it:

Kyle Fu wrote:

I was told I'm not eligible for GST voucher as my income was high last year.

For the record, my pay has dropped DRASTICALLY now. So I'm not a Singaporean anymore? Am I supposed to starve now?

Lim May said:

I remember that previously every citizen was entitled to GST vouchers worth $500 each. However, since LHL took over, they became stingy, and as a result, not all citizens are eligible to receive GST vouchers now.

Kyle Fu commented:

I didn't get (GST voucher) for the last few times already...