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Photo of PM Lee Hsien Loong from pap.org.sg

Singapore in need of leaders who are compassionate, not “disconnected” with the people: Christian NGO head

Founder and co-executive of the international Christian humanitarian organisation RADION International, Mr Eugene Wee, has written an open letter to Singapore's Ministers in response to the heated debate surrounding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's "solutions" in coping with rising living costs in Singapore.

In a Facebook post dated 23 Aug, Mr Wee also touched on the issue of exorbitant ministerial salaries, adding a reference to Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong's controversial statement regarding the issue.

Mr Wee wrote the following:

Dear Ministers,

When Singaporeans share about their pains of making ends meet or how they are struggling with living costs, the government's response has consistently been for us to "right-size", or more clearly, downgrade.

The message is simple.

Living in Singapore is not cheap, so if you are struggling, reduce your spending, reduce your lifestyle and spend within your means.

Yes, frugality is important. But we may not be addressing the underlying issues here.

Singaporeans have worked all their lives, and they too have hopes, dreams and ambition. No one wakes up with a dream to downgrade.

For most Singaporeans that I know, they are a hardworking bunch, willing to put in longer hours at work just to bring more to the family table.

They are not asking to buy another Lamborghini, or to stay in Orchard Road, or to have caviar for lunch every day.

They've worked long hours in hopes that they can give their kids access to the best education, tutors to help the kids catch up with homework, and maybe fund those rare family outings.

Most do not have much, but one thing that they have is a love for the nation. The same love, the same passion, the same commitment flows through our veins, as it did for our forefathers who brought this country to where it is today.

It is in us, that we understand that a minimum wage will affect our global competitiveness. Thus, we have opted for lowered wages to keep the country attractive to investors and keep Singapore at the peak.

We take on these sacrifices, not because we like it, but we know it is for a bigger cause.

If you take the trains at nights, you will see exhausted fathers and mothers, after a hard day's work, taking a crowded late night train home, often only to reach home after their child is already asleep.

That is the sacrifice we put in, plow in and give on a daily basis, because this is home.

But here is where we see the disconnect.

After we have accepted lower wages, after living with less, after sacrificing time with our families, now when we get old, we are asked to "right-size", or even consider going to JB to retire.

It hurts our older folks, because this is home.

And instead of finding solutions, we ask our forefathers a.k.a. the Merdeka generation to leave Singapore, their home.

Now for the rest of us, it gradually becomes apparent that there seems to be a different narrative when it comes to the general population and the top civil servants.

Let me explain.

When it comes to ministerial salaries, we justify that we need to pay Ministers well. The argument changes, it is no longer about frugality, but about meeting lifestyle needs.

Slowly, we see the argument going up another notch, proposing that we ought to be pegging our civil servants salary against the top earners in corporate Singapore.

Suddenly, it's no longer about lifestyle need, but a lucrative career in politics.

We talk about the need to attract the top talents, and the argument is that if we don't offer more, these top talents will refuse to switch from the corporate world to the civil service.

Well, I think this may actually be a good thing. It may actually help to sift out the ones who serve the country for public good from the ones who hop on the bandwagon simply because it pays well.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for paying our civil servants well, but in doing so, we are also looking for leaders who are driven by conviction, competence and compassion.

We are definitely not looking for people who are so accustomed to the high life, and who are so disconnected with the ground that they can - so carelessly - suggest that people who earn less than half a million are "mediocre".

It's good to be reminded that the "mediocre" Singaporeans are the ones who have opted to go without a minimum wage. It's the "mediocre" that have kept the country attractive to investors. And these "mediocre" Singaporeans form 95% of the population that built the foundational blocks of our country.

If "mediocre" meant a generation of Singaporeans who love, bleed and gave sacrificially for the country, maybe it's also time for the leaders to join us in being "mediocre", and maybe "right-size" a little.

The Facebook post has since garnered 4,500 shares and 5,700 Likes.