Despite the government’s claims that it is a champion of meritocracy, an Oxfam report has concluded that Singapore is ranked among one of the lowest in terms of what it has done to reduce inequality. In part, I think it is because the government may have confused meritocracy for equality. As many others before me have said and which I shall say again, there can be no genuine meritocracy without equality. Until our government and society acknowledge that there is a lack of equality in Singapore, we cannot really claim to have meritocracy. Unless it is in the narrow confines of “Chinese Male educated in top school meritocracy.”
Let’s begin with race. Singapore talks constantly about racial harmony. However, does it actively create opportunities for all regardless of race? What about rumours of not allowing Muslims (who are mostly Malay) to be pilots? What about the government encouraging independent welfare or charitable organisations (which are run along racial lines) to continue to help their own racial groups? Does this not perpetuate racial differences thereby encouraging different racial groups to provide opportunities only to their own? And then you have the example of tweaking the Elected Presidency rules to allegedly improve minority representation? Everyone knows that the President has no real power. Does this send the message that minorities are only figureheads and cannot really aspire to real power within the government? This is certainly bolstered by PM Lee having said on international television that Singapore was not ready for a non Chinese Prime Minister.
Next up is the issue of sex. Looking at maternity leave allocations, it is pretty obvious that the government expects females to be the ones to look after the children. Paternity leave in Singapore is 2 weeks compared to 16 weeks for mothers. If mothers choose to be the main care giver, that is fine but they should really be given a choice. Given how the laws are, women don’t really have a choice do they?
Then there is the issue of streaming and the class divides within Singapore. I am by no means the first person to criticise the rigid streaming that our education system provides. That system virtually robs late bloomers of their chances to do well. By now, I am sure everyone has seen the documentary hosted by Janil Putucheary’s “Regardless of Class”. That speaks for itself.
Besides all the factors I have listed above, the Oxfam report also talks about the “tax haven” reputation that Singapore has. This enables the rich to get richer while restricting fair income distribution. For a developed country, Singapore also has virtually zero welfare for citizens who have genuinely fallen through the cracks.
Ahead of rumoured elections next year, I would urge the government to give the rising inequality serious thought. It is not enough to pay lip service to so called meritocracy.