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Tale of 2 “Ah Ma”s in Singapore

Ravi Philemon, an opposition candidate for Hong Kah North posted an encounter during the 2015 GE on his Facebook page yesterday (19 Oct).

He recounted coming across 2 Ah Mas (elderly grandmas) during his campaigning 3 years ago.

"This is an untold story," Mr Philemon wrote. "While campaigning in Jurong West (Hong Kah North) for the General Election 3 years ago, I witnessed the stories of 2 Ah Mas - both within minutes of each other."

He first saw an Ah Ma, a local, rummaging through the rubbish bin near the lift at the void deck. When one of his volunteers approached her, she said she lives in the area and was looking for used soft drink cans. She sells them to a recycling company for pittance. When asked why she was still working at her age, she replied that she likes to keep active.

Mr Philemon commented, "If she really wanted to keep active, there are a million other things she could do. My team and I knew that personal pride was most probably keeping her from admitting that she needed to rummage through the rubbish, just to get 1 or 2 cents from the empty soda can, just to get by. That she probably didn't have enough money to retire."

Then, the lift door opened and another Ah Ma came out with her granddaughter. As soon as the lift door opened, the little girl ran towards the playground. Her grandmother shouted after her in Chinese, "Don't run!"

The same volunteer who had spoken to the local Ah Ma told Mr Philemon that the Ah Ma who had stepped out of the lift was from China as he could distinguish by her accent.

The volunteer asked Mr Philemon, "How come one Ah Ma must work so hard even at this age, while the other can just play with her grandchild?"

"I had no answer for him," Mr Philemon wrote.

Mr Philemon opined that if anyone works 40 hours a week and works for 30 to 40 years of his or her life, there should be absolutely no reason why he or she would have to survive in their old age, rummaging through the rubbish and picking up cardboard or soft drink cans.

PRCs are covered by China's pension system

Most likely, the Ah Ma from China is being sponsored by her children to come stay with them in Singapore so as to look after the granddaughter. According to ICA website, a new citizen or PR can apply for their non-Singaporean parents to come stay in Singapore under the Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP).

In any case, PRCs are quite well taken care of by their Chinese government.

An individual in China can receive a pension based on the amount accumulated in his or her individual fund after retirement. In general, individuals need to pay at least 15 years of contributions prior to receiving a pension in China. And generally, blue-collar workers retire at 55 for men and 50 for women. For white-collar workers, they retire at 60 for men and 55 for women.

According to China's official data, the average monthly pension payment for enterprise retirees went up to 2,400 yuan (477 SGD) in 2016 from around 640 yuan (around 120 SGD) in 2005.

In Singapore, however, the local Ah Ma who was seen rummaging through the rubbish bin to find soft drink cans has no pension to talk about. Most likely, her CPF (if any) would not have been enough to sustain her with the cost of living here. All she has, thanks to PM Lee's generosity, is her pioneer generation card.