While I am heartened that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) is talking about inequality, I am not really sure if he has said anything new or offered any solutions to the issue. That said, I am encouraged that he is at least willing to openly admit that it exists. I do however have some follow up questions and comments to what he said at a recent closed-door dialogue with about 530 grassroots leaders.
At this event, dubbed “Kopi Talk”, PM Lee said: “social attitudes are just as important as government policies”. While I have no doubt that social attitudes are an integral part of ensuring equality, I wonder if PM Lee also recognises that government policy largely shapes social attitudes. In the building of an equal society, the government must, therefore, take the lead. Not just by government policies but also the behaviours of those who are part of the government. Take for instance reports of Members of Parliament driving fancy cars into private members clubs being caught on film by members of the public. Does this gel with the philosophy of equality the government is trying to propagate? PM Lee said: “To that end, he called on those who “happen to be successful and happen to have been born in a wealthy family” not to flaunt their wealth or success.” How has this MP’s behaviour measured up to what PM Lee said?
I am not saying that members of government are not entitled to a private life. However, I wonder if the government is unwittingly aiding and abetting its officials to lead extravagant lives by paying our ministers such high salaries? This immediately sets them apart from the lifestyles of the average citizen, creating ivory towers. I am not against a fair wage but I think it is fair to say that a fair wage is not the same as an exorbitant one. Then you have the issue where elected Members of Parliament (MPs) are permitted to keep their day jobs thereby enabling them to have two salaries (one from their day job and one from their role as MP). This inflates their income and again sets them apart from society as a whole. I am not against paying MPs well. What I have an issue with is them being paid a full time salary for doing a part-time job. This is essentially what it is if they keep their day jobs no? People in government do not and should not get two bites at the cherry. You are either a full-time MP or you are not.
PM Lee also further said : “If you grew up in another country, you probably may not have the same opportunities. You may not have had the same success.” I was wondering when he would raise the issue of other countries and like clockwork, he did. I don’t know why the government always has to defensively imply that Singaporeans are so lucky compared to people from these unnamed other countries. I, for one am sick of being beaten by the “you must be grateful” stick. I am grateful and I will be more grateful if you stop forcing it down my throat.
Lest we forget, there are also many other countries which may have offered more opportunities and success than Singapore. Take for instance athletes from other countries who are not forced to serve national service. Or other countries who do not stream their children at tender ages forcing them into categories way too soon. I can go on but I believe I have made my point. The government should really stop forcing the comparisons and just focus on the job at hand.