A member of the Pioneer Generation who goes with the surname Lee recently gave an interview to TOC. Mr Lee was born in 1947 and as such, belongs to the Pioneer Generation. As a young adult, he grew up with Singapore under then founding PM Lee Kuan Yew and DPM Goh Keng Swee, when Singapore began its industrialization. At the time in late 60s and 70s, Singapore started to invite MNCs to invest in Singapore.
1. What was your job in the past before your retirement?
I started off in the government service after school in 1966, then moved on to the private sector after three years in a period seen to be the beginning of the industrialization phase in Singapore. I started off as a first line exempt staff and I retired in 2010 at the age of 63 in a senior management position at an MNC.
2. Can you tell us the difference between then and now in Singapore?
I must confess that I have lived the golden era of Singapore when career advancement and opportunities were plentiful and if one were to put one’s shoulder to the wheel, material comfort, immense job and life satisfaction came readily. I was able to support my parents and my family of four on a single income and comfortably so, financing my children through local tertiary education. My wife resigned from the civil service right after the birth of my first child. Not so today in an environment where even a dual income family finds difficulties in getting by with the astronomical high cost of living.
3. How were the previous generation of PAP leaders?
I thrived and succeeded beyond the wildest imaginations under the 1G/2G leadership teams. They were seen to be doing no wrongs, every socioeconomic policy executed to perfection, almost clockworks with the well beings of the citizens in minds.
4. How do you feel about the current generation of PAP leaders?
They are seen to be doing no right, an echo chamber of group thinkers, in-breeding, empathy deficit, acutely deficient in responsibility and accountability to the people. No one at the top has been taken to tasks for the innumerable failings from SMRT breakdowns to the CV-19 dorm infestation etc.
5. Does your PG card help you in anyway?
In very limited ways, centering on healthcare subsidies, the parsimonious 3% NTUC FairPrice groceries discounts twice a week and the $200/= MediSave top-up a year. All with fine print caps and encumbrances. My home marginally exceeds the AV of $21K and hence excluded from a series of social transfers like the quarterly GST vouchers, U-rebates etc. Not that I clamour for such tokenism, it count for little in an extremely high cost of living environment. But what I ask for is a fairer and just society where our forward generations are assured of social mobility in their life journeys.
6. How are you living now as a retiree? Is your CPF enough?
I have learned to live frugally and made painful adjustments and the CPF Life payouts are far from sufficient to accord a decent living standard.
7. What was the first house you bought and was it affordable?
I was brought up living in a two room rented flat in Tiong Bahru, formerly SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) build by the colonial government. After marriage, I bought a HDB 5-room flat for $27K with a sea-view to boot. No mortgage loan needed, cash and CPF upfront. After five years, I upgraded to a sizeable freehold condominium, $370K, paid off in three years and living in it till today. I lived free from the burden of debts.
8. What about your children? How are they coping with housing?
Not so with my children, they will be saddled with the burden of mortgage debts for in excess of twenty years. When my second child got married, buying a pigeon hole 4-room HDB flat in a mature estate, it cost in excess of $550K. The reason for buying the HDB flat in a mature estate is because she wanted to stay closer to my wife and I.
As a father, I had to fork out a significant sum out of my retirement funds so that she could have a head start in life. In extended ways, they are still somewhat needing my assistance to make life a little bearable. I am dead worried and concerned about the futures of my children and grandchildren.
9. How are your peers doing?
There are a good number of them struggling with the brutalities that life here bestowed on them in the twilight of their years. Many have downgraded their flats, encashed to live out their remaining years, even from condominium to HDB flats. Their children, tertiary educated, unemployed or under-employed for the past many years. Two cases of which their children suffered psychological setbacks and lost their self-esteem, requiring psychological counseling. Several of them age 7O and above went back to work as security guards and in the gig economy when previously they were in executive positions.
10. What do you hope to see happen in Singapore?
A government focused on the well being of the citizens and a keenly contested parliament with ideas to bring Singapore back to the glorious past of the 1G/2G eras and a less crowded, rat race environment.