At a forum organised by the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) student union on Tuesday (24 Aug), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong reminded the students that the Government and the people “are all on the same side”.
Speaking about the pandemic, Mr Wong said, “For all of us struggling through this pandemic, my hope is that we will emerge from this crisis with a stronger sense of group solidarity; a stronger feeling of duty and responsibility to one another; and a stronger conviction that we stand together as one Singapore.”
He then stressed that this also applied to the relationship between the Government and the people.
Instead of an “us versus them”, antagonistic, even confrontational dynamic, Singaporeans must never forget that “we are all on the same side”, Mr Wong told the students.
“It doesn’t mean that we will always agree on the same thing. On the contrary, we fully expect and welcome a wide range of diverse views and opinions,” he added.
“We see issues from different perspectives, we learn to better understand one another, to judge less and to listen more.”
The Minister also encouraged young people to become changemakers. “As they say, the best way to predict the future is to create it,” he remarked.
“The Government will do our part to support you, and partner you in this exciting journey ahead.”
Bleak future for locals while politicians enjoy million dollar salaries
Still, it may be hard for some Singaporeans to fathom how an average Joe in Singapore can be on the same side as a government minister, when many Singaporeans are struggling every day to compete for jobs with foreign professionals while the ministers do not.
The annual Joint Autonomous Universities Graduate Employment Survey found that 69.8 per cent of fresh graduates found permanent full-time jobs last year, down from 81.7 per cent in 2019.
If you take out graduates from Dentistry and National Institute of Education (NIE), that percentage goes down even lower.
At the same time, 174,000 S Passes and 189,700 E Passes were issued in the same year. This is not including the 27,500 new Permanent Residents (PRs) granted in 2020. (For clarification, PRs could be other than those who are holding S Pass or E Passes. So note that 32,710 PRs were granted in 2018 and 21,000 new citizens were granted two years later — minimum duration as a PR prior to application).
The employment situation following the pandemic has not been bright either, with total employment falling in 2Q 2021 (-15,700) after registering its first increase in the previous quarter following a year of declines in 2020.
Many of them who are employed might very well be in temporarily working arrangements, such as the 100,000 over individuals engaged with private-hire taxi companies and delivery companies.
Furthermore, the average Joe hardly earns a million dollars in their lifetime while the Government ministers can easily achieve that in a year. Many Singaporeans also do not have enough money to retire, resulting in them working late into their 70s and 80s.
For example, in May this year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported a community case of COVID-19 involving a cleaner deployed at Changi Airport Terminal 3. It turned out that the person is an 88-year-old elderly.
Many netizens asked why an 88-year-old is still working and has to even work at a COVID-19 high-risk location.
What’s more, just this month, it was reported that a 74-year-old Singaporean worker had died from injuries he sustained from a fall at a loading bay in Century Square mall in Tampines.
According to the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, the elderly man was pulling a hand trolley backwards in the loading bay on 13 August when he fell off the open side of the 1m-tall platform next to a ramp.
It was said that the man could have mistakenly entered the elevating platform instead of going down the ramp. He was rushed to the Changi General Hospital but passed away the next day.
The Government ministers, of course, do not have any retirement worries since the income they earned while in office is enough to last three generations.
In fact, one former Cabinet minister, Mah Bow Tan, has so much money after his retirement that he was able to even increase his stake in a public listed company GSH Corporation in 2014 to become its 5th largest shareholder. At the time, he owned 365,575,000 shares (3.7%) with a market value of about S$28 million.
It makes it further worse when we consider how the politicians’ wages are set to a minimum level pegged to the median wage of the top 1,000 earners in Singapore, but constantly arguing against minimum wage for Singaporean workers.
So how is it that “we are all on the same side”?