Vivian who lives in colonial bungalow once asked if PA recipients want 3 meals in hawker centre, food court or restaurant

A statement issued by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) last Friday (12 May 2023) confirmed that Cabinet ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan reside in two colonial bungalows located on Ridout Road.

SLA said that all rental procedures have fully been adhered to its guidelines.

In particular, the bungalow, 31 Ridout Road, was rented to Dr Balakrishnan in October 2019. According to SLA data, the property at 31 Ridout Road has a land area of 136,101 sq or 12,664 sq m, which is about the size of two football fields.

SLA noted that Dr Balakrishnan’s bid, which exceeded the undisclosed guide rent, was the highest received. It further assured that details on this matter will be disclosed in the forthcoming Parliament session in July.

How much does the poor want, asks Vivian

In 2007, Dr Balakrishnan was then the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, in-charge of giving assistance to the poor in Singapore.

There was a parliamentary exchange between Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Lily Neo, then-MP for Jalan Besar GRC when Dr Neo tried to ask him for more assistance for the poor.

This is an excerpt of the parliamentary debate between them on the issue of public assistance (PA):

Dr Lily Neo: “Sir, I want to check with the Minister again when he said on the strict criteria on the entitlement for PA recipients. May I ask him what is his definition of “subsistence living”? Am I correct to say that, out of $260 per month for PA recipients, $100 goes to rental, power supply and S&C and leaving them with only $5 a day to live on? Am I correct to say that any basic meal in any hawker centre is already $2.50 to $3.00 per meal? Therefore, is it too much to ask for just three meals a day as an entitlement for the PA recipients?”

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”

Dr Lily Neo: “It is cheaper to cook for one person.”

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: “It is cheaper to cook for one person.

The point I was trying to make is that every family will have different needs and preferences. I am not by any stretch of the imagination claiming that what we are offering as public assistance is a generous package. I am not saying that. But what I am saying is that it is enough, by and large, for most families to get by and, for those who have needs over and beyond that, there are other means to do so. If every one was starving on this amount that we are giving and is totally devoid of any other sources of help, Pelangi Home would be overcrowded, and I would be building many, many more Pelangi Homes. So, in the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Yes, any one of us, if we search hard enough, may be able to find a family or people who need additional help. But I would also say that any one of us, if we really put our minds to it, is capable of finding those additional sources of help. What I am designing is a system in which public assistance can and should be complemented by other sources of help. I think we can continue arguing this and we can continue finetuning the exact amount that is needed. But let us just bear in mind the fact that the system is set up with a certain amount of tension, and it is a healthy tension.”

Obviously, any PA recipients would already be very happy if they could get enough money to pay for three meals at a hawker centre alone, not just for themselves but their family members.

Nevertheless, now that Dr Balakrishnan is happily living in a colonial bungalow of considerable size, it’s not known if he has changed his views with regard to entitlements for PA recipients.

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