Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Warning of the dangers of inequality, Minister Shanmugam said the richest in bungalow and the poorest in HDB flat are not more than 15 mins away

by Augustine Low

Minister K Shanmugam warned in 2018 that inequality was a serious issue facing Singapore and if not tackled carefully, would cause society to fracture.

He assured that “we have long been aware of the dangers of inequality.”

The minister quoted the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, who said in 1961: “In advanced societies, it is not so much open nepotism that is to be feared, but the insidious ‘old boy’ type whereby no illegalities are committed, but in which the pinnacles of power, influence and wealth are the reserve of those born into the right families.”

Then came the most telling part of the speech, which showed that Minister Shanmugam had a good understanding of what inequality in Singapore looked like:

“But in a small country, the richest in a good-class bungalow and the poorest in a rental flat or three-room flat are not more than 15 minutes away. They live 15 minutes away from each other, maximum. So, inequality, if we allow it to grow, will destroy our social cohesion in the long run.”

Minister Shanmugam gave the speech in April 2018 at the launch of a club set up by the Singapore Red Cross and preschool Kidz Meadow.

According to the Singapore Land Authority, the massive property at 26 Ridout Road was tenanted to the minister from June 2018.

It is interesting that Minister Shanmugam acknowledged the dangers of inequality, even contrasting the richest in bungalows with the poorest in rental or three-room HBD flat, and yet he has ended up bringing so much unwanted attention to himself over the Ridout estates controversy.

Did he consider what it would look like for him, as a minister fighting inequality in land-scarce Singapore, to occupy a government-owned colonial bungalow the size of about three and a half football fields, described as a palace?

Did he think he was setting an example by putting such unspeakable disparity and distance between himself and many Singaporeans who scrimp and save to pay off mortgages for modest flats, not to mention the many who make do with rental flats and struggle to make ends meet?

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