I’m dreaming of a new Singapore

Since I have no voting power in the upcoming elections, I thought I’d indulge in some fantasies, imagining how my one vote, when counted, would change everything.

It’s 02:35 on 8th May. A nation is gathered around their TVs, eyes glued to the screens; sleep forgotten. The roads are eerily quiet for a city that is constantly on the move. Clouds have been building since dusk and the night sky grows increasingly white. The air is thick with anticipation and not a single leaf rustles. The ruling political party has lost 40 seats. History has already been made but it isn’t done yet. There’s one last vote and this would either give opposition parties half the seats or PAP the majority, albeit a much smaller one. A huge bolt of lightning strikes and its light is seen across the island. The faces of crestfallen PAP members are momentarily lit and many break into a small smile; it’s a good sign surely. Seconds later, the stillness of the night is broken by the sound of rumbling thunder. It reverberates as it gathers momentum rising to a crescendo. The last vote – mine – is in the hands of the vote counter. As he prepares to read it, the explosive clap hammers home the final verdict.

In an instant, the sky opens up and a torrential downpour falls upon the citystate. In an instant, everything changes.

Better General Elections management

There are several points here and we know why things are the way they are. It’s not right; and I think all these tactics have made SG a highly immature and unsophisticated nation.

  1. Fix the boundaries/constituencies once and for all. It’s absurd that the lines are redrawn so drastically each election, and most of all, they don’t make sense.
  2. Change it all back to single member constituency. This group thing is complete groupthink. Absolutely rubbish policy
  3. Fair notice for voter registration. This is a result of what I’ve just experienced. The Elections Department should issue a letter to all eligible Singaporeans a month before the closing date. This is to ensure all Singaporeans, especially the ones who have been away for a while, can check the register and update the records accordingly.
  4. Lower the nomination fee. In 2006, the fee was S$13,500. This time, it’s $16,000. That’s an increment of 18.5% (I hope my math is right!) just for the nomination fee. A little bit steep, isn’t it? To truly appreciate the meteoric rise of the fee, look here. On what basis did the fees increase? Why even? I don’t know what the party line is. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with ensuring only people who are serious / qualified run. But why is there a need to? The results would speak for themselves anyway.

This cartoonish system needs to end soon. It makes a fool out of all Singaporeans.

Shorten NS to 4 months or do away with it

I believe something’s wrong when more money is spent on defence than education and healthcare, and I don’t buy the reason it’s ‘cos we’re a small country surrounded by large neighbours. That’s essentially saying we don’t trust our neighbours; and makes it easy for us to disregard them. So who’s antagonising whom?

But let’s go one step back. Why is it that SG feels threatened? Historically, we’ve never had conflicts with each other on the war scale – we’re not in the same boat as Pakistan/India or Palestine/Israel. I think our neighbours have better things to focus on than SG. In the unlikely scenario of escalating tensions, I’m pretty sure other countries would step in to mediate before allowing for a war to break out. I mean, this is the 21st century.

On the subject of tensions, why not work on building strong interdependent relationships with our neighbours? This would minimise tensions, and should WWIII break out ever, we’re more likely to have their protection.

Low danger doesn’t mean no danger, of course. We could have a military academy to recruit those who want to serve, and train all citizens in first aid, handling weapons and other back end stuff. Four months is plenty of time for that or it could be incorporated into school even so no need for NS. So I’m not advocating zero defense. I just don’t think we need a force that is so large or advanced. Not when the resources can be better spent on more important things such as aid for the poor, education, healthcare, and:

Land for urban farmers and artists

Now that more land is available ‘cos SG has done away with a lot of NS camps, space can be put aside for urban farmers and artists. SG could have vertical vegetable farms, 60 storey high. Plots can be rented out or sold. There are so many benefits to this. It’d be a great escape for many people, families can grow their own vegetables or fruits and trade, gardening’s an excellent stress reliever, connection to nature revitalises the soul; queue tourism and also creation of a new industry and SG can lead the way in city farming and rurban (rural/urban) development.

If I’m not wrong, Japan already has such a building underway. But times have been hard on that country, and if there’s one thing the SG government is good at, it’s making industries sprout overnight.

Other sites would be for artists with mix live/work spaces. We can finally develop and nurture highly skilled craftspeople. There’d be pottery studios, welding workshops, glassmakers, bespoke furniture designers, multi-media studios, etc. A SG art form or style may emerge that would finally anchor us in a unique culture we can proudly promote.

These won’t bring massive economic growth but life isn’t about economic growth. We need to feed the artist in all of us, in whatever shape and form, to lead healthier, more holistic lives. We need space that lets us breathe, that lets our imagination and handiwork go wild. That is living.

On Education

  1. Schools will be merged from primary through to higher education. Only at 18 will students have to apply for tertiary education.
  2. Reduce classroom sizes to 25 at most.
  3. Introduce subjects such as political science and law from the get go so that all Singaporeans understand our constitution and law, and develop an interest in shaping SG.
  4. Fewer exams and tests. Assessments in the style of The Apprentice with good rewards. After all, that’s real life – real issues, real pressure, real lessons, real results.

We’ve had years of nation building and have achieved first world status. Yet, our education system hasn’t improved. Classroom sizes are still at 40 kids per class, almost every child now goes for tuition, and from conversations I’ve had with parents, the system only seems to be getting worse ‘cos teachers now don’t even know how to teach the syllabus as it’s changing so often. Incredible! In the worst way possible.

These changes would require more schools, more teachers, more people in the education sector. As Tan Jee Say said, these are good jobs for Singaporeans, fit for a nation of well-educated people. Why is that bad?

Cut dependence on public housing

I think SG should really aim for 70% (I’m being arbitrary here; a smart urban planning person should come up with the magic number) true home ownership. Why do 70% of Singaporeans still live in public housing? Not that public housing is bad. The quality is good and there’s nothing wrong with an HDB flat per se. I’m just saying that the government shouldn’t be the majority home/landowner. I don’t see why they need to be, and I think having all that ownership has allowed them to control supply of land and manipulate cost. Left in the hands of private developers, together with better controls over foreign ownership, we’ll see a different boom in property development, and prices will reflect what Singaporeans can afford. They will finally really own their property, HDB flats will finally be for those who most need it and we can finally rid ourselves off this property obsession.

Comprehensive public transport services

To control the car population, why not have more taxis, and mini buses that go around estates frequently? Make it so convenient, there’s no need to buy a car.

Taxi fares should also be cheaper and exempted from ERP charges. From conversations with taxi uncles, it’s implied the high fare is needed to cover the high rental fee. But if the government is able to view taxis as a good form of alternative transport, then taxes to bring in taxis should be very, very low, thereby reducing cost of the vehicles too, which should translate to lower operating cost, lower rental charges and cheaper fares. Right? The same could be done for mini buses too.

By flooding the island with a more comprehensive network of public transport services, there’d be less need for people to buy a car, thus reducing the number of private cars on the road and therefore clearing the road congestion. Easy, no?

Constitutional amendments

  1. Ministers should not earn more than the US President. I don’t have a figure in mind, but it definitely shouldn’t be more than the man who has the most difficult public service job on earth. To constantly link SG’s ministerial pay to that in the private sector and saying no one will do the job and be incorruptible if it isn’t well paying is to completely miss the point about jobs in the public service AND display a lack of morality. What of NZ and Denmark that shares the same spot as SG, and other top countries on Corruption Perception Index list?
  2. Make the President work harder; give him more to do! For f*** sake, he’s earning $4million.
  3. Include an Information of Freedom Act.
  4. Restore our rights to freedom of speech and expression; the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and the right to form associations.
  5. Ensure no one can be sued, arrested or fined by the government for their opinions and findings on Singapore. We need healthy debates and discussions to grow. Not lawsuits and fear. This would also enable SG to become a real media centre, creating a new industry with good jobs. (And while we’re creating a new media industry, fold Mediacorp and SPH. We don’t want PAP mouth pieces. Let’s start over.)

New national anthem and pledge

No disrespect to Mr Zubir Said for composing the current anthem and whoever came up with the pledge, but I think there’s an emptiness to both the anthem and pledge. The words have no heart and are not grounded in values – progress, wealth, prosperity, onward, success. These are all very driven, material words. I know wealth and prosperity can mean other forms of riches, but let’s not pretend. When a person says someone is wealthy or prosperous, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? And let’s tone down the pledge for a democratic society since…well…it’s not really happening.

We need an anthem and pledge that encompasses ‘soft’ values. It should unite the people to defend the land, to love the country, to seek a righteous path and various other emotionally heart stirring words. This is the stuff that’ll give meaning to SG. Not this wealth and prosperity malarkey.

I could go on, but all fantasies come to an end when the real world calls. So excuse me while I get on with things. I hope it’ll give Singaporeans food for thought though ‘cos there are alternatives. Policies can be changed when they’re not working. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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I feel bad then mad!

I’m struggling with my other blog piece about being an apathetic Singaporean. This should be a follow-on piece but the thoughts and words are on a constant tumble in my mind and I need to get it out quickly before my head explodes.

In an earlier article, I wrote that I don’t know what Singaporeans want. Reading back, some words may seem harsh given that clearly, there are some people struggling without a job, trying desperately to make ends meet on unacceptable wage levels while coping with high inflation and so forth. When I see the elderly, bent over, pushing trolleys of cardboard boxes or clearing messy tables, I wince.

I feel bad that lives have been wrecked by flawed policies and a greedy political party. But then, I feel mad after that. Hopping mad. ‘cos I don’t know why Singaporeans can’t take matters into their own hands and do something.

The education system may have made many into ‘worker ants’ but why stay that way? As an adult, one would be in charge of one’s own destiny and even attitude, personality and interest, isn’t it? Why wait till the elections in the hope of casting an opposition vote (assuming the PAP plays fair and gives you the opportunity to vote), then waiting for the various changes to happen? How much time would’ve been lost by then? And can you be sure those changes will indeed be favourable?

And instead of relying on the government to make those sweeping changes to suit you, why not rise to the occasion of life in a fast-paced globally competitive city? No matter who runs the country next, the one thing I’m certain of is that the kampong life has long pulled out of the station. Perhaps it left too quickly, catching Singaporeans off guard. But it’s time to wake up and realise that SG won’t be going backwards.

I’m not unsympathetic to those who really need help, but my frustrations come from reading blog comments / listening to mainstream conversations, and I think it’s time the national psyche of Singaporeans gets a make-over.

Below are two key areas that affected Singaporeans should be working on:

1. Blaming foreigners

Yes there may be too many. But are you ensuring you can beat them out in every single way? OK, perhaps you’re unable to compete on low wages, but I assume you don’t want those jobs anyway. I know of companies desperately trying to hire Singaporeans but hiring managers say they can’t find good people. One is even closing down now due to staff shortage! It’s shocking!

So ask yourself if you’re doing your best at interviews, if you’re doing your best everyday at work, if you have a winning attitude every single freaking day at work. Or perhaps you’re in the wrong job / industry – one in which you feel unmotivated, dispassionate about. Can you switch? It’s difficult but not impossible. Do you have dogged determination and a great capacity to learn?

Understand too that the job/career landscape has changed. Here’s what Brian Tracy, author of Focal Point, says:

“According to experts, a person starting work today will have, on average, 14 full-time jobs lasting two years or more and five careers in completely different fields or industries…

Millions of people move up, down, or sideways in their jobs, companies or careers. The rate of growth and expanding opportunity has never been greater, and if anything, is getting better every year.

Here are three predictions for you: First, there will be more changes in your field, whatever it is, in the year ahead than ever before. Second, there will be more competition in your field than ever before. And third, there will be more opportunities in your field than ever before, but they will be different from those of today and in different areas than you expect or anticipate.

As many as 72% of people working today will be in a different job within the next two years as a result of incredible speed of change, increase in competition and explosion of opportunity…

Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel Corporation, wrote recently that one of the most profound changes of the last decade is that each person today is now the architect of his or her own career. You can no longer rely on a corporation to take care of you…You must think and act for yourself.”

Knowing this now, how will you prepare yourself?

2. Endlessly talking about HDBs, COEs, ERPs and other mundane stuff

Stop being led by the local media into the path of property, shopping sales, overcrowded places, best food places and the like. Recognise that when you’re constantly being bombarded with the same few messages, it becomes larger than life and is all consuming. Problems exist – everyone knows that – so there is little need to harp on it all the time. It doesn’t add value to anyone’s life to hear another story about another record price whathaveyou.

Besides, life is way more interesting than that. If you free up brain space from the mundane, you’ll find there are tons of other things to learn and talk about – history, philosophy, art, science, design and other so-called ‘cannot-make-money’ subjects. The funny thing is that these subjects broaden your horizon. Your perspective widens, you’ll think about problems and therefore solutions differently, you may find an undiscovered passion, and before you know it, achieving a whole lot more including that dream job / partner / life.

None of the issues that Singaporeans love to whinge about are uniquely Singapore. These are problems faced by city dwellers around the world. The difference perhaps is that Singaporeans haven’t learnt how to beat the system nor adapt, and they’ve made these issues the key focus in their life. Surely this is the time now for change, with unprecedented access to knowledge and networks. I dare you to take up the challenge to grow beyond these narrow shores.