10 years ago, things in Singapore were a lot simpler like the MRT map on the right. Singaporeans then did not have to squeeze shoulder to shoulder in public transport during the peak hours, cost of living was a lot manageable, there were hardly any elderly touting tissue paper in public and people can easily pay off their housing debt in 15 to 20 years. That was the kind of Singapore the people had trust in, and rightfully so, the kind of government most could have agreed they are first class.
Today, ironically, the kind of future we are looking at is actually what we had from the past. People are asking for comfortable living space and affordability – which are what we had in the past, begging the question did Singapore regress over the years?
The social contract between Singaporeans and the ruling PAP government has always been a trade between freedom and economics. Singaporeans puts blind faith in the PAP government and the latter delivers results. However, in the past 10 years, purchasing power of the average Singaporeans did not progress in tandem with the GDP which is why cost of living tops the people’s mind today, costing the PAP significant votes that could put them out of power. A decade ago, the Prime Minister then Mr Goh Chor Tong promised a swiss standard of living for Singaporeans in 10 years’ time today. Singaporeans however have seen more of a Russian standard of living where poverty gets sticky and worse, hereditary as children of poor families couldn’t afford a tertiary degree which is fast becoming the very basic qualification of entry for anyone to break out of the poverty cycle. Singapore’s glaring GINI coefficient have regressed over the years to 2011’s 0.47.
The PAP government however do not think much of the growing divide because they compares themselves with leading US cities:
“This has parallels with several other global cities, such as Hong Kong and leading US cities like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, all of which have Gini coefficients above 0.5.” ~Singstats [Source]
This is irresponsibly myopic because Hongkongers and US citizens have the vast suburban land of the country to fall back on if the cost of living proves too high. There is no such option in Singapore as people will need to resort to the expensive and painful way of migration in order to find a cheaper place to live in. Singapore’s circumstances for the low income workers have made it a place for survival, not living. A 48 hours and beyond work week is the employment norm in Singapore, where total wages still goes way below comfortable level of at least $2000. Normally, in a logical labor market, salaries which pays too low often see an employment crunch. However the PAP government skewed the labor market through the mass import of foreign labor to keep salaries low for businesses.
When it comes to housing, the length of mortgage service period, aka the HDB loan, have doubled from the average 15-20 year period in the 1990s to 30-35 year period today in 2012. This increase in underwriting by the banks and HDB is largely attributed to the government’s low interest strategy in the CPF. As the PAP government does not want to pay more for interest rate in the CPF, mortgage lending rate will be pegged low accordingly. The Ordinary Account of the CPF have been kept at 2.5% since 2000, which is strongly manipulated by a “formula” the PAP devised to keep interest rate low, hence further lowering the obligation it has to the people. HDB loans are pegged to CPF OA, at a 0.1% above the CPF OA interest rate of 2.5%.
Retirement has also been in jeopardy as more elderly are working past their retirement age of 55. Cleaners, tissue paper touters and even beggers are common in Bugis and Orchard road where foreigners and the rich shop frequent during leisure. Most elderly Singaporeans are either unemployed or working in low end jobs as their CPF couldn’t give them a decent retirement. Age discrimination is common among Singapore employers who have the luxury of a loose labor market brought upon by the loose immigration policy of the PAP government. In a recent survey by a Singapore media research institution, Mindshare, 65% of the 2000 Singaporeans polled believe they are not able to retire in Singapore.
Employment, housing, affordability and retirement are all in jeopardy over the past 10 years. So did Singapore progress or regress?