Useless rantings of a few disgruntled S'poreans...
Saturday, July 26, 2008
When a strongman leaves ...
From Today: When a strongman leaves ... IT IS not uncommon for countries that appeared after the fall of colonialism, and which started out with democratic ideals embedded in their Constitutions, to nevertheless evolve successively towards an authoritarian style of government and nation-building.
In Malaysia’s case, this process culminated in the22-year-long period under Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture). There was, therefore, great optimism and even greater relief in the air when this “strongman” figure, perhaps to his everlasting credit, actually retired in October 2003. Such politicians tend to stay in power until they expire.
It was thus at such a historical point in history thatMr Abdullah Badawi stepped onto centre stage, and became the country’s fifth Prime Minister. The hopes of Malaysian society at that time were so high, and so desperate, that the only leader who could take full advantage of the social dynamics released byDr Mahathir’s retirement was one who promised far-reaching reforms.
There was no room for more “strongman politics”, only room for the rectification of the damage done by the foregoing authoritarianism. Despite the same party and the same coalition remaining in power,Dr Mahathir’s successor had to be one who was responsive to the citizens demands, and who realised that the alternative to Mahathirism was healthy institutions.
Mr Abdullah knew this well enough to make all the right moves in the first months of his mandate. Calling on Malaysians “to work with me”, he stopped mega-projects, began cutting down on the budget deficit, started corruption proceedings against certain individuals and founded institutions to promote “integrity”.
As a result, Mr Abdullah enjoyed the highest level of popularity in Malaysian history in 2004 and his critics kept silent, purportedly to give him a chance to show his worth. The only way for Dr Mahathir’s successor to retain legitimacy was to live up to the expectations that Mr Abdullah himself had formulated.
But in the long run, he failed to deliver. In dismal disappointment, voters decided to punish him, his party and the ruling coalition during the March 8 general elections.
Cautious comparisons to the fate of other polities may be useful. Taiwan comes to mind. Mr Chiang Ching-kuo, who governed the island for over a decade after his father Chiang Kai-shek died in 1976, decided in 1987 to dismantle the tottering system that the Kuomintang had harshly put in place in 1949. The island left authoritarianism behind and became a democracy, leading subsequently to loss of power by the dominant party.
This is one success story where the successor to a strongman politician finally realises the historical limitations of the system and the party, and “executes a coup d’etat on himself”, as it were, and allows a more dynamic system to take its place, even to the transitional detriment of the party itself.
A good example of a failed succession to a strongman politician is Yugoslavia, where Marshall Josip Broz Tito was in power from 1945 to 1980. After his death in 1980, increasing ethnic rivalry and struggles for power in the region led finally to genocide and to the bloody break-up of the republic into several smaller states.
In Malaysia’s case, the historical role of Premier Abdullah was the difficult one of honestly realising the untenability of the system, and of healing the institutions whose integrity had been badly undermined during the Mahathir years. He had to execute a coup d’etat on himself, as it were.
This he failed to do, largely because that would have meant him allowing changes that would have been transitionally detrimental to the dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno).
Mr Abdullah had not been rebuilding institutions quickly enough or seriously enough and at the same time, he was certainly not a strongman either. Not knowing what to make of this lack of direction, voters overcame their normal fear of radical change and attempted to kick his administration out.
The situation after March 8 is a much more complicated one. What Mr Abdullah had failed to do, others will now try to do in their own way. And because Umno would not allow the required changes, it is now being forced to transform itself.
Mr Abdullah’s second mandate is therefore essentially different from his first. Umno’s dominance is basically broken; the coalition that had exhibited such hubris before the elections is now in disarray and riddled with distrust; and state level politics is now pluralistic and competitive in nature.
What the federal government failed to do, the state governments under opposition parties are now committed to doing. The political contentions from now on will be about what institutions should be built or rebuilt, and the order in which this should happen.
On that front, the weakness of the alternative coalition — the Pakatan Rakyat — lies in the potential conflict between the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) that wants a more Islamist society and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) that champions secularism. Mr Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat risks being caught in the middle.
Mr Abdullah and Umno’s weakness is basically their inability to change, especially while under challenge. The many years in dominance has stiffened them, there is too much face to be lost and new ways of thought have yet to permeate the party.
The wind is blowing against him and the party and the fear is that, whatever policies they may think up from here on are done for the sake of their staying in power and not for the sake of the future strength and stability of the country.
The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies. He is the author of Lost in Transition: Malaysia under Abdullah (SIRD and Iseas 2008).
Written by my atheist friends from a local Singapore Atheist Group, Atheisthaven:
Atheism is an abject failure.
As atheists we are in a unique situation. While we are ostracized, marginalized, persecuted, prosecuted, abused and generally deprived of our rights by unsympathetic regimes and autocratic systems in the real world, it is in cyberspace where we can express ourselves freely to some substantial degree. It is in this virtual realm that we dare challenge theists and other proponents of illogicality and come away truly victorious.
However, these victories, impressive as they are, cannot but feel hollow. For all the reasoning and logic which made us, dare I say it, ubermensch, we are unable to demonstrate our superiority where it really matters. Dawkins and Hitchens might have made the world stand up in recognition of the fallacies of religion, but is this proliferation of truth and rationality changing the way people really behave?
Sadly, the answer is no. Superstition still holds sway. To many, atheism is a passing fad. People remain attached to their cherished beliefs. After all, knowing the truth does not equate its acceptance. Not only do people want to believe in something, they need to feel wanted. Religion provides a very strong support in satisfying this emotional need, as evident by the number of support groups, cell groups, social and community structures the religious have put together to bind its adherents.
It must be intoxicating knowing that `Someone' will always love you. That `Someone' will look after you in every situation and never falter in His efforts. To have this preposterous notion `validated' by your fellow humans who actually help you in times of difficulties while the `Someone' never makes an appearance must seem an affirmation to the desperate. What religion does so effectively is to make each and everyone of its followers feel special. Logic goes out of the window in the face of this compelling emotional assault. It is an irony, considering that rationality is painted over by a very real human need which in turn is satisfied by an illusion instead.
This is where atheism fails so miserably. Atheists do not help each other just because they believe in the same creed. The theists, however, do so because their doctrine specifically wills it. For all our arguments and justifications we do not deign to help one another because we take the point of `not giving a damn about God' one step further to include ourselves. I see friends who are Christians support each other within their own church and cell groups. What do I see when I look upon my fellow atheists?
Theist : 1 Atheist : 0.
Our endless debates with theists achieve little. We are wasting precious time trying to convince people who do not want to be convinced. People would rather live a happier life believing in a lie than accept things as they really are and being less happy as a result. Reading about the articles atheists post on the Internet makes me think that all these well-meaning writers want are to amass as many hits for their sites and to comment favorably on each other's writings in the hope that the praised party, overjoyed at being appreciated, would return the favor. We hide behind monikers like `infidel' and `heretic', perhaps to impart some perceived quality in our cause, but we do not back our words with concrete action. I have more respect for the religious folk (the non-violent ones) who preach their gospel and live their life accordingly than for self-proclaimed atheists who cannot even be bothered to scrap their addled brains off the computer screen to think: I am an atheist. What does this mean? What do I do?
Atheism is on precarious ground in this respect. And it is time to stop the rot.
We must acknowledge that we are on our own. We have no god(s), no temples, no institutions and nothing to rely upon. Social structure and cultural norms, influenced to some extent by religion does not give the atheist credence. In many parts of the world, atheism is punishable by stoning. In more civilized climates, a priest who incites violence against non-believers is at the most given a slap on the wrist – he might even be lauded for his sense of justice. But an atheist who gives credible reasons for his rejection of religion, and quotes from reliable sources – he is making `seditious' remarks and persecuted for being `anti-religion' . It is obscene. You can say that people are treated equally in these modern times, but you cannot deny that some are more equal than others.
In view of the many difficulties atheists face, I propose we take care of our own. And we can do this through support groups.
A support group need not have a club-house or a fixed physical location where members can convene. We can host a bulletin board (forum) in cyberspace, much like what Atheisthaven is doing. However, instead of `ghost members' and people who pack only rhetoric and little else, such a group must consist of dedicated individuals who genuinely want to make a difference. While we do not restrict the membership to atheists (the non-religious, freethinkers, agnostics, even Buddhists - especially those leaning towards a philosophical bent may join), members must be committed. As this commitment takes the form of certain obligations, we want positive individuals who truly believe in improving themselves and others. Atheism by its own nature, promotes self-reliance and an internal locus of control. All efforts should have an egalitarian spirit in its core, mutual aid as its strength, and self-actualization its ultimate goal.
This is strictly an informal group. No membership fee is required. We only ask that members make an effort to know each other and to interact, preferably face-to-face. This fosters cohesiveness which is very important because people tend to help their own friends than relative strangers.
What form should this aid take? At the most basic level, information exchange. People who have questions can post them on the group site, and those with the answers can promptly reply. Questions can range from anything – potential job openings, which university to choose, even where to get the best bargains! At a deeper level, members can work on some task together or maybe enjoy a little soiree.
While we encourage members to look after each other's interests, we do not look kindly to people who join for ulterior motives. This is not a MLM (multi-level- marketing) scam, nor is it a dating agency. Promoting any political agenda is also a no-no. In a nutshell, the group is similar to a normal theist cell group, minus the praying and speaking in tongues. Think of it as a secular social network, where normal people (without a faith) make friends and chill out.
We must succeed in this endeavor. If sodden theists can organize themselves, it would be a crying shame if intelligent atheists cannot even produce a similar response. The time has passed for talking. Let us show people that we are capable of doing great things, even without divine edicts… because In Humanity We Trust.
School Principal Bans Non-Halal Food In School Canteen; Students to Eat Halal Pork Instead?
Food, Glorious Food: Unfortunately, Religion Loves To Bastardize It
More often than not, Religion loves to enforce its culinary rules upon the secular masses: Hindus, for example, don't eat beef (Sacred cows, according to Mark Twain, do make the best burger), Muslims and Jews frown upon pork as if it is some form of a horror freak show (Quite frankly, I think pork is divine!), and Buddhists just about avoid all forms of meat altogether, preferring to adhere to a strict, miserable diet of leaves and shoots (yes, kind of like a panda bear, minus the dark rings around the eyes).
As far as living things go, the need to feed is a definite given: We need food for sustenance, and some of us, including myself, are food connoisseurs who are not exactly biased about the food we eat, as long as it is edible, succulent and delectable. Nonetheless, I, as well as most secular people, understand that some facets of society love to apply their religious prejudices against certain food sources, and no, we are not usually inclined to debunk their myths and prejudices (Other than a snide remark here and there), unless, of course, some insipid moron decides to apply his religiously-slanted palates upon the common masses, as this addle-brained principal of a government school in Singapore surely did.
A PRIMARY school in Jurong West that upset non-Muslim parents by insisting that only halal food could be eaten or taken into its canteen will now overturn its policy.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times yesterday that Boon Lay Garden Primary had made a mistake, and would let its pupils' parents know.
In a letter to all parents last Friday, principal Wan Imran Woojdy said that since the school canteen had been certified halal, children would not be allowed to bring non-halal food onto the premises.
The school security guard and discipline master had also been checking lunch boxes since last week to ensure pupils complied.
About 20 per cent of the school's 1,700 pupils are Muslims.
Halal refers to what is permissible for consumption by Muslims. A product is not halal if it contains, for example, pork or alcohol, both forbidden to Muslims. Boon Lay Garden Primary's move to declare its canteen a halal zone left some non-Muslim parents unhappy.
Three who spoke to The Straits Times said they did not mind that the school canteen sold only halal food, but they felt the ban on taking in non-halal food amounted to discrimination.
Madam Esther Chia, 36, who has two daughters in the school, said one of them resorted to hiding a pork floss bun in her pocket last week to avoid being caught for flouting the new rule.
Another parent, Mr Edward Ang, said: 'I have nothing against the school stalls selling only halal food, but they shouldn't restrict kids from eating non-halal food.'
When contacted earlier yesterday, principal Imran said the rule forbidding non-halal food in the canteen had been in place since 2002, when all eight food stalls were certified halal by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
He said that the school decided to enforce the rule as it had a new canteen contractor and had to get recertified by Muis.
'We decided to make the whole canteen halal to provide a common eating space for all our children, whatever their race,' he said.
Enforcing Bigotry In The School Canteen
When religious people keep whining about why us secular folks often complain and scoff against their religions, such an incident are stark reminders that if ordinary folks don't wake up and smell the coffee, all too often, religious zealots (And sadly, this time round, it is a school principal) will sneak through just about every tiny crook and cranny to impose their religious laws upon the secularity of government institutions.
In this case, virtually every stall in this particular government school has pandered to the demands of a distinct, Muslim minority by getting their food certified as "halal". While I doubt this has anything to do with political or religious pressuring from school authorities (This, I suspect, is one of the ways stall vendors can earn more money by catering to Muslim children), the principal has nonetheless made use of this paradigm shift to enforce his Syariah-inspired diet upon all and sundry.
And yes, like our good old parochial government, he has the temerity to enforce a ban on non-halal food, a-la "banning the chewing gum" style that has made us the butt of all American jokes: Open your bag kiddo.....holy shit, what the hell is this? Barbecued pork? Be prepared to roast in Allah's hell, kiddo! God hates pork!
By insisting on halal-only food in a school canteen, what kind of a message is the school board sending to the kids? That we are a bigoted Islamic country, where women cannot even be seen in the public eye without a head-to-toe burkha, and crimes are punishable by stoning and amputation? Or is this yet another sinister campaign to sneak more Islamic "values" into our secular system?
Thank goodness, then, that the parents of these kids were disgruntled enough to complain to the Ministry of Education about this errant, bigoted principal. Goodness knows what would happen if they didn't complain: The principal might insist on applying the customary "stoning the disobedient children" on disobedient students.
If school authorities in Singapore persist on applying Syariah laws in school canteens, perhaps I might offer a brilliant suggestion for these beleaguered kids who, like me, have a penchant for good ole bacon:
Goodness Me! Its Halal Pork!!!
Remove those stickers from the halal food shelves that sell halal food, and stick them to their pork-filled food packages. That might just elude the nosy school disciple master, or that zanny fundie school principal, from denying the right to eat pork (As if these authorities even have the right to pry into the lunch boxes of kids in the first place!).
-“Pork - no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood; it is the superfluous riches of the farmer, and helps to pay the rent of the cottager.”
The Dreadfulness of Death & The Unhealthy Expectation of An Afterlife
Like any other species on this planet, human beings are ardent survivors in a challenging environment. Evolution has bestowed upon us the gift of a more exceptional brain than our primate counterparts, allowing us to break away from most of the trials and tribulations which almost every species on Earth has to contend with: Without our superior technology, Man will most likely be at the mercy of ferocious beasts (and they still do: occasionally, and sometimes quite often, stories of humans being bitten and eaten by animals remind us that without our fancy blink-blinks and weaponry, we are as vulnerable as suckling babies) in the natural environment.
Because of our inane sophistry, most of us live in relative safety and comfort: Our homes protect us from the savage elements of Mother Nature. City dwellers purchase their food from the supermarkets, much of it derived from agriculture and farming, hence negating the need to hunt for food. We are insulated from pretty much the worst whims of Mother Nature, and in that respect Man has more or less detached himself from Nature and her food chain.
This detachment, it seems, has become etched into our human consciousness over the sands of time: As an almost separate entity (At least we like to think of it along this superior train of thought), human beings have become obsessed with achieving a higher form of consciousness, or truth, if you will. We start to question and reason within and without, something which lower orders of animals, preoccupied with the more mundane affairs pertaining to life and death, couldn't have done. Our technologies and advancements derived from our ingenuity and civilized way of life began to give way to human ego: Since we are so god-damned special and high-strung, couldn't it be possible, that perhaps, we can completely escape the ignominous fate that hangs upon every living creature and organism, the very ominous clouds of impending doom which we call Death?
Religion, Death & The Afterlife
Death's Advocate: The Grim Reaper
Death is defined as the cessation of life: Quite clearly, death is comparable to a full-stop in a single sentence. A single sentence will still resume after a comma, which represents a single pause, but a full stop spells the inevitable end. Death works the same way: When life ceases to continue, death becomes the inevitable end to life. From the tiniest of microbes to living human beings, death is an inescapable fate of living things.
And it is this end that as a species, humans seem to have trouble grasping, perhaps out of an understandable fear of death, or the implication of the human ego. As superior creatures on this Earthly domain, we like to think that we can somehow transcend death, even if it means believing in a more superior deity who shows an affable affinity and love for us. In order to vindicate this incredulous idea, we devise religions crisscrossing every culture on this planet, with their elaborate rituals and dogma, so as to give a legitimate front to the absurd idea that death is not the omega of life.
It is with this unhealthy obsession and fear of death that religion exploits to the fullest: Heaven becomes an utopia of eternal enjoyment, as contrasted by the dichotomy of hell's searing inferno.
An Unhealthy Fear of Death & The Obsession of the Afterlife
To be brutally honest, every sane person & sane creature harbors some form of fear towards the spectra of death. An animal which is dead can no longer propagate its genes, much less enjoy the fruits of it's labor. In short, a healthy fear of death is a good sign: It simply translates into some form of awareness or defense against external threats, & it is with this in mind that fear becomes an extremely viable tool for survival.
Yet, like almost every other genetic traits or memes, there is a downside to an overdose: The idea that death renders life finite becomes so preposterous to a mind that is closed to the possibility of death, that we begin to let our imaginations take root, instead of searching for new frontiers such as medicine to prolong life and eradicate disease instead.
Cue religion. With its army of charlatans, soothsayers and doom sayers, Religion feasts upon Gullibility, which in turn is a bastard child of Fear, the pantheons of deities begin to manifest itself, dominating our psyches with fairy tales and searing our consciousness with unhappy delusions and trepidations of an afterlife in eternal abyss, all of which are undue punishments pandered out by the respective religions to buy allegiance into their expanding flock.
If a person becomes unduly besotted with the afterlife, then the person ceases to regard this life with due reverence: After all, why be caught up with the mundane affairs of mere mortals, when I shall be able to inherit an eternal body (or soul) which will allow me to live for an eternity? If one is to believe in the rewards of eternal bliss, the tawdriness of a mortal life seems to pale in comparison with such a wondrous utopia of eternal, heavenly bliss.
The Dangers of Believing In An Afterlife
It is with this notion and unfounded triviality towards the only life we are supposed to expect, that terrorists and crooks who don the sacred beliefs of their respective Gods have been able to kill with almost wild abandon, with no regards to the lives they take (infidels, are, after all, unworthy of any redemption) as well as theirs.
Ask any hardcore terrorist who is about to blow himself up with a self-attached bomb in a civilian-crowded bus, albeit a Jewish one, and the expected answer will be the sight of 72, glistening hymens belonging to the God-bestowed virgins in paradise. The most abhorrent and horrendous of ideas, martyrdom is nonetheless a powerful tool for people to willingly blow themselves up, along with their enemies, into smithereens, and one can hardly be expected to carry out such acts of self-immolation without invoking some form of reward in the afterlife.
Accepting The Inevitable & Striving For Emancipation
If anything else, history has shown us that most, if not all ideas borne out of fear are usually poor concepts which are detrimental to society in general.
While death is an unpleasant fact of life, we should not expect to live beyond this ultimate threshold, anymore than a person should expect to survive a fall off the edge of the cliff and still emerge unscathed.
Rather than become transfixed with the prospect of an eternal life, medical science and technology should be harnessed to prolong life as well as enhancing the quality of life.
With this rational realization in mind, we will be better equipped to live this life to the fullest: There is but one life, live it, and live it well. Be nice to your loved ones, and they will be nice to you. There is nothing intrinsically difficult about such ideals that we need to invoke some deity to teach us to learn such social behavior. We are, after all superior creatures, and that itself should give us the impetus to live a emancipated life without any unnecessary delusions and unfounded fears about the supernatural.
"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in 1787 letter to his nephew
MORE than four decades ago, former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow — then a young public officer in the Finance Ministry — was tagging along with former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee at a high-level United Nations meeting in Thailand.
After dinner one day during the discussion at the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, the minister insisted that a bemused Mr Ngiam follow him on an evening walk through the streets of Bangkok.
"After sweating up and down the hot and dusty pavements of the street in front of our hotel, I plucked up enough courage to ask Dr Goh what was the purpose of the exercise," said Mr Ngiam last Saturday at the National University of Singapore's Economics Alumni inaugural annual dinner. The event was attended by about 100 alumni from various years.
As it turned out, Dr Goh — widely regarded as Singapore's economic wizard — wanted to see "whether the shops were well stocked" in order to satisfy himself with the economic statistics put forth by the Bank of Thailand.
Mr Ngiam, now 70, also recalled how Dr Albert Winsemius, Singapore's first economics adviser, got his grandson to plot the changes in the number of job advertisements in the newspaper.
The chart his grandson produced "told him far more about the state of the Singapore economy than all the economic statistics I dutifully sent him each month", said Mr Ngiam.
Mr Ngiam was underlining the pitfalls of over-reliance on economic statistics without reality checks, especially in today's age of super-computers.
Another potential trap is how Singapore's "robust brand" of economics could turn out to be myopic, said Mr Ngiam.
Questioning the Monetary Authority of Singapore's use of the exchange rate as the key monetary policy instrument — while eschewing the interest rate as a tool — Mr Ngiam said that long-term growth could only be sustained by increases in productivity.
While wages here have skyrocketed in the last few months, economists have expressed concern over the sluggish growth in productivity.
Describing the Republic's productivity performance as "mediocre", Mr Ngiam pointed out how Singapore's Gross Domestic Product has expanded "largely on infusions of foreign labour".
Said Mr Ngiam: "MAS' catchphrase in its half-yearly review is that it will allow a modest appreciation of the Singapore dollar over time. Such a policy stance is realistic only if there is steady increase in our productivity growth."
And such shortsightedness has come back to haunt Singapore in some instances, Mr Ngiam added.
For example, the ongoing retrofitting of lifts to stop on every floor in HDB blocks is costing the Government "much more" than the intended "marginal" savings when it decided in the early years that the lifts should stop on alternate floors.
And even the top brains can sometimes be wrong — as evidenced by the "great MRT debate" of the mid-1970s, said Mr Ngiam.
Back then, a "powerful" team of Harvard economists assembled by the Finance Ministry had argued for an all-bus transport network instead of a bus-rail mass rapid transit system.
Dr Goh also argued that an all-bus system would be less risky than the $5 billion MRT system as the bus fleets "can expand incrementally bus by bus".
"It was a disruptive piece of reasoning," said Mr Ngiam, who had argued for a rail-based network on the basis that it would provide access to the whole island and push up property prices.
"The increase in the collection of property taxes would probably pay for the total cost of $5 billion to build the initial system," said Mr Ngiam, who added that the Government's final decision to build the MRT has been vindicated.
Reiterating that population issues are the most pressing concerns, cutting across the social, economic and political spheres, Mr Ngiam said he feared that "the tipping point of procreation has been reached" and falling birth rates "cannot be easily reversed".
While he confessed that he was "not clued up enough" to have a complete understanding of the current population policy, Mr Ngiam repeated his concern — which he first made in a People's Action Party newsletter last month — that Singapore should not be obsessed with bumping up the population for economic purposes, given the advances in technology and education standards.
Said Mr Ngiam: "The civil service is more adept at achieving quantitative than qualitative targets. Topping up our population en masse with immigrants may well create a population base larger than what our economy can sustain."
Plans for CCCs to get more funds to help the needy
Sheralyn Tay email@example.com
MORE MONEY for the needy, whenever and wherever it is needed.
And towards that end, the Government is considering an injection of funds into the Citizens Consultative Councils (CCCs), following a review.
This is in a bid to ensure that no Singaporean is left behind even as the cost of living inevitably creeps upward, said Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at a community dialogue session yesterday.
The candid discussion — which followed a ministerial walkabout at Changi-Simei — saw, unsurprisingly, many residents highlighting the issue of rising costs.
Acknowledging their concerns, Dr Balakrishnan reassured them that his ministry was monitoring the situation closely and was planning a review of community-level funding. "What we are thinking of right now is to make sure that grassroots organisations, in particular the CCCs, will have sufficient funds so that they can roll out additional assistance programmes," he said.
This can be in the form of more outreach programmes or vouchers for food and cash, Dr Balakrishnan added, saying that "this will make sure that we can give the assurance that nobody will go hungry".
Plans for the funding review are at "formulation stage" and more details will be shared at the next Budget session, he added.
Dr Balakrishnan also noted that the number of appeals to Community Development Councils and CCCs have gone down overall partly due to the buoyant economy, but he also said that some segments do not benefit from the upswing.
Currently, each of the 84 CCCs gets an average of about $42,000 a year and this is usually enough, he said, but a review would help ensure that funds are available should the need arise. This would especially be the case for CCCs with a larger pool of needy residents, such as Kreta Ayer, which has a disproportionate share of elderly and low-income residents.
Another area of focus is to ensure that children are not denied educational opportunities because their families cannot afford it, said Dr Balakrishnan. "In that area I am prepared to be more generous and to make sure that whatever happens with inflation or the economic front, that these children have optimal social environments in which to grow up in."
With the good economy and unemployment at a record low, Dr Balakrishnan said it was timely to ensure these social safety nets are in place so that society can withstand the pressures caused by rising costs and other challenges.
He also said that Commcare Call — a universal helpline service announced by MCYS Minister of State Mrs Yu-Foo Yee-Shoon earlier this year — would be set up to offer assistance for those who do not know where to go for help.
The toll-free 24-hour number, 1800-222-0000, which is now being tested, will go "live" next month and will be an integrated system — connected to all the relevant community agencies and organisations — to make sure that appropriate help is delivered in a timely and customised way, said Dr Balakrishnan.
These moves are to signal that his ministry "can and will do more" to ensure that help is "flexible, responsive and available", he said.
Ultimately though, he noted, it is cooperation from all sides — the Government, grassroots organisations and citizens — that will ensure that no one falls through the cracks.
LIVING ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, Mr Sim Boon Choon, 68, keeps his lights switched off in his one-room flat at night and has stopped eating out for all his meals to save money. But even then, he runs out of cash before the month is up. -- ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN
According to Eagle2004,
The theory of Marxism considers capitalism as exploitation of the working class i.e. proletariat, by the capitalists i.e. bourgeoisie, who control the means of production.
How does this exploitation happen? The working class, have no choice except to find work to survive, since they have no ownership of the factors of production.
The proletariat become the workers for the capitalist, slave for him & produce goods/services. Whatever they produce is the property of the capitalist, who sells them, & gets a certain amount of money in exchange.
A part of the wealth produced is used to pay the workers' salaries, & the surplus i.e extra becomes the capitalist's profit. As such, the capitalist earns money from the work of his staff (without doing any actual work himself).
Those who actually do the work, do not enjoy the rewards, & that is exploitation in teh eyes of the Marxists. They argue that capitalists make their money by exploiting the working classes.
Sounds familiar? Most of us are the mere cogs in the giant machinery of S'pore Inc.
Some MPs and social workers say pleas for financial aid from poorer residents are growing louder and more frequent with the rising cost of living By Jamie Ee Wen Wei and Nur Dianah Suhaimi
ADMINISTRATIVE assistant Noor Zeen earns $1,350 a month and has not paid her utility bills for the past four months.
Prices of everyday goods have gone up and she finds that she no longer earns enough to cover household expenses.
The 28-year-old divorcee said her monthly utility bill alone has gone up by at least $20. The breadwinner in her family, she lives in a four-room flat in Hougang with her mother, her eight-year-old son and her late aunt's two children.
Cash-strapped and with unpaid utility bills of about $600, Madam Noor asked her MP, Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC), for financial help last week.
After the soft-spoken woman poured out her financial woes, Madam Phua put her on short-term financial assistance that will provide her with $200 for the next three months.
The economy may be buoyant, but low-wage earners such as Madam Noor have been telling MPs and social workers that they can barely stay afloat because the cost of living has been going up.
These workers say that their wages are not rising as fast as inflation.
In October, inflation rose to a 16-year high of 3.6 per cent. Two months ago, prices of food staples such as bread and noodles went up by 20 per cent. Soaring oil prices have also driven up pump prices and electricity tariffs.
Median monthly starting pay for cleaners and labourers has in fact fallen by nearly one-third, from $860 to $600, between 1996 and last year.
=> And PAP still want to import more so-called FTs to depress their wages?! Twelve MPs and social workers interviewed said pleas for financial help from residents are growing louder but most could not give figures.
In Jalan Besar GRC, MP Lily Neo said she sees about 60 hard-luck cases a week at her Meet-the-People sessions. In the past, she saw about 40 cases.
She said: 'Each week, I find myself busier and busier, staying longer and longer, because there are so many people asking for financial help.''
Madam Halimah Yacob, an MP for Jurong GRC, said some of the low-income residents are holding two jobs and doing overtime, yet they still ask for rations of basic items such as cooking oil and Milo because they do not earn enough to feed their families.
=> Having job and earning a living is 2 different things, ok! Not able to survive financially while doing 2 jobs and OT shows us clearly just how well our current system is working for the locals.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC) observed that those on financial aid schemes are showing up more often at Meet-the-People Sessions.
'They used to come once every three months. Now, some come back every couple of weeks to ask for food and utility vouchers,' he said, because their cash is running out faster.
Mr Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said he was even told off by a retiree who had asked for financial aid.
The elderly man told the MP: 'I'm retired, in my 60s, have no job and living off my savings. But GST is up, food prices are up, inflation is up. The only thing that has not gone up is the banks' interest rates!'
Mr Sim Boon Choon, 68, is in the same boat as the retiree. He tries to stretch every cent of the $290 in public assistance that he receives every month.
A loaf of bread now costs 20 cents more and the price of a packet of 20 Milo sachets is up by 40 cents. Even chicken rice and kway teow soup at the hawker centre cost 50 cents more.
To save money, he has stopped eating out for all his meals. Dinner is a simple meal of bread and Milo. To save electricity, the bachelor does not switch on the lights in his one-room Telok Blangah flat.
Even then, he finds himself running out of money before the month is up. 'I'm already very thrifty but the money is still not enough,' he said in Hokkien.
In March, public welfare recipients such as Mr Sim had their monthly allowance raised from $260 to $290 to offset the impact of the GST hike and rising cost of living.
But social workers said the $30 increment is not enough, given that inflation has risen so high.
Ms Grace Lee, centre director of Care Corner Family Service Centre (Toa Payoh), said the centre has been receiving more requests for the monthly free food packages of rice, instant noodles and canned food.
At least 100 packages are handed out, compared to 80 a few months back.
Over at the Care Corner Seniors Activity Centre in Toa Payoh, programme executive Lim Siew Eng said the elderly poor who show up for free daily lunches are asking for larger portions to take home for dinner. A typical lunch consists of rice, mixed vegetables and meat.
MP Cynthia Phua said she has been advising the elderly in her ward to rent out the rooms in their flats to generate income.
She said: 'A can of luncheon meat used to cost $1.30. Now it's $2.50. Not everyone can afford that, especially the elderly who are not working and depending on handouts.'
MPs said that they try not to give cash to residents seeking aid because they cannot ensure that the money is spent on food. They prefer to give food vouchers.
While utility, service and conservancy rebates, and Workfare payouts have helped, the MPs hope that the Government would come up with schemes which help those without income cope with the rising cost of living.
Pasir Ris-Punggol's Mr Chong said: 'The current schemes that we have, such as Workfare, help those who work. But for the elderly who are retired and sickly, we need to find new schemes for them.'
The Government has said that it will not keep prices artificially low by controlling price increases to help people cope with the rising cost of living. Its aim is to get the basics right - housing, jobs and affordable necessities.
It also tops up the wages of low-income workers through Workfare and gives various cash handouts and rebates. A total of 2.4 million Singaporeans are eligible for $650 million in GST credits and senior citizens' bonuses this year.
It is not just the low income who are feeling the pinch. Mayor for Central Singapore district, Mr Zainudin Nordin, said families living in four- and five-room flats are trying to downgrade to smaller flats because they cannot afford the cash portion of their mortgage.
He said: 'These families find that they need that few hundred dollars for other necessities now that prices have gone up. They can't afford to put aside any cash for housing.'
For housewife Norliza Maidin, 40, the rising cost of living could not have come at a worse time.
Her husband was retrenched from his warehouse supervisor job last year and now earns $1,500 - $500 less than his previous pay.
The couple have two sons -- aged five and one - and Madam Norliza's elderly mother lives with them in a four-room flat in Jurong.
Madam Norliza limits the family's electricity usage to $3 a day, chooses the cheapest fish and buys the cheapest groceries.
But she still finds herself with no savings at the end of the month. Sometimes, she has to borrow money from friends.
After being out of the workforce for five years, she is back in the job market because she wants to supplement her husband's income.
'I want to save for a rainy day. And buy better food for my children, such as salmon and not just selar,' she said.
With inflation expected to go up to 4.5 per cent next year, MPs such as Madam Phua think that the number of financial aid requests they are receiving is only the tip of the iceberg.
She said: 'I believe more will ask for financial help. This is just the beginning.'
THE year is 2030. Now, imagine a Singapore with no Group Representative Constituencies (GRC), no defamation suits, no one-dominant party and personality.
This is what the young people who attended a session three weeks ago with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan seem to want. And the youngest Minister in the Cabinet seems prepared for such a scenario.
=> Shouldn't that be the way all along?!
"I'm not so obsessed with whether or not the PAP wins elections, what I am more interested in is the quality of candidates," said Dr Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, dismissing the suggestion that the People's Action Party (PAP) was fixated with one-party rule.
In fact, from a "purely national point of view", he felt that youth should even take up opposition politics if they do not want to join the PAP.
=> Then end the media control now! We all saw just how bias the media is during the GE2006.
Responding to a comment on how the ruling party and the opposition trip over themselves in claiming credit for improvement works in opposition wards, the Minister also urged the youth to look beyond the political "wayang".
"The PAP plays games, the opposition plays games … while all these games go on, make sure nobody loses out.
=> By denying lift upgrades to Potong Pasir, one of the oldest estate in S'pore, S'poreans are already losing out. Who is Mr Balakrishnan trying to kid?
"My point is not that we will not change. We will change but make sure that even as we change, that we understand the consequences … and are prepared," added Dr Balakrishnan, who reiterated that Singapore's political stability is a cornerstone of its success.
For a party that has forged a formidable reputation for the way it crushes political opponents, Dr Balakrishnan's words would get the optimist excited.
They would, at the very least, imply a tacit acceptance by the PAP that there is space for opposition politics.
Not so fast, said a political analyst, who applauded Dr Balakrishnan's "good statesmanship" in answering the way he did. But that is not the way the PAP "runs or plans things", she added.
"They play to win. If out of enlightened self-interest, the PAP changes the rules of the game then we have a whole new ball game," said the analyst.
Sceptics could even interpret Dr Balakrishan's answers as a clear slight on the quality of the opposition and how it would stay that way. And that if Singaporeans want more opposition in Parliament and more relaxed rules on public speaking, they have to be prepared for political instability and loss of foreign investments.
=> This is the most nonsensical argument I ever heard. In what way having a democratic political system will undermine political stability and lead to loss of foreign investment?! Is North Korea and Mainland China more stable and richer than South Korea and Japan?!
But the giveaway was this comment by Dr Balakrishnan: "Can we afford not to change? If the change is necessary for our survival or prosperity, then we must."
The political landscape is set for changes, if, and only if, the PAP Government sees their necessity in sustaining and promoting economic growth — not social progress.
Never mind if it means losing a few seats to the opposition as long as it serves the economic objectives. Never mind political diversity, it's the dollars and cents that matter.
But therein lies the conundrum. While economic and social objectives can be neatly compartmentalised in the early days of nation building, they become increasingly intertwined and untidy as a society matures.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, most Singaporeans had little choice but to stay and build up the Republic's economy.
Today, people uproot themselves to other countries when they disagree with Government policies or feel left out of the political process.
Which is why Singapore's political system has few options but to progress.
First, the playing field has to be level — a perception that is certainly lost on Singaporeans.
While politics is a dirty game everywhere, it has to appear to be fair and just.
The security sweeps — Operation Coldstore in 1963 and Operation Spectrum in the 1987 — against alleged communist movements had set back the two strongest opposition parties, the Barisan Socialis and the Workers Party, of the respective periods, albeit if it was an unintended outcome.
And while rules of the game apply equally to all, the opposition parties are still playing catch up while stuck in a vicious cycle: They cannot attract better candidates unless they make inroads into the government and vice versa.
While the elected presidency, in principle, guards against a rogue government by holding the key to the national reserves, hurdles must be put in place to prevent inept politicians from entering Parliament in the first place.
=> (S)elected Presidency you mean. How many time did we voted for our president since Mr Ong Teng Chong left the post?! How many times did our president Nathan report to us, Singaporean citizens, on the current status of out national reserves? ZERO! ZILCH! To be frank the president might not even know what he is guarding... Read this to find out more about Mr Ong presidency.
But such safeguards should be in the form of an independent media, strong civil society movement and Singaporeans' own critical thinking, not artificial barriers such as election deposits, the GRC system or the threat of defamation lawsuits.
While the GRC system was established with the stated intent of ensuring minority representation, it has inadvertently become an impediment not just for opposition parties but crucially, for aspiring independent politicians, who do not want to be tied down by the baggage of existing parties.
It has also deterred political competition by cutting off smaller political parties, while allowing larger ones to consolidate themselves.
In the 1984 elections (the last General Election before the GRC system was introduced), candidates from nine political parties and three independent candidates contested the polls.
In the 2006 GE, candidates contested under four party banners and there were zero independent candidates.
Given such statistics, it is not difficult to draw a link between these artificial hurdles and why fewer young Singaporeans are willing to enter politics — when their choice is limited to joining the PAP to have a more than half chance of winning.
By Dr Balakrishnan's own admission, "politics in 2030 cannot be politics in the 1960s".
"In 2030, if you are the Prime Minister, do you think you would have the same authority, overarching stature of someone like our Minister Mentor Lee (Kuan Yew)?" he added.
The days of personality-driven politics are long gone and future electoral battles would be about national policies as much as local politics. Opposition politicians banking on fiery rhetoric should be advised to back it up with sound policy alternatives.
The implications of a "collegiate" type of leadership, as Dr Balakrishnan put it, point to a more effective consultation process both within and without the government.
When no one person wields an inordinate amount of influence, diversity of views would flourish but it also makes it harder to push through policies — an argument that the PAP has made in support of one-party rule.
But while efficiency could be increasingly compromised, effectiveness need not. And that can only be ensured when there is a healthy process of political debate and consensus building, where opposing voices are satisfied that they have been heard even if the final decision goes against them.
The Government's aggressive drive for new citizens would pose political ramifications in time to come.
While these citizens would want to preserve the state of affairs that attracted them here in the first place, they are also the ones who would not be tied down by historical baggage when the situation turns for the worse.
In other words, in the event of a national crisis, new citizens would be the quickest to vote the government out, while Singapore-born voters bank their faith on the PAP's track record.
Which is why the PAP may find it worth its while to lose a few seats in the future — if only to keep an increasingly sophisticated electorate happy.
SINGAPORE: The government is easing regulations across the board on the hiring of foreign workers, in view of a tight labour market.
The overall unemployment rate fell to 1.7 percent in September this year – the lowest in almost a decade. The Manpower Ministry (MOM) said far more jobs are being created than locals can fill.
Amidst this tight labour market, companies said they have been finding it increasingly difficult to employ workers, especially locals.
That is why MOM is introducing a slew of measures to ease regulations on the hiring of foreign workers across all levels. With growing industry demand for mid-skilled, mid-level foreign workers, the quota of S-pass holders will be increased from 15 percent to 25 percent from January next year.
To ease the manpower pressure in the booming Construction, Process and Marine sectors, MOM will raise the dependency ratio for the Construction and Process sectors from 1 local worker : 5 foreign workers, to 1 local worker : 7 foreign workers from 1 January 2008.
It will also reduce the work experience requirement for workers in Construction from four to two years from next March, and raise the dependency ratio for the Marine sector from 1 local worker : 3 foreign workers, to 1 local worker : 5 foreign workers from 1 January.
As the Manufacturing and Services sectors also expect to enjoy high growth, they will be allowed a higher proportion of foreign workers in their workforce as well.
For Manufacturing, the ratio will be increased to 6.5 foreign workers for every 10 Singaporeans hired, and for Services, that figure is 5 foreign workers to 10 locals.
Refinements will also be made to the Personalised Employment Pass. Launched earlier this year, this scheme helps professionals to continue working in Singapore as it is tied to an individual's merits rather than a specific employer.
Announcing the changes at an event on Wednesday evening, Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen explained why they were necessary.
He said: "There isn't an inexhaustible supply of local workers and it has slowed down this year to about 2 percent. In the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2007 released earlier this year, Singapore emerged as having the most competitive labour market.
"One of the underlying factors is that companies here have access to the manpower that they need. Indeed, this must be a key concern for any company operating here, especially in the current tight labour market."
Industry players welcome the moves to ease the labour market.
Dr Robert Yap, YCH Group, said: "I'm sure this is something that's good for the industry. Our labour situation is getting very tight. With this tightness, you see job-hopping and all that, so it's affecting people like us who are entrepreneurs trying to build an organisation."
TEMASEK'S ongoing investment woes over its stakes in Indonesia's two biggest mobile telcos bring to mind some simple, eternal facts of corporate life.
First, investing abroad has always carried the risk that assets can be seized by foreign governments.
HSBC and Jardines lost control of their Chinese assets in 1949 when communists came to power in the mainland. In the 1960s, the Australian government forced mining firms to "Australianise" their shareholdings, upsetting the then predominantly British shareholders.
And just last year, energy companies operating in Venezuela and Bolivia had to accept new and less advantageous contracts to avoid cancellation. Shell and BP, too, have had their share of problems — in Russia.
Second, investments in banking and telecommunications (two of Temasek's favourite sectors) have three major weaknesses. Value in these sectors can be easily destroyed by government action or inaction. Both sectors are highly regulated because most governments regard them as "strategic industries". Nationalists are also sensitive to foreigners owning big stakes in these sectors.
The controversies surrounding Temasek's acquisition of Shin Corp — the telco once controlled by the Thaksin family — and the two investments in Indonesia's Telkomsel and Indosat, illustrate these weaknesses vividly.
And it is difficult to exit major investments in these sectors. Whatever the law may say, any sale must have the blessing of the host government. If Temasek wants to cash in on the huge returns it has made from its 6-per-cent stake in China Construction Bank or its 5-per-cent stake in Bank of China, potential buyers would want the assurance that any sale was acceptable to the Chinese authorities.
Third, most countries, developed and developing, have a history of economic nationalism. Who can blame Asian nations for being afraid of foreign investors?
India, Indonesia and South Korea were colonies of Britain, the Netherlands and Japan respectively for almost half of the 20th century, and in the first two instances, the whole of the 19th century. The British and French interfered extensively in Thailand while China was bullied and occupied by the Western powers and Japan.
And don't forget that the British and Dutch began as traders before becoming colonisers.
Incidentally, Britain and Australia, at least on the surface, seem to be the only two countries which are not too worried about foreigners owning major stakes in "commanding heights" companies. British ports, airports, power stations, water utilities and financial institutions are owned by foreigners.
The British appear to have adopted this attitude: If foreigners are prepared to pay huge sums for assets that cannot be moved, the locals should take the money and invest it elsewhere.
And if the foreigners have overpaid — as some analysts believed was the case in the purchase of the British Airport Authority, where the winning consortium, which included the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, paid £10.3 billion ($30.6 billion) — and are having operational and funding problems, that's their problem.
So, sceptical of foreign investors in general, many people in these nationalistic countries are naturally concerned when a firm owned by a foreign government invests in their country.
They tend to project their personal and historical experiences and prejudices onto the investing firm — and that is their governments interfere in state-owned and private businesses.
For example, China, India and Indonesia have forced banks to lend liberally to state-owned companies; while the South Korean government once directed Korean banks to lend money to privately-owned conglomerates to help them expand overseas. Profits are secondary. National, political or strategic considerations are more important.
So, even though Brand Singapore has a reputation for straight-talking and honesty, a statement like, "all the companies in our portfolio are independently managed with responsibilities to their respective board and shareholders", would be met with a shrug or a wink — "they would say this, wouldn't they?" Anyway, governments and policies can change.
Next, good governance — political or corporate — is rare outside the developed world. We forget this at our peril.
Last week's Weekend Xtra on the Indosat/Telkomsel case describes the alleged skulduggery that seems to be going on in the background — of inconvenient evidence being ignored and of prejudgment of the case.
It doesn't reflect well on Indonesia's investment climate; but to be fair to Indonesia, there are countries where worse things are alleged to have happened.
Finally, don't expect gratitude, especially if one makes money. Temasek itself and its 56-per-cent owned subsidiary SingTel made major telecom investments in Indonesia when other investors didn't want to know about the country.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Indonesian nationalists should be grateful that firms from an Asean neighbour bought these assets, not some insensitive investor from a Western country with a history of exploiting the "natives".
Incidentally, Temasek's problems over Shin Corp and Indosat/Telkomsel reflect difficulties Asean could face in plans for an integrated economy.
If Thailand and Indonesia, two of the more developed Asean economies, have problems in accepting investments in their telco sectors from a fellow founding Asean neighbour, what chance of success in other areas like aviation, financial services and logistics?
Adrian Tan is a freelance financial writer. ADRIAN TAN
Mr. Wong Kan Seng Minister for Home Affairs New Phoenix Park, 28 Irrawaddy Road Singapore 329560 firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to refer you to the incident that occurred on 20 November 2007 along Orange Grove Road when Mr John Tan and I were illegally detained by the police.
The intent of this letter is not to inform you of the incident as I am certain you have been quite thoroughly apprised. Instead I would like to seek several clarifications from you as the Minister for Home Affairs.
Although Mr Tan and I were told that we were in a Protected Area, at no time did the police say that we were trespassing or forbidden to be in the vicinity. None of the police officers were able to cite any law that prohibited us from going to the Shangri-la Hotel.
What right did the police have to stop Mr Tan and I from going towards the Shangri-la Hotel after having been told that we were going there for a meal?
When asked if we had committed any offence and if we were being arrested, we were categorically told “no” to both questions. That being the case, what right did the police have in man-handling and forcing us into a vehicle?
If the vehicle belonged to the Singapore Police Force, why was it unmarked?
Was it legal for the police to take us to a place against our will when we had not committed any offence?
What right did the police have in not only harassing but manhandling Mr Tan and me?
What right did the police have in forcefully taking us away to a place when we were not under arrest?
In addition to this, Mr Tan was prevented from leaving the police vehicle when we were brought to Orchard Hotel? The police had restrained him and he had to physically struggle with the officers to get out of the van. Is this not a form of physical abuse?
The actions of the police in the mentioned incident is a grave violation of our constitutional rights, individual liberties and personal security.
How can it be said that the Singapore is built on the rule of law when those of us living in this country can be subjected to such arbitrary, illegitimate and physical actions by the police?
WITH the number of new citizens and PRs expected to outstrip last year's record figure of 70,500, cracks are already appearing not just between different ethnic groups, but also within races.
This sobering observation came from Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was speaking at the 10th anniversary of the Community Development Councils (CDCs) on Friday, as he outlined the challenges facing them.
Mr Goh related how there are already signs of Singaporeans lowering their trust towards one another.
At his annual reception in his Marine Parade constituency for new citizens and PRs, Mr Goh noticed how "the new residents did not mix easily with Singaporeans" and Singaporeans, in turn, "tended to leave them alone".
And within the Chinese and Indian communities, crevices are deepening.
Said Mr Goh: "In terms of accent, culture and habit, Chinese Singaporeans are different from their PRC counterparts. As for Indians, I have heard that the Indians from India tend to bring their caste culture with them, and that some of them sometimes come across as sikit atas (slight air of superiority) to our local Indians.
"On the other hand, some Indian Singaporeans also display the same attitude towards the many low-skilled workers from India."
Citing the studies of Harvard University political science dean Robert Putnam, Mr Goh said that the phenomenon of "hunkering down" takes place as a society becomes more diverse and multi-cultural. Left unchecked, it would reduce social solidarity and erode community trust. For example, people will have a lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
And as Singapore must continue to open its doors to new immigrants to boost its population and economy, Mr Goh hopes the CDCs would "find ways to bond new Singaporeans and PRs to our people".
He also identified two other social divides that must be bridged: That between less well-off and more successful Singaporeans, and also the gap between the elderly and the young.
Said Mr Goh: "We must involve more successful Singaporeans in a concerted community effort to help the poor and the dysfunctional families."
Likewise, Singaporeans have a critical role to play to help senior citizens lead active lives.
Apart from employers, the mindset of Singaporeans towards their elderly parents must also change.
He added: "Children sometimes discourage their own elderly parents from leading active lives … . In truth, the 60-year-old of today is very different from the 60-year-old of 20 years ago."
Mapping out the priorities for the CDCs, Mr Goh said they must enlarge the common space which brings together Singaporeans and immigrants.
On top of intra-group bonding within faith-based organisations or various professional and interest groups, the CDCs have to "encourage inter-mingling" between the disparate groups.
CDCs should also engage in "preventive intervention", instead of providing "downstream pain relief".
One positive example is the Home Ownership Plus Education programme, which helps families become self-reliant through housing and training grants, as well as education bursaries for their children to help them break out of the poverty cycle.
Likewise, efforts to promote active ageing should begin before retirement, said Mr Goh.
While there are existing programmes to address these social divides, Mr Goh called on the CDCs to do so "holistically".
Otherwise, he said, Singapore's social unity would be "eroded gradually and imperceptibly but with long-term implications on the harmony of our society".
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Carol John, 27, doesn't own a bed. Every night she sleeps on thin mattresses which she shares with her three young children. Outside her one-room flat, a smell of sewage lingers in the common corridor.
Just a few kilometers away, on Singapore's Sentosa island, Madhupati Singhania relaxes on his $435,000 yacht berthed at the city-state's swanky One 15 Marina Club.
Income inequality is nothing new in free-market Singapore, but two years of blistering economic growth and a government policy of attracting wealthy expatriates have created a new class of super-rich, while a string of price increases for everything from bread to bus fares have made life harder for the poor.
"I can't save anything, it's so difficult for me," John told Reuters. John, who is unemployed, relies on her husband's S$600 (US$420) monthly salary and a S$100 government handout.
"We don't benefit at all from the economy. As far as I know, my husband's pay hasn't gone up," she said.
Singapore's economy is firing on all cylinders, with a booming construction sector, record tourist arrivals and a fast-growing financial sector all contributing to a gross domestic product set to grow nearly 8 percent in 2007.
But the rising tide is not lifting every boat.
The proportion of Singapore residents earning less than S$1,000 ($690) a month rose to 18 percent last year, from 16 percent in 2002, central bank data released late last month show.
At the same time, the proportion of those earning S$8,000 and above rose from 4.7 percent to 6 percent in the same period.
"When a country becomes richer, you tend to see a widening of income inequality. Over the last few years it has been worse," said econometrics professor Anthony Tay at SMU university.
Despite sporting a first-world GDP per capita of $29,000 -- second only to Japan in Asia -- Singapore has an income inequality profile more in line with third-world countries.
Singapore's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has worsened from 42.5 in 1998 to 47.2 in 2006, and is now in league with the Philippines (46.1) and Guatemala (48.3), and worse than China (44.7), data from Singapore's Household Survey and the World Bank show.
Other wealthy Asian nations such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan have more European-style Ginis of 24.9, 31.6 and 32.6.
FAST CARS, BIG BOATS
CIMB-GK Research economist Song Seng Wun believes that growth itself partly explains the widening income gap.
"In an environment where growth is huge, there are lots of opportunities for risk takers, and inevitably, you will get this widening (of the income gap)," he said, adding that those in stable jobs will also benefit, but to a lesser extent.
Opportunity is what attracted Singhania to Singapore. He intends to buy a new 47-foot yacht for $1.3 million.
"You've got everything you want in Singapore. You want to buy a fast car, you want to buy a big boat, you want to buy an aeroplane, whatever you need, you can get in this country."
Singhania, who runs a business consultancy firm, was originally from Mumbai but decided to move to Singapore and become a Singapore citizen, citing its first-world comforts.
The Asian Development Bank blames the widening income gap in Singapore and many other Asia countries partly on globalization, which it said favors the well-educated, and recommended policies to create more equal opportunities and wealth.
Singapore's government has made the reduction of the income gap a priority, but argues welfare should not be a crutch, and rules out unemployment benefits or a minimum wage.
While the ruling People's Action Party is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament, the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.
"There is definitely envy, but this is not enough for civil disturbance," said sociologist Ho Kong Chong at NUS university.
"These emotions of despair and desperation are missing in Singapore because of the government's housing policy and transfer payments," Ho said.
Singapore's extensive housing program provides owner-financed flats in government-built blocks and the state also provides modest income supplements to those in low-income jobs, although there are no unemployment benefits.
Carol John, who left school when she was 15, does not know much about support schemes. "In the years to come, I'll just leave it in God's hands, whatever he gives me, I'll take it."