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21 Feb 2012, 12.12AM
by Mah Yi Xin
Yi Xin is interested in any novel ideas such as social entrepreneurship in the local context as well as community development. She is an optimistic realist and hopes to visit Bhutan one day. Yi Xin has also been a Youth Ambassador with REACH since 2010.

The theme of this year’s budget, “An Inclusive Society, A Stronger Singapore” struck a chord with me. It reflects the government’s recognition that certain pockets of society have been left behind in our relentless pursuit of economic growth, and much could and should be done to help them as best as possible.  

I am particularly heartened by the government’s initiative to ‘ Help Seniors Unlock (their) Savings” and to “Expand (existing) Healthcare Facilities” respectively.

Help Seniors Unlock Savings

E.1. First, we will introduce a Silver Housing Bonus of $20,000.

E.2. This Bonus will be given to older Singaporeans who wish to sell their existing flats and purchase 3-room or smaller HDB flats. Many of our senior citizens are in fact keen to do so – the great popularity of our Studio Apartments speaks for itself. It is not just a desire to unlock their savings, but that the apartments are practically designed for them. And they have nearby amenities that cater to the elderly, such as Senior Activity Centres. We will be building more Studio Apartments in the next few years.


Expand Healthcare Facilities

E.51.      Third, we will more than double the capacity in long term care services by 2020. This includes nursing homes, home-based health and social care services, day care and rehabilitation facilities, and Senior Activity Centres. We will also improve access to polyclinics and introduce new models of care, such as Medical Centres that provide specialist outpatient services in the community.


However, while we focus on the tangible aspects of “ Studio Apartments”, “Senior Activity Centres” and “Medical Centres”, which are in high demand among the elderly as stated in the Budget, it is equally important to reflect on the ‘values’ of the rest of society, who must share their spaces with the elderly, sometimes rather un-reluctantly.

The Straits Times article “Not in my backyard" attitude: How MPs handle it” published on 11th February comes to mind. Three particular concepts stand out- that of “government’, ‘family’ and ‘Asian values’. Through this article, it is revealed that the soft authoritarian notion of the state must now face up to an increasingly demanding and vocal electorate. Second, family values among the masses appear to be overwhelmed by pragmatic ‘material interests’. Finally, the notion of ‘filial piety’ as an ‘Asian value’ is discounted by evidence in the article.

First, various Members-of-Parliament (MPs) cited that Singaporeans are increasingly demanding and vocal especially after the May General Elections in 2011. An educated electorate has more opinions and arguably greater willingness to speak up. This is seen in how more ‘dialogue sessions’ are held, greater ‘time and effort’ is spent in engaging the public and MPs must now ‘win over the ground’. Thus, a leviathan state which imposes top-down policies is compromised with a public preference for bottom-up and ground-up suggestions. Hence, the present challenge is for the government to implement the aforementioned policies benefitting the elderly, as outlined in the Budget, amongst the surge of public opinion and background noises. Afterall, Singapore’s parliamentary democratic system and the need to win elections necessitate a delicate balance of multiple interests.

 To me, the erosion of family values is hinted at in the article. It is cited that there is a preference by residents for ‘elderly care centers’ to be ‘sited far, far away’ because of their association with ‘sickness and death’, which residents feel result in a drop in property valuation. It would be double standards if an individual cares only about one’s elderly parent or relative, but chooses to disregard the interests of elderly who are strangers to them. Similarly, through the above example, one could not help wondering if filial piety towards one’s elderly parents may also be at stake, as residents are portrayed to be eager to discount the needs of the elderly. (Of course, the small sample size does not speak for everyone, but still raises pertinent questions) Education is cited as a reason for increasing demands and opinions, as seen in the above paragraph. However, one wonders if there is a negative correlation between education and communal values. While increased education may lead to greater awareness of information such as the causes and effects of a drop/rise in property value, at the same time, it has resulted in an overly pragmatic hence extremely self-interested group of people. 

Third, the overall notion of “Asian values’, so often defended by the incumbent, raises question. “Asian values” emphasize on the community over the individual, authoritarianism over freedom of expression, and espouse Confucianism over democracy, so as to allow the government to implement policies effectively from a top-down approach. Yet, what one observes is that “Asian values” prescribed by the government are not so apparent in reality, as there is resistance too. Individual interests over property prices take priority over the community and elderly residents. The ‘not in my backyard attitude’ is seen in many different episodes and housing estates, as pointed out in the article, hence cannot be said to be isolated.  

One comes to the following conclusion: When public opinions are increasingly loud, government policies should not reflect populist sentiments at the expense of policies benefitting the elderly. Second, communal values seem to be swayed by self interests and pragmatism. This has implications, on whether it is still possible for the government to help the elderly while winning over the hearts and minds of other citizens. One would recommend a re-examination of the Moral and Civics curriculum education in schools, and to emphasize on community service and communal values over academic results. This ensures that economic progress in Singapore is not only quantitative (increase in property valuation), but qualitative as well. 





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