Tag: The Nanyang Chronicle

Life in the visible spectrum

We all need light to see.

Without light, red roses and yellow sunflowers are lost to us.

Although light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, it determines what we can and cannot see.

So, in a way, our “view” of the world is limited, but this limitation establishes a common ground for us to explore and interpret our world.

Things work because most of us can identify colours — just think about traffic lights for instance.

However, have you ever seen life beyond this light?

Equipment like night vision goggles use infrared waves — another part of the electromagnetic spectrum — to let us see in the dark.

Similarly, my exchange program to the USA has broadened my vision (figuratively of course, I still have yet to acquire that mythical X-ray vision).

As some of my classmates in America have said, everyone here chases the American Dream, “a nice house, two dogs and a backyard”.

It does not sound that much different from what we dream in Singapore.

In Singapore, the sight at the end of the race is a rich and comfortable life, and to do that you get yourself a degree or a stable job. We always try to make economic sense.

However, in America, people also chase dreams and ideals, intangible things that would be invisible to most of us in Singapore.

For example, while pursuing civil liberties like freedom of speech may not exactly help the government carry out policies smoothly — hence the lingering problems in America — it gives the citizens a sense of importance, the belief in being able to change things.

One of the most vivid memories I had was when I attended the anti-war protest at the National Mall.

As I took the metro that Saturday morning, it was packed with people holding placards with personalised messages displaying their hopes for the Iraq war to end.

I do not think anyone benefited economically from that event, and it might have cost losses and inconveniences. But I could image how empowered they felt.

It seemed to me that Americans were not solely concerned with the ends, but often the means to the ends too.

Environmental issues, minority rights and historical preservation — these are just some of the things that stood in the way of America bulldozing its way to becoming a state as efficient and well-run like Singapore.

I say this because the rich and powerful nation is still steeped in social problems.

Public housing and transportation are not as efficient as they are in Singapore, and much poverty and inequality linger.

Here was a country which I thought had enough resources to give its citizens a comfortable life.

Hence, when I first compared it to Singapore, I felt luckier to be living in the latter — life was indeed more comfortable back home.

However, this initial perspective that I had of America was in the light of me being a Singaporean.

As the days went by and my vision broadened, the things I saw in America started to make more sense.

In some ways, Americans and Singaporeans really looked at life in the same light. However, while the latter was stuck on a more focused spectrum, the former saw wider.

I could see for myself why Singapore is such an economic success: we had a focused vision on what we wanted and we worked as one towards it.

If we had a wider vision of life and were thus divided in our dreams then, it would have been so much harder to achieve the way of life we have now.

However, now that we have become an economic success, I am starting to yearn for more than just a comfortable life.

I want to lead an even more meaningful life, by knowing that I have made a difference to this world.

I have seen in America how people fought for ideals, improvements and rights — this fighting spirit and purposeful outlook of life are invisible to the Singaporean vision.

Personally, I feel the economic success we have has opened more opportunities for me to pursue the intangibles in life.

As a young nation with little historical baggage and the benefits of economic stability, I feel now is the time for more of us to broaden our vision and see beyond mere economic value in our live and actions, beyond our limited spectrum.

The Nanyang Chronicle, 12th March 2007

Treat companies well, but workers better

Over Christmas dinner, my mother lamented the time when just one working parent could support the family. My cousin, who had just started work, agreed, and added that couples today had to combine their incomes to raise a family.

That, I feel, summarises the state of the Singapore worker today — working longer hours just to raise a family and live in relative comfort.

The government’s plan to incrase the Goods & Services Tax (GST) only adds to the woe of the workers. Everyone will have to pay more for essentials.

Furthermore, GST is a regressive tax, which means that the lower-income will be hit the hardest, since a bigger proportion of their income will go to GST.

Despite the government’s claims that there will be scheme such as Workfare to offset the GST burdern for the lower-income, I question Workfare’s effectiveness, and for how long it can be sustained. The whole scheme of things seems to be geared towards everyone having to chase prices that will never stop rising.

Second Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam argued that the increase in GST is part of a larger effort to increase revenue “so that all Singaporeans enjoy better growth, lift all boats, so… everyone is better off.”

But are all the “boats” ready to be liefted, and is everyone comfortable in their boat? Some workers may only be rowing sampans, and the slightest wave will cause them to overturn. In fact, those most likely to benefit would be those who already have big boats.

Perhaps, the extra revenue would indeed benefit all, but do we really need the estimated $1.5 billion generated from the rise in GST so badly?

With the upcoming plan to amend the Constitution to redefine Net Investment Income (NII) to include realised capital gains, NII has been estimated to grow up to $5 billion from fiscal year 2005’s $2.67 billion.

Based on this estimated figure, the government has $2.5 billion to finance its programmes, since the constituttion allows the government to spend up to half of NII.

What are the exact plans for the extra revenue to be raised by the GST hike?

No one knows at the moment, but details are likely to be released when the Budget is announced in March. Perhaps the current uncertainty adds to the feeling of scepticism about the hike.

Even if the revenue was needed, one alternative might be to raise corporate tax. Instead, the government has plans to reduce corporate tax further.

Couple with the rise in GST, it seems the corporations will hold workers hostage, since workers will be made to pay more in their daily lives. This indirectly pays for the loss of tax revenue from lowering the corporate taxes so as to attract these corporations to set shop here and drive growth in our economy.

The on-going Central Provident Funds (CPF) debate also suggests such thinking.

When times were bad, workers took a cut in CPF contributions, but now that the economy is doing well, many corporations are hesitant to return to the former levels of contribution. Workers seem to be getting a raw deal again.

Some might argue that raising corporate taxes would mean that corporations pass on these costs to employees and customers with lower pay and higher prices respectively. I would argue that with higher corporate taxes, more money goes to the government who can in turn use it to our best interests, like funding for the social programs it promises with the rise in GST.

Most importantly, workers should be treated better just because they are human beings.

Are we born merely to work and make ends meet? No.

My grandmother once spoke of working hard in life in order to retire and enjoy her golden years. Today, senior citizens serve me at fast-food restaurants.

I remember a time when my parents came home to eat dinner as a family. Today, we eat outside the home, often alone. My friends used to talk about their ambitions in life. Today, we worry about not being able to find jobs after leaving school.

The government should take a leaf out of its latest policy to reduce subsidies for permanent residents and foreigners in healthcare and education services so as to “treat foreigners well, but Singaporeans better.”

The tax burden could be shifted to corporations so as to treat companies well, but workers better.

Similarly, CPF contributions should be returned to their original levels.

That would be a good way to guide the Budget for 2007.

The Nanyang Chronicle, 8th January 2007