the social slums amidst our affluence

Today we celebrate 41 years of success and great leap forwards. On the media, on air or on prints, it is very comforting to see all the smiling faces of people who are well fed, well schooled, well clothed, secured and living a life of plenty, and all happy and confident of the future. Last night at 9pm, there was a short docu drama of an obscure woman with a simple title, Life Story: Mdm Tan Chin Neo. I was just back and flipped on the tv button to catch the last glimpses when the story ended. An elder woman in Mdm Tan and three little grandchildren sharing some biscuits from a plastic bottle. The biscuits looked like Jacob's but definitely not. The last comment from Mdm Tan was a resigned. 'We just live from day to day.' They have lived without light in their lives. There is no electricity in their little flat. We are a nation with tremendous wealth. We build beautiful houses and infrastructure and landscapes to complement and match the grandeur of huge detached houses and fine architecture around the island. It just does not look good to have the ugly slums amidst all the beautiful homes. If there are, we will look no different from some less developed third world cities. A picture of contrast with little oasis of wealth and unkept, disorganised and broken down slums standing side by side. We have taken great care to present a wholesome picture of the physical structures around the island. Clean, organised, well kept and well planned and well maintained, green and full of flora. An admirable and envious garden city. We spent great amount of resources in developing our physical infrastructure but somehow neglected the social map of our society. Mdm Tan and people like her, are the slums among us. The slums that were kept away from view under a veil. Almost, if Mediacorp does not think it relevant on the eve of our National Day to show the other side of the 4 million smiles. Why would the govt spent so much on beautifying the island and clear away all the slums? Shouldn't the slums be left where they are, no upgrading? As a nation progress, it looks better that the whole package moves in tandem. It will be an awful sight dressed to the nines to dine in a surrounding of slums and broken down huts, and foul smelling air. If we can do that to the physical, I am wondering why we can do away the social slums at the same time. Or is it better to showcase them for a tug of the heartstring to raise funds? The govt has many roles and responsibilities to the people and nation. It is not their responsibility to make sure that everyone is taken care off with public fund. It would be better that they provide the environment and opportunity for everyone able to take care and prosper by their own effort. That they are doing quite well. But yes, the govt or the people(voluntarily) should take care of the stragglers who have been left behind. This is what a civil society is all about. Those who needed help should be helped when funds are available. It is different from a govt spending all its resources and funds to help and the people all be content to stretch out their hands to just to take. This responsibility of the govt is towards a small group of people that constitutes the slums in our affluent social map. We have eradicated our physical slums. And it is time that the social slums be dealt with and be removed from among us. Is it unbelieveable to know that $500 million given to Comcare, plus the millions from all the charities, are unable to work out a comprehensive strategy to reach out to all those who need help. It is evident that all the efforts were badly coordinated and many were done piecemeal and not a complete solution to the individual problems. It is a case of too many hands, too many funds and a big mess.


Speedwing said...


Isn't this piece on the same thread as your previous article " a sunday observation at a foodcourt"?

You seem to have a thing about the "social imbalance" in the world. We all know that this is very predominent in the third world countries, but I should think that here in Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia, this kind of extreme imbalance does not exist. You must have been mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Actually, speed, it is even worse in so-called first world country like sg. because of our sophisticated legal system, we are able to bend the truth and make what would ordinarily be a crime look absolutely legal. So Robert Mugabe would be siphoning off billions from his country's Treasury and everyone in his country knows what he is doing and no one will even attempt to even contemplate what he is doing is right by any stretch of the imgination. here, all that needs to be done is pass a couple of bills in parliament that in effect transfers money from the national treasury into the pay packets of the people making those laws and just call it "paying market salaries" and presto, we are squeaky clean, no corruption exists here.

Speedwing said...

Hi anonymous, I agree with you but to a certain point only. If the population of a certain country allows the bills to be passed to permit high salaries for some people of the country, then I see no wrong in that. In any democratic country, the government in charge has the right to pass any bills. If these bills are not popular then the people of that country should show their displeasure through the ballot box.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, in a democratic country this govt that is lording over the people and trampling their rights would have been voted out a long time ago. Unfortunately for us, we are not a democracy but rather a one-party dictatorship, dressed up as a democracy.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Picking up from anon 2:06 —

When the rights of the people are trampled on, the weakest members of society bear the brunt.

Those of us with reasonable communication skills, have something to offer in the market which keeps our bellies full, and have a little bit more spirit to not accept the govt-imposed "status quo", are better able to withstand the adverse effects of govt. intervention.

ALL forms of govt intervention produce shortages. The first thing to get "scarce" is FREEDOM. When a govt interferes, freedom is the first casulty.

And here's the crux: the richer or wealthier you are, the better you can withstand oppression — because you need RESOURCES to ward off the threat.

If you are poor, you are essentially fucked.

Speedwing said...

Well put, matillah. As this is so common in our society, why then is redbean bringing this point up time and time again? Either we accept this as one of the many unpleasent by-products of democracy or we do something about it. No use discussing this on blog over and over again. Neither does it fill bellies nor does it solve this social imbalance.

Matilah_Singapura said...

I don't think the cause of poverty is a side effect of success or democracy... I don't agree nor disagree on whether the "less fortunate" should be helped or left alone to sort it out.

The facts are clear: govt tramples on rights, if you are "weaker"— you get trampled on more.

Should the trampled-on and weak be "helped"? redbean (Peace be unto His holy name) seems to think so.

My position is this: human beings can do anything they damn well choose. If you *think* something needs to be "fixed" because it is bugging you, don't debate or argue about it.

Get off your arse and do something in the objective reality which will — at least in your own judgement — "make a difference".

The issue I have with redbean (Peace be unto Him) is that they either expect the GOVT to "fix the problem" or condemn the "rich" for being "too greedy and selfish" to do something to "fix the problem" too.

Meanwhile, those who "think" the "needy" ought to be helped, are not doing anything about it but post silly "philosophical treatises" and "moral edicts" on the internet.

No "problem" ever got solved without POSITIVE ACTION directed in the REAL WORLD toward the solution of the problem in question.

You want something fixed? Go out and set a bloody good fucking example.

Then maybe lazy, selfish and content people like myself might be "inspired" to contribute to your "cause", dropping all our "important infidel activities" to help our fellow man.

Not everyone in hell-bent on "helping their fellow man".

I wonder if redbean understands that?? ;-)

Anonymous said...

well said, matilah. i've grown weary of trying to impress our benevolent host that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. trust me, he will come back and respond with his rehashed 'not everyone can be mavericks' defense. I'm glad there is now another one who believes in what I believe ie. no one in this world owes you anything, you have to do what's best for you and not hope a compassionate govt will rescue you from the pits should you ever find yourself in one. I rest my case.

redbean said...

Lord Matilah,
as an individual with limited resources, there is a limit to what one can do. my organisation has several thousand people, but it can just do so little.

the govt is trying to do something. $500 million in comcare can do a lot of wonders if the objective is to make life less miserable for those who needed help, with a comprehensive package. what is being done is piecemeal and that is not effective.

i will pull out my reply to you in redbeanforum to post it here.

redbean said...


May the Lord be kind to you my son.

Thanks and many thanks to elevate me to the status of pbuh. Now I shall speak with greater authority when all authority under the heaven is bestowed on me by Matilah.

I have no gripes about rich people who are rich by their own abilities. I am more cynical of rich people who were given richness by the state and think that it is their right to receive them, and keep piling up and lining their pockets with more. Don't get me wrong, I am referring to the new millionaires under the NEP when govt organisations were privatised and money and stocks shafted into their pockets. People who collected a ransom from the state could be a little more generous to the less fortunate.

The enterprising people who fought with tooth and nails to earn their millions are worthy of every cent they made and it is up to their selfish interest to share or not to share a little. But when state funds are concerned, the distribution of wealth should reach those who really need them, and with a comprehensive package that can give them a life that is as normal as possible. No riches or extravagance. So far it is done on a piece meal basis and probably will last for 3 weeks or 3 months with a paltry sum.

If the system can be so generous in creating instant millionaires, it should be able to make the miserables less miserable. Public funds, in hundreds of millions can do a lot of wonders. But when they are dished out in drips and draps, it is always too little to do any good. The recipients will be like the beggars on the roadside. Enough for a day or two, but to return to the street to beg again and again.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Summarising my point:

Just because someone is "needy", that doesn't grant hime the AUTOMATIC right to ==> • MY • <== PROPERTY.

If I give, that is my choice, and the reasons are by my own standards.

I won't be forced by someone else like "a government" or "society", or any unruly mob — which would presume violence as a means to justify whatever neurotic ends that "united" mob (they like "united". It sounds "noble") has in mind as a "shared value".

Fuck that shit.

Don't steal or take by force. That's IMMORAL!

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