Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s response to a complaint by a hawker clearly demonstrated the Minister’s lack of empathy for the difficulties that ordinary Singaporeans face.
Mr Douglas Ng, a young hawker who sold fishball noodles, had complained about the PAP government setting ceiling prices for hawker food at NTUC-run stalls.
Mr Ng said that it is unfair to cap prices as basic ingredients are expensive. He wrote in his Facebook: “How can we expect hawkers to make a decent living?”
But instead of helping him resolve the problem, Dr Balakrishnan said that rental rates of hawker stalls are low. He ignores other costs.
For example, Mr Ng’s noodle supplier has to pay high rent for his shop (the landlord, by the way, is probably the PAP government) and he is going to pass the cost on to Mr Ng. And what about utilities? Electricity tariffs was raised in June this year and gas tariffs just went up today. Then there is transportation cost. Hawkers and other small businesses need vehicles to ferry their goods and supplies. With COEs at the current rate, how does one run a business and make it profitable?
To be absolutely clear, these problems are all PAP made.
And yet, Dr Balakrishnan avoids mentioning them, choosing to tell the young hawker that his rent is low. How does this help Mr Ng who still faces the problem of trying to make a living from hawking?
Businesses, especially small businesses, are finding it hard to survive because of high shop-rent – much of which is collected by Government-owned real estate conglomerates like MapleTree and CapitaLand.
The cost from the high rentals is then passed on to the consumer. This is why Singapore has become the most expensive city in the world.
Yet, we have ministers who live in a world of their own, unable to understand the hardships of the average Singaporean.
In 2007, for example, when PAP MP Dr Lily Neo pointed out that meals at hawker centres were too expensive for the poor, Dr Balakrishnan haughtily replied: “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant? ”
His colleague Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Tan Chuan Jin mused that some of our elderly poor collected cardboard because they wanted to “exercise”.
To top it off, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore needed “natural aristocrats” without which society would fail. On another occasion, he said it was “not fun”to be poor.
All these are indicative of the mindset of PAP ministers who, with their astronomical salaries, have become out of touch with – and even callous to – the everyday problems that ordinary Singaporeans face.
Singapore needs a government that cares.