Dear Editors

I refer to the article “National Dental Centre extends clinic hours for specialist treatments” (Straits Times, Jun 5). It states that “In a bid to clear its huge backlog of patients waiting for treatment, the National Dental Centre (NDC) has extended its clinic hours for certain treatments by an hour.

This comes after a report by The Straits Times in March that highlighted the arduously long waits of up to a year or more that some subsidised patients have to endure to get specialist dental care. The median wait for subsidised crowns and dentures had gone up by two months between 2012 and last year, when half the patients had to wait more than eight months to get crowns and more than 10 months for dentures.

In this connection, according to the Straits Times article “Cost of living to sway Malaysian hearts this election: The Star columnist” on the same day – “Healthcare – Klinik 1Malaysia – Charging a mere RM1 (31 Singapore cents) per visit – free for senior citizens – the government-run clinics provide basic healthcare need for the urban poor”. So, perhaps the obviously glaring question to ask after reading the above two articles on the same day is – why is it that despite costing many times more in Singapore, compared to Malaysia – the waiting time for subsidised healthcare in Singapore is as long as 360 days?

As to “”Public Housing – Several public housing projects are available for the lower income, the most prominent being People’s Housing Project (PPR). Typically, blocks of flats are managed by the government with rents as low as RM124 and an option to buy a unit from RM30,000” – according to the Straits Times article “Civil society’s role cannot be to provide public goods” on the same day – “With the housing problems faced by single parents in the news lately, there has been a well-intentioned call for us to “forget HDB” and for civil society to step up (“Forget HDB. Time for civil society to step up to help single mums with housing“, Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times Online, May 27).

Citing the case, Ms Chua argued that it was time to go beyond lobbying the state, and urged civil society and individuals to offer direct assistance instead. While there are important roles for civil society, the argument that we should count on civil society to provide housing solutions instead of pursuing policy change reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of housing problems, how public policies work, and what civil society can and cannot do. People “fall through the cracks”, even with concerted state efforts; it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect individual initiatives to address the needs of all.

Yet, housing policies continue to disadvantage single parents, expressing the assumption that as a society, we are fine with these families being penalised. Whether this is consciously intended or not, relegating their housing problems to the realm of philanthropy amounts to further acceptance of this assumption”.

Do single mothers in Malaysia face the discriminatory policies that we have here in Singapore? So, another obviously glaring question after reading the above cited two articles on the same day is – why is it that public housing in Singapore cost many times more than Malaysia?

Leong Sze Hian

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