On Tharman’s inclusive prosperity

By: Tan Wah Piow

In the past 24 hours, I had two diametrically opposing responses to Singapore’s Deputy PM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech on “Inclusive Prosperity – making it possible”, the Singapore way.

At one social function on Saturday, a wealthy Singaporean docctor based in London’s Harley Street repeatedly told me that Singapore “is the best place to live in the world”. Another successful retiree who made his fortune in London regards Tharman’s speech as inspirational.

Tonight I had dinner with another Singaporean friend. I summarized Tharman’s speech which was made at the LSE on 30 January. She responded by using two fingers to pull down her mouth. She grimaced, “that how I felt each time the plane touched down in Singapore”. “And when the plane took off when I was leaving” she grinned, and gave me a beautiful smile. The thought itself made her happy.

“Why, I asked” – she was successful in Singapore, and happily retired abroad.

“There is no soul,” she remarked. She emphasized that even many of her middle class friends who were earning very well, hated the working ethos. They worked for the money, buy expensive stuff, and worked harder.

She is adamant that even as a retiree, she could not contemplate returning to Singapore despite the good food. “I can’t breath there.”

When I told another about Tharman’s new social compact: you work hard, be thrifty and the government would provide the jobs, training, housing, and help those who could not cope, the response was startling even by my standard.

He swept his hand across the table, “thrift?” he retorted. The entire life’s CPF saving of some Singaporeans probably amount to just a few weeks of the Prime Minister’s and his wife’s income.

“Tell that thrift to my taxi driver friend who is almost 70. Thanks to Uber, his monthly income has dropped from over s$2000, to just $1500. If he stops driving, he has no money, and he has no CPF.”

Despite being 8000 miles away, Singaporeans can be poles apart. On the one hand, one set regards Singapore as the paradise that all other countries should emulate. On the other hand, another finds it soulless, and passionately dislikes the place.

Tharman’s speech is regarded as brilliant and inspirational by those who made it good in life, but may not pass the taxi-driver’s test.

So what’s the truth? Is Inclusive Prosperity a hoax?

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