Don’t be afraid to use the stick – TOC reader

Seleste Ong/

I was never interested in politics. The Singapore political scene was nondescript, with one dominant party and other small, (what was to me) dodgy opposition parties. Moreover I felt that the ruling party was doing a good job and their policies had little negative impact on me. As compared to the other neighbouring countries, Singapore is developed, stable and safe. What did I have to complain about? Thus, I was extremely apathetic towards the politics in Singapore.

However, I was strangely enthralled by this coming election. I guess age and experience plays a huge part- as I get older and accumulate more life experiences, I start to realise that there are many gaping holes in our present policies. The following is the list of issues that touch my heart:

1) Education of special needs children

Being a parent of an autistic child, I am sorely aware of how lacking Singapore is at catering for the needs of the special child, in the areas of medical and psychological care, in educational facilities (the Compulsory Education Act excludes children with disabilities), and in public education (thus leading to special needs children and adults being discriminated against in schools, workplaces and society in general).According to the government, one of the major problems facing Singapore is the low birth rate. Based on research, 1 in 105 children has autism (and this does not include other special needs). If the birthrate increases in accordance to the wishes of the government, can the public services improve to cope with the higher number of children (and adults) with special needs?

As it is, there is already a long waiting time for children to be referred to the psychologists for diagnosis in the government hospitals, and schools catering to special needs have long waiting lists. Some people may argue that the parents can always go to the private sector. Let us assess: the recommended minimum amount for intervention for an autistic child is 25 hours a week. Assume that the child is lucky enough to attend a government- subsidized special needs school for 10 hours a week. That leaves another 15 hours. The average hourly rate of intervention (the most common being speech and occupational therapy) is about $130, which brings the weekly therapy costs to $1300 and a whopping $5200 a month. How many adults even earn $5200 a month?

For more information on the above, please refer to:

1) http://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/12/the-financial-burden-for-families-with-autistic-children-part-1/

2) http://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/11/compulsory-education-act-excludes-children-with-disabilities-says-ngos-for-disabled-people/

2) Education system

When I was a primary school student, tuition was only for the academically- weaker students, and my siblings, cousins and neighbours would spend hours playing with one another in the playgrounds and void-decks. Now, my nieces (academically competent 9 year olds) tell me that they have tonnes of homework and revision to do before and after school, and during weekends, most of their time were spent in tuition and enrichment classes, or at home doing more revision. Their mother told me that it’s not that she is “kiasu”; it’s just that the teachers expect the student to be proficient in a topic by the time it is being taught in school. Huh? Aren’t teachers supposed to do doing the teaching?

Of course, some parents are to be blamed too. The “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude causes them to send the poor kids to one enrichment class after another. And the end results? All the stakeholders – children, parents and teachers- are stressed out! The children may (or may not) have excellent academic results, but they may be socially inept or their physical and mental health may be irretrievably damaged. Parents may become overly preoccupied with the children’s academic achievements (on top of their own careers) and fail to create and maintain the important familial bond with their kids. And teachers are expected to turn in better and better results each year, thus causing them to in turn push their students harder and harder.

3) Housing, food and transport costs

Most people know that Bali is a popular tourist destination, and I am also a huge fan of this place. However, according to the article I read in a popular magazine, the rate at which new hotels sprout up far outstrips the rate of improvement in the infrastructure in that beautiful island. There are insufficient proper roads and transport system, and the sewage system is in a mess (both literally and figuratively). After the tourists leave, who are the ones left to clean up the mess?

The government wants to have 6.5million people in Singapore. Can the infrastructure support that? What is the cost of this rapid expansion? Numerous stories are abound of how young couples could not get subsidised housing despite repeated balloting, not only in mature estates but also in developing estates like Seng Kang and Punggol. If they consider buying resale flats as an alternative, they would probably have to pay for the high cash-over-valuation in cold hard cash. How about transport? Have our ministers taken the MRT rides incognito during rush hour before? And with the many incidents plaguing the MRT (fancy taking more than a year to put up barriers along the platform and recall the many service disruptions), can we trust the public transport to increase the capacity and at the same time, improve or even maintain its quality?Inflation is a huge concern. And when you are at the bottom rung of the social ladder, even a $0.50 increase in food at the local hawker centre hurts. Ask Dr. Lily Neo, the MP who valiantly fought her colleagues in the interest of the poor and unfortunate.

4) Government vs ruling party

This is actually the first issue I read about that caused the surge of interest in politics for me. I was confounded when I heard that the lack of upgrading for the public housing and facilities in opposition wards is actually a “stick”- to punish the residents for choosing the opposition party. All along, I thought that the government should be impartial. Political parties should be a subset of the government, not the government itself. True, there is one dominant ruling party with the majority number of seats in parliament. That should only indicate how much influence they have over the approval of regulations and policies. Once the policies are put in place, they should be applied consistently everywhere, notwithstanding the party affiliations. Do residents in the opposition wards not pay tax which contribute to the considerable salary of all the ministers?

 5) Potential appointment of unsuitable ministers through the GRC system

How can I write about the General Election 2011 without mentioning the current dilemma that many residents of Marine Parade GRC are facing? A politically- savvy resident of the Marine Parade GRC told me that she has been very pleased with PAP’s performance in this GRC. However, she is having a hard time convincing herself to vote for the incumbent when she knows it will result in an undeserving candidate becoming a minister. Is that fair? Some would say that we should give people a chance to learn and prove themselves worthy. However, being a minister is no entry- level job and there is little room for error. My idea of a good minister:

(a) Has a mission to improve the general welfare of the people (could be specific segments of population- for instance, the poor- or the general population)

(b) Attempts his/ her best to carry out the mission. This could mean that challenging the status quo and the opinions of his/ her (sometimes more senior) colleagues.

(c) Carries himself/ herself well and confidently. Clear diction in prepared speeches helps, but the ability to think on (and not stamp) his/ her feet and articulate his/ her replies and ideas sincerely is mandatory. Potentially, the ministers would meet with journalists of international news network or even notable leaders of the other countries. Can we risk having our minister answer “I don’t know what to say” and stamp her feet petulantly when faced with a question, and having this image broadcasted to the world?

My excitement over this year’s election is also in part due to the high quality of candidates in the opposition parties. We have representatives from all walks of life- president scholars, lawyers, professors and the average working man and woman. We have alternatives, and we have to use this leverage to keep the government in check, and to ensure that the government continues to be working for the good of the general population. Singaporeans have a stick, and we should show the government that we are not afraid to use it.


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One Response to Don’t be afraid to use the stick – TOC reader

  1. Teo Claire says:

    Hi Ms. Ong

    I have a friend who recommended my to this book “The Brain that changes itself” by Norman Doidge, MD. It is about brain plasticity and how we could train our brains to work better when one has some learning disabilities to people who had strokes. In one of the chapters, a software called “Fastforward” is developed for this group of people and if you need special programmes for autism, they can be contacted at http://www.scilearning.com. Many schools across North America are using the software to help children with special needs.

    Best wishes
    Claire

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