I grew up in an impoverished monolingual family, communicating only in Chinese and throughout my student years, I struggled with the English language. I remembered the day when I received a bridge-building innovation project award from then-Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and he asked the 16-year-old me how I was feeling to have received the award. Perhaps it could have been nervousness, but I knew the problem was my lack of confidence in the English language. I simply replied okay not bad, posted for the photo-taking and left the stage quickly without giving any thank-you speech. It was awkward that an award recipient walked past the mic without saying anything; I was too embarrassed.
Like my former self, most poor people in Singapore lack the communication abilities and eloquence to express themselves in English, which is the only official language if you want to make yourself understood to the authorities. Singapore is not as multi-lingual as it professes to be, any formal proposal or feedback to the government must be in English.
In Singapore, you don’t hear from the poor not because they have no grouses or nothing to say. They wave off any opportunity to be listened because they do not want to be embarrassed by the fact they are bad at English. You can however ensure they have a lot to say privately like the Chinese uncles at kopitiams, cursing the PAP government and calling them corrupt in dialects.
The Chinese-speaking cleaner on a S$1,000 salaries in 2000 and still drawing the same salary today in 2019 has always been complaining about her low wages, but the government is not listening in any language other than English.
With the absence of public views from the poor, government policies in Singapore and the society molded into the rich’s advantage. To boost the economy, the Singapore government hear only “tax cuts”, “levies cut” and “more foreign labour” from the business lobbyists and the rich. If you ask the poor how to boost the economy, they will say “increase take-home salaries” and “enforce a Minimum Wage” instead.
Both are correct, but unfortunately, with the latter part of the equation taken out, government policies tipped heavily in the rich’s favour. There should be a Minimum Wage, and there should be a tax cut for the rich.
Take the 2019 Budget for example, the Singapore government gave S$1 billion of tax cuts and schemes to help the businesses. The billion dollar for the year could have been more balanced if half of it goes into enforcing an hourly Minimum Wage system for the poor. Everything is tipping in the rich’s favour because the poor are voiceless.
Whereas in Australia, it is common to see the uneducated and low-income workers often voice out saying housing prices are too expensive or the Minimum Wage is too low. They made themselves heard by holding placards and marching in public. Of course they do disrupt the traffic and they can get rowdy. Nobody can hear your message if there is no discomfort. The policemen were merely present to ensure a peaceful proceeding or to redirect traffic.
The Australian society is more inclusive and the income inequality is less stratifying, because the government consider such protest marches as major public concerns and part of the feedback system. The Australian Minimum Wage is at the world’s highest, and it is still increasing. Businesses are complaining, and so are the workers and everyone else for a different reason. At least in Australia, there is a sweet spot where all sides are willing to compromise and settle for. The poor are not as angry at the rich as they are like in Singapore, and this is how they are happy to identify themselves as “Australians”.
In Singapore, there is no such unity. The poor and rich detest each other, and there is no common ground. The country is badly divided, because the government choose to side only the rich and influential. The elitist government deem anyone with bad English either too “low class” or poor to be listened to. They take criticisms negatively and they are sure-fire to sue. If you are poor, you are deemed not credible enough to have an opinion or qualified to contest in an election. They probably even meant you are not even a human.
This is why, my work as a news writer is important. The poor is not speaking up for themselves and nobody is doing for them except me. I gave up my rights to return to my hometown, and sacrificed my family, friends and everyone I ever know. I have no regrets. I will keep at it until the PAP collapsed.