By most standards, it would be reason to bring out the champagne bottle, but because of the extraordinary circumstances, the majority of Singaporeans are not cheering.
WHILE celebrating their 47th National Day, Singaporeans received news that people anywhere would die to hear that their country is now the richest in the world.
Technically speaking, this transformation from a poor, squatter island in less than 50 years has been impressive.
During this time, without much natural resources, the city has recorded one of the world’s fastest growth rates on per capita basis, exceeded only by Japan and Germany after World War II.
It has, like an invisible giant hand, lifted the bulk of a squalid population and moved it into the middle class. Few others with bigger natural assets have fared as well.
Yet the news has evidently impressed the world more than it did Singaporeans.
The reason is that the majority of citizens here are too concerned with the structured high cost of living that collective wealth has bestowed. It has made the city one of the most expensive in the world.
On perspective, however, most Singaporeans have benefitted from the progress over the generation. A minority has prospered greatly.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Singapore’s per capita GDP has reached US$56,532 (RM175,250) in 2010 – measured by purchasing power parity. This has beaten Norway, the United States and Hong Kong.
By most standards, this would have been reason to bring out the champagne bottle, but because of the extraordinary circumstances, the majority of Singaporeans are not cheering.
Since the report, the number of centa-millionaires – people with more than US$100mil (RM310mil) – has grown 13%, higher than the global average at 6%.
The problem is that it is predicted to grow by another 44% by 2016, which probably means higher inflation for all.
The fact is that Singaporeans – already hit by one of the world’s highest inflation rates – are too burdened by expensive housing, cars and general living expenses to be cheerful.
Yet, there is no denying that the majority of Singaporeans are living better than they ever had. Singapore has been transformed into a middle class society and now has the dubious title of being the wealthiest in the world.
But in the past five years, living standards have taken a turn for the worse for many people despite the collective affluence.
An influx of cheap-cost foreigners has resulted in acute shortage and income stagnation in many cases.
So why are Singaporeans so unimpressed with living in the richest land in the world? The reasons are as follows:
• Some 37% of residents are foreigners, quite a few of them ultra-wealthy. The import of billionaires provides little or no benefits to the average citizens except pushing up prices. Take the foreigner portion away and the city could be that much poorer; and
• A large part of the wealth is in corporate hands rather than with individuals. Not all of it ends up in big-paying jobs for locals.
As a result of the large amount of money sloshing around, prices of things like houses, cars and healthcare are rising with no sign of abating. Many loans and mortgages are increasing.
Forbes recently reported: “The latest list of wealthy Singaporeans showed lots of money sloshing around Singapore – but it may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Good news? I don’t think so. No Singaporeans are crazy enough to pray for poverty, but extreme wealth in the hands of a few is just as bad. Without that the economic gap here is already the world’s widest.
Singapore’s richest people have a collective net worth of US$59.4bil (RM184bil), up from $54.4bil (RM168.8bil) last year. It now has 16 billionaires compared to 13 the previous year, Forbes reported.
Ten of every 100,000 households in Singapore are now classified as “ultra-high-net-worth” households, with each having more than US$100mil (RM310mil) in private financial wealth.
All these impressive fortunes are good for boasting, but believe me, I would rather wish for a more even distribution. The foreign billionaires can be here today, gone tomorrow.
Singaporeans are practical enough to realise that wealth in the form of paper notes is too transient.
Since it is measured in US dollars, part of the fast growth is due to the strong surging Singapore dollar.
Are we in fact richer than countries like Indonesia or Australia, which may not have our cash or GDP but have plenty of natural resources in the ground like oil, iron or even water that are more abiding?
This was an early reason that former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew gave for Singapore accumulating huge amounts of reserves. “It’s for a rainy day” a crisis to make up for lack of ground wealth.
As the wealth report was released, the pro-government The Straits Times reported that the number of households on short and medium-term public assistance shot up by 81% – from 5,471 to 9,911 over the past year.
This rising wealth is greeted with pride by a few elderly citizens who remember their poorer past. But, by and large, Singaporeans have reacted cynically to it.
Prominent blogger yawning bread wrote: “There might have been a time when people here would have taken pride in such an accolade.”
Now, he said, the publication of the news on page one of the major newspaper, The Straits Times, “must have annoyed a lot of people”.
“I don’t feel rich,” another Singaporean said. How could Singapore be richer than Switzerland or the US?
“Statistics can be toyed around to fit any agenda. Look around you – does this look like the richest country on the planet?” asked Invictus.
Seah Chiang Nee
Chiang Nee has been a journalist for 40 years. He is a true-blooded Singaporean, born, bred and says that he hopes to die in Singapore. He worked as a Reuters corespondent between 1960-70, based in Singapore but with various assignments in Southeast Asia, including a total of about 40 months in (then South) Vietnam between 1966-1970. In 1970, he left to work for Singapore Herald, first as Malaysia Bureau Chief and later as News Editor before it was forced to close after a run-in with the Singapore Government. He then left Singapore to work for The Asian, the world’s first regional weekly newspaper, based in Bangkok to cover Thailand and Indochina for two years between 1972-73. Other jobs: News Editor of Hong Kong Standard (1973-74), Foreign Editor of Straits Times with reporting assignments to Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and The United States (1974-82) and Editor of Singapore Monitor (1982-85). Since 1986, he has been a columnist for the Malaysia’s The Star newspaper. Article first appeared in his blog, http://www.littlespeck.com.
Editor’s note: The quote from netizen Invictus came from TRE
August 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm
It’s a fact statistics can be toyed with to fulfil whatever agenda you have.
Look around you – does this look like the richest country on the planet.
We hardly have world class entrepreneurs to shout about, no nat
ural resources to brag about.
Things getting stupidly expensive, wiping out any real increase in wages the average person.
PAP only interested to create this impression to draw more of the rich to Singapore… Without thinking how it will destroy the fabric of the county.
HDB is a ponzi scheme to lockup your CPF monies so that the PAP is able to get cheap funding without collateral with the excuse they are protecting your “assets”. This “asset enhancement” scheme can only benefit you when your HDB flat is truly privatised, since even HDB housing loans are no longer provided by HDB direct but by private banks. There is no way we can reach “Swiss Standard of Living” without sacrificing this sacred cow and only the privatisation of HDB over say a period of 5 years estate by estate will help Singaporeans offset the increases of costs of everything, by creating wealth for 80% of the population. We can then be truly the “richest country”.
This problem is caused by PAP endorsing in the Parliament that HDB flats cannot be used as collateral, indirectly creating a liability for all flat owners, whereby even if your HDB flat makes money, you must sell it in order to net the proceeds. In order to unlock this for the privatisation of HDB, this rule must be changed.
When HDB was first formed, the idea is to provide affordable housing for the masses, but since HDB land is pegged to market prices, it’s objectives has changed where “profit” is the motive and since everyone is paying market prices now, PAP must be forced to release their hold on HDB flats, and privatised the entire HDB.
“It is quite disconcerting to note that they (HDB) decided to choose a big house firm Allen and Gledhill which can rack up exorbitant legal fees. Allen and Gledhill is one the biggest and reputable law firms and can easily charge more than $10,000 for their work, depending on the complexity of the case. As this has progressed to the High Court, one can imagine the high legal fees already paid up-front.”
HDB is an organisation whose executive powers even the MPs have no powers to question whose purpose has changed from providing affordable housing to “profit” motives to fund the PAP war machine, their objective is to create the largest entity in the world so that it becomes a “resource” for PAP government to tap on, to fund their GIC and TH, this at the expense of Singaporeans, by denying the HDB flat owner access to fundings, making HDB flats illiquid except to themselves. This objective must be stopped at all costs, and the rights rightfully returned to all Singaporeans HDB flat owners. By using Allen and Gledhill they(HDB) want to intimidate everyone trying to challenge it’s authority, which they consider as absolute.
– Contributed by Oogle.