Business Times - 11 Nov 2006Okay, let's see what's happening. Essentially the divide between rich and poor is growing wider and wider in Singapore. And some Singaporeans are getting left far, far behind.
YESTERDAY IN PARLIAMENT
'Many helping hands' the way to go: Vivian
He says the reason for this model is to get the right people to do the job
By WEE LI-EN
THE 'many helping hands' approach to taking care of people in need is a good model despite its flaws, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament yesterday.
Although there are problems with the model, detractors should be very careful about 'slaying that sacred cow of many helping hands', he said. 'You might actually slay the cow which is producing the milk of human kindness.'
On Wednesday, Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua said the 'many helping hands' approach can result in 'wrong helping hands syndrome'. She questioned the reliance on volunteers to provide key services in voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), saying the roles of state, VWOs and people need to be defined correctly.
But Dr Balakrishnan, who is the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said yesterday the reason Singapore has such a model is to get the right people to do the job.
'You want commitment, you want passion, you want dedication, you want people whose hearts and minds are truly resonating in sync with the people they are trying to help. Hearts and minds like that cannot be bought, cannot be employed,' he said. 'What we need then is to get the right model and to get the relationships right.'
Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry will confine itself to the 'big picture' to identify needs and find out what VWOs need, while maintaining a co-funding and a co-helping model. This model does not require a big bureaucracy to check on VWOs because, if they raise half of every dollar they spend, it can be assumed that most of the time the money will be spent honestly and prudently, he said.
Dr Balakrishnan also said the community development councils (CDCs) will develop 'comcare local networks' through which all stakeholders in an area can share information, collaborate on joint projects and help look after people in their fold. 'Basically, what we want to ensure is that there will be no wrong door, no wrong hands and nobody slips between hands,' he said.
What's the government's proposed solution? Basically their idea is to encourage the people to help the people (God forbid that the government actually be expected to help the people). In other words, the government has decided to rely on charitable organisations, NGOs, voluntary welfare organisations and the like.
And from recent government pronouncements, it seems that the government is expecting these organisations to do something quick, in a very big way.
I am very skeptical of this model. I don't think it can work in Singapore. In fact I think that failure would be likely in most other countries as well, but particularly likely in Singapore.
We simply don't have the culture and the mindset for this. Just look at our PAP leaders. They stand up in Parliament and without any shame, they loudly say that if we don't pay them the world's highest ministerial salaries, they will quit for the private sector. Either that, or they will feel compelled to become corrupt and start robbing the nation's coffers.
Like it or not, the PAP has been in overwhelming power for decades. Their mindset necessarily reflects something about the mindset of the people. Face it, folks - we're a selfish people. Just like our leaders, we're competitive, pragmatic, kiasu and greedy. The vast majority of us are not going to waste our time on charity work.
Years ago, we even scrapped subjects like Bible Knowledge and Buddhist Studies from our school syllabus, because they were economically useless subjects. Now suddenly we expect Singaporeans to brim with love, kindness and charitable instincts?
We're so hard-headed that many of our schools even scrapped Literature from the syllabus because statistics show that it is harder to score an A in Literature. Now Dr Vivian poetically refers to "the milk of human kindness" in his speech, but I bet most young Singaporeans don't even know that the line came from Shakespeare's Macbeth.
The other thing is that Dr Vivian is basically calling on the VWOs to be much more active, and pro-active, than they've ever been before. He's asking VWOs to step up their efforts in a massive way. But Singapore is not a place where civil society organisations thrive. This nation does not like people with a sense of mission. It's often suspicious of people who even have an opinion (remember that proposal to license all bloggers?). If you wanted to hold a public charity event for the blind and homeless, you'd have to get police approval.
That's how this nation has been, for a long time. Consequently most Singaporeans have been conditioned to think and behave in a certain manner. That manner is just not consistent with mass voluntarism. No, we do not brim with the milk of human kindness. Unless it can help us to score an A, but then we already scrapped Literature.
Besides, there won't be that many old, poor Singaporeans to care for. The government already has plans to export them.