Friday, 18 March 2011

MP Hri Kumar responds to me

I received an email from Hri last night -- he mentioned that he had been trying to respond to my last post the past couple of days, but for some reason had not been able to post the comment. He then asked for my help to publish it.

Given the length of his response, and also the attention that our exchange seems to have garnered, we decided that it would be appropriate to publish his response as a standalone blog post. I've not really had time to digest it fully, but will aim to respond over the weekend -- since this is my blog, it's my chance to have the last word! :)

Hri's response is reproduced below in full, without edits.



Kum Hong,

We agree on a number of things. You have met my “extreme” example of an able-bodied person who does not want to work (I have met some, by the way) with another “extreme” - “the single mother supporting two children and an elderly mother, who has to go home after work to take care of her children and mother”. We both agree that the latter is more deserving of help.

But where we disagree is this: you feel that no help exists currently, and the children of the single mother will be trapped in the poverty cycle. The truth is that she will be helped, by both the Government as well as private parties. Let me give you some concrete examples. One of things we try our best to ensure is that no child is deprived of a good education, or even a meal in school, because of the lack of funds. So we help poor families with a combination of Government subsidies, COMCARE support, The School Pocket Money Fund and other sources. In Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC, we raised over $3 million last year from private donors to fund community scholarships for children of poor families for the next 10 years. We even visit the homes of those who do not enroll their children in kindergarten (although enrolment is not compulsory) to make sure that this not because of the lack of funds; and if it is, we help them with the fees. The number of children who do not go to kindergarten has now fallen to 1% of their cohort - most of these children are home-schooled.

So, it is easy to berate the current system as “punish(ing) the children for the sins of their parents”. But that is simplistic and inaccurate.

I prefer our current system which directs help to those who need it, rather than one which purports to give universal and unconditional aid. It actually means much more work for the Government, as it involves examining each case and determining the most effective form of help to give. But I think that is a worthwhile exercise as different families have different challenges and circumstances. What is wrong is for us to simply give public money to everyone who holds his hand out, without proper scrutiny and assurance that it will be effective and reaches the right people. Many taxpayers will object to using public money to support people who can help themselves. Their views are also relevant.

I am not suggesting that we have a perfect system. We do not. Where we can, and should never stop trying to, improve is to develop a system which ensures that every Singaporean who needs help is not missed. That is a real challenge. The only way to meet it is to involve everyone, from the Government, grassroots organizations, VWOs and the immediate community. Every Singaporean should feel that he has a part to play in looking out for those less fortunate than him. I think that is how it should be.

There will also be challenging cases – like your example of an able-bodied father who refuses to work, to the detriment of his children. I know of a real life example in my constituency. The way we helped was to find work for his wife, and to calibrate our aid so that the children have their needs met and are able to continue their education. We did not “turn our heads away”.

So I think we can agree on one more thing – real life does not lend itself to simple solutions like the one you have posed. But I am happy that this debate has gained interest, because it shows that Singaporeans feel strongly about this issue.

11 comments:

George Wong said...

I agree with Hri's sentiments. As a taxpayer, I will not want public money to be given to all and sundry. I have worked in the UK. There is a class of people who simply depend on handouts, although they are able to work. If we start offering too much "workfare on steroids", human nature is such that some recipients will become lazy and dependent on others. Those people will feel a sense of entitlement, that others owe them a living. Wage-earners like me have no problem with helping those who are unable to work, because of circumstances, but we object to universal welfare.

lobo said...

In the end, as no system is prefect, it boils down to this:
- there are some abusers of the system, or
- there are some who need help but were not identified and help given

Hri (and PAP) is so afraid of having some people who will abuse the system, they would rather have some people go without help.

SH is the other way around. He wants to help everyone. If there are some abusers, it is the 'price' in return for reaching out to everyone who needed the help. This I believe was mentioned in a previous post of his.

Dag said...

I applaud Hri Kumar for engaging in a debate with SKH on this issue. Regardless of whether we agree with his views, it is rare for a PAP MP to personally engage in a discussion of any depth with people on the Internet.

Most PAP MPs' idea of Internet engagement consists of perfunctory Facebook pages or heavily moderated blogs/REACH portal where they can dictate the terms of the debate. They also tend to play it safe and refuse to be drawn into a public debate on any issue.

Hri Kumar is to be applauded for being willing to post comments on other people's blogs where he has no control over the terms of the discussion. This is how Internet engagement should be like.

quzy said...

This Government prefers a non-universal system for social security where, in order to avoid a few potential abusers, individuals are allowed to fall through cracks. It also prefers a mandatory and presumption-of-guilt death penalty system where theoretically, in order to avoid a few potential guilty ones from escaping, innocent lives can be sacrificed (even though guilty ones can still escape).

It is the same principle behind the two policies. I believe, with much regret, that many if not most Singaporeans have the same attitude too.

Chloe Ask said...

Hri Kumar is so afraid of losing $400 a month to a dole bludger, but sat quietly by while parliament approved another $890,000 for the useless bum at the Istana. Both are funded from the same taxpayers.

Starbucks said...

I don't see you should provide this Hri Kumar a platform for his thinly disguised electioneering. If the Comcare works like he says, why are the poor still queueing up? The hard truth is that for everyone that receives a pathetic handout, another 100 gets rejected with heartless admonition like "you should get a job". That's why a young man was so upset he slammed a chair against a wall in frustration and ended up in court. Kumar talks about raising $3 million, ask him about the $200 million blown way by Balakrishnan. When he says stuff like "real life does not lend itself to simple solutions", he's as good as admitting he's wasting taxpayers' money collecting the $216,000 MP allowance. Need we add he wasn't elected into office in the first place? He's just another GRC parasite.

Carl said...

Hi everyone, just my two cents.

To me, Hri Kumar's first comment sounded patronizing and unnecessarily incredulous. Gave me the impression of a rather narrow minded approach to policy discourse. After reading his second and much longer email, it looks like he is still missing the point.

No Mr Kumar, Kum Hong does not believe "that no help exists currently". The fact that you believe that shows to me you are unable to take opposing views seriously.

Also, please realize that most of your email was based on the fact that you think Kum Hong believes no help exists currently. Which is not true. What he is talking about, is ensuring a minimum standard of living, even for Singaporeans who are not destitute.

And I would like to know what is this "simple solution" Kum Hong proposed? I didn't see one. He is trying to get a discussion going that may eventually lead to the development of a new way of helping those left out of Singapore's economic growth. Even you admit the current system is not perfect. I understand you think the best way is to fine tune the current system of direct assistance, but over the years, inequality has gotten much worse. So maybe doing the same thing and expecting different results is not the best way?

Luke said...

“I prefer our current system which directs help to those who need it, rather than one which purports to give universal and unconditional aid. It actually means much more work for the Government, as it involves examining each case and determining the most effective form of help to give. But I think that is a worthwhile exercise as different families have different challenges and circumstances. What is wrong is for us to simply give public money to everyone who holds his hand out, without proper scrutiny and assurance that it will be effective and reaches the right people. Many taxpayers will object to using public money to support people who can help themselves. Their views are also relevant.”

Can we then also have means testing for scholarships? I, too, feel uncomfortable how tax payers’ money is used to support the overseas education of individuals who obviously can afford it. Especially when they are children of elite civil servants who have such a clear idea of the values public office/service should entail. To have means testing at the bottom rung and not the top end of economic distribution appears a tad hypocritical and unreflexive.

akh said...

Hri Kumar mentioned "community scholarships" are available - does that mean these kids need to achieve academic excellence to get help? - Kim Hock

sub said...

Hri, like many PAP MPs, have pat themselves on the back so often, they have started to believe their own propaganda. Hri claims the reason for the current system is directing aid to those who really need it. I wonder if the real reason is that this system places the PAP MP front and centre in doling out aid. "Sure," the MP says, "I'll help you, but don't forget to kiss my hand." It is a system that perpetuates political power. A dude called Louis V knew this pretty well.

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