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RE-ISSUE: "Free riders" and the tug-of-war over compassion

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
4 min read
RE-ISSUE: "Free riders" and the tug-of-war over compassion

I’m re-issuing this week’s round-up because I made a boo-boo towards the end! The original issue of the newsletter that was sent out had said that Parti Liyani was acquitted by the Court of Appeal. This was incorrect; Yani had appealed the case, but it was the High Court that had acquitted her. I’ve corrected it on the website, but thought I’d best send the email out again so newsletter subscribers will be informed too. Apologies for the error.

I’m back from my short staycation where I succeeded in watching multiple episodes of drama and reading, but completely failed to stay off social media.

I also ended up starting a secondary newsletter, Samseng Zhabor, meant for whimsy, fun, and musings outside of the usual beats I cover in Singapore. Basically, if you want to see writing from me on Korean dramas, cats, books, and other things that I do when I’m not obsessing about Singaporean politics and civil society, you’ll find it there.


Parliamentary drama

We’re in the early days of Singapore’s 14th Parliament and things are already heating up. After a long time spent resisting the idea, the PAP government has finally said that they agree “in principle” to the live-streaming of parliamentary debates. We have to wait for more details, but the Ministry of Communications and Information is looking into implementation.

Apart from that, one of the big talking points from recent parliamentary sittings is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech and a subsequent exchange with Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh where Lee described Singaporeans who vote for the opposition with the expectation that the PAP will continue govern as “free riders”. This is what Lee said, as reported in the Straits Times:

"If you say, vote for me, somebody else will vote for the PAP, and therefore the PAP will be the government, that (is what) the economists will call a free rider," said PM Lee.

"It means that you are taking advantage of somebody else who is doing their duty of electing a government for the nation. And you are not doing your part expressing your true views and preference, as a voter, whom you want to be the next government. And if everybody takes that attitude, then you are going to end up with a government which you do not want."

Naturally, this characterisation has been criticised on social media. It’s not a fair description of how and why people vote. And if we’re really playing this game of “spot the free rider”, then what about all the greenhorn candidates that the PAP parachutes into Parliament via the GRC system?

I also direct your attention to this Twitter thread by Indulekshmi:

Minimum wage, yay or nay?

Another big focus of recent parliamentary debates: the pros and cons of implementing a minimum wage. Sengkang MP and everybody’s news Econs tutor Jamus Lim brought the issue up in his speech, focused on the theme of “compassionate policymaking”. That led Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was recently described as “one of the handful of PAP reformists with democratic inclinations”, to counter that “no one should assume that you have a monopoly over compassion” and pushing back against the idea of a universal minimum wage. Unfortunately for us, the “PAP” part restrains the “reformist” part.

He wasn’t the only PAP MP to stand up to counter Famous Jamus: some asked how much the minimum/living wage should actually be, and Gan Siow Huang said that a universal minimum wage could lead to some low-wage workers losing their jobs — what about that, huh?

If the introduction of a universal minimum wage (assuming that this wage is pegged as the minimum amount that a full-time worker needs to earn to make ends meet in Singapore) leads to employers sacking workers because they become more expensive, doesn’t that just suggest that (1) there are currently a bunch of workers who aren’t able to make ends meet despite having jobs, and (2) there are employers who are over-reliant on cheap labour rather than focusing on productivity and innovation — both problems that we should be addressing instead of trying to argue against the need for minimum wages and poverty lines?

Thank you, HOME

The past week has highlighted the important work done by organisations like the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). They’ve released a report on Bangladeshi conservancy cleaners, who are among the often forgotten workforce keeping our neighbourhood estates clean and beautiful. They’ve found that these Bangladeshi workers pay fees from $8,000 to a whopping $14,000 — plus kickbacks — to work in jobs that pay about $500–$800 a month. These workers do hard work for long hours each day, and many reported not having days off at all. Read the full report here.

Separately, some good news: Parti Liyani, who used to work as a domestic worker in the household of Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, was acquitted by the High Court on Friday. Her former employers had accused her of theft, and she had initially been convicted and sentenced to two years and two months’ imprisonment. Thanks to support from HOME and pro bono legal representation from Anil Narain Balchandani of M/s Red Lion Circle, Yani was able to fight the case, and was acquitted after the court found that the prosecution hadn’t proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that there there was “existence of an improper motive” on the part of her accusers.

I’ll taking a closer look at this case for this newsletter soon, so I’m going to leave it here for now — watch this space for more.


World Suicide Prevention Day

10 September marks World Suicide Prevention Day. Oogachaga will be sharing comic strips to promote awareness and education on suicide prevention and mental health. Follow them on their social media channels — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — to stay up to date!


Support Booktique

Booktique is a lovely independent bookseller that, pre-pandemic, had great pop-ups in different events. COVID-19 has hit them hard, but they’re soldiering on with their lovingly curated catalogues for mail order. You can find their fiction selection, non-fiction selection, and books for kids.


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