Sunday, May 1, 2011

The taxi driver, HDB and Teo Soh Lung

Saturday, 30 April 2011
Serena Lee

I’ve just returned from the second SDP rally. There were various comments about it from the people around me but the story from the taxi driver, Mr Tan, on our way home to Ang Mo Kio was the most amazing one.

Mr Tan was an IT professional up till 2008 when his company retrenched 65 of them and employed 20 Indian nationals along with keeping just five of the old staff.

After that he couldn’t find a job and over time drew down his CPF to the point where he started being in arrears for his 5-room flat in Tampines. He was given an information card by the HDB that seemed to offer help – it invited to the office to discuss how they could help him.

However, when he eventually went there all they did was ask him to pay up. He returned repeatedly for help, By the time the process ended he actually knew every single person behind all the different service counters.

They knew that he had 1,000 Telecoms shares and told him that he should sell them to pay his arrears; this was his savings and he didn’t really want to channel it into his house. He proposed that HDB sell him a flat at the HDB price and offered to sell his own 5-room flat on the resale market.

They said no.

He said that next course of action would be to jump into the path of an MRT train. The HDB officers were all alarmed by this and said to him that he shouldn’t say things like that. They finally agreed to his bargain and found a 3-room flat which was 32 years old on the opposite end of the island in Jurong East. It would cost him $188,000! (The market resale value was apparently $240,000).

Then there was also the issue of paying some new 30% tax that had been introduced recently by the PAP, and he fought with the HDB on this as well as he said that his whole case had erupted 15 months ago and at that time he had already explained his case fully to the HDB saying to them that he had no money to pay them, and so this 30% tax shouldn’t be imposed on him.

He had one child and he wanted to make sure that the house would at least pass on to her. He was relieved that after the sale of his flat, he had some $55,000 left in his CPF. I was stunned as I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind retiring on that amount.

The way his story poured out of him left as deep an impression on me as what he actually had to say.

After hearing what I thought were seven excellent speeches amongst ten SDP speakers, and three more mediocre ones, it was ironic to have this taxi driver bring their message to life in such a way. I should mention that I am an ex-Singaporean, and am not fully conversant with all the issues of the day in Singapore.

However not much seemed to have changed since I left ten years ago. There is still an ‘underclass’ of people who are not especially rich and who struggle from month to month.

Did the SDP speakers impress me? Yes, they didn’t just speak from their hearts but they had done their homework and despite their sometimes inflammatory personal styles (well, it is an elections after all) knew how to engage the crowd.

Whistles were used to rouse the people and to echo agreeing sentiments, their mascot teddy bear was ‘displayed’ as a rallying point and time and again, cheers and claps from the crowd endorsed an argument or story told by the different speakers.

The Yuhua candidate, a Ms Teo Soh Lung, came across as a soft-spoken gentle person and, going by the support in the crowd and Dr Vincent Wijeysingha’s comments and ringing endorsement of her qualities and unfailing community spirit, was a worthwhile opponent for any PAP candidate.

There were so many points made during the night that I couldn’t possibly summarise them or do them justice. I’d recommend that you attend one of their rallies yourself so you can see first hand what they’re wanting for an accountable and democratic Singapore.

I must conclude then on “Vote for the SDP”.

Serena Lee is a retired accountant. She contributed this piece to the SDP.

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