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Taking Away the Right to Our Money Isn’t Enough, They Must Take Away Our Dignity As Well

PAMELA LIM: Do you want to pay more taxes? This is the standard question we get asked when we question if we should give an allowance to our old folks, provide them better healthcare or get our CPF back at 55.

Almost immediately, and almost always, the answer is a straight no. It is so easy to predict Singaporeans, it becomes sad.

When I just started work, Singapore was not a tax haven. Our personal income tax rate could go progressively up to 33%. In my first job as a non-executive, my basic salary was $1,100 but I had to pay about 12% income tax.

25% of our monthly income went to our CPF account, and our employers paid another 25%. Singapore was not a developed country, and unlike today, we didn’t get the kind of respect and admiration from people all over the world. We strove hard to put our country on the map.

It was tough, but we didn’t mind. I don’t ever remember complaining about tax. To me, it was a privilege to have an ability to earn, and paying tax was and has always been a responsibility.

Singaporeans were a much happier bunch, then. We understood there were children’s education to pay for, and we wanted to build a nation that is strong. We saw the airport move from Paya Lebar to Changi, and then in the 80s, Terminal 2 was built. Now, we have Terminal 3.

When the MRT roared into town, we were curious how fast it could travel and would sometimes race against it. We were impressed how it made life so much more efficient. It cost us billions. Yes, it cost us, the taxpayers, billions.

In a few years, I’ll be reaching 55 years old. It is supposed to be something to look forward to. For all the financial sacrifices we made in our younger days, we were looking forward to that delayed gratification.

We were promised that we could have our money back after loaning it to the country for decades. Three decades. But now, we are told we are not capable of managing our own money and we cannot have it back or the government might increase tax to feed us if we squander it away. Me? Not capable of managing my own money? Joke.

As if it is not enough to take away the right to our money, they must take away our dignity as well.

And you think this is right. You, the ones we put into schools for a proper education. The ones we give up well paid jobs to teach, the ones we care about. The ones we built the MRT, the best airports and harbour in the world as assets to grow your GDP for.

And worse, you think it is fair that the old folks collecting cardboards do not deserve social welfare. They too contributed to your expensive lifestyle. You think it is right that the tissue sellers should carve out a living on their own. Just so? Just so you need not face the possibility of higher taxes or a run down of reserves that WE and THEY built up?

What happened to the CSR hours that you put in? Has the education system that we paid for to educate you taught you that you need only live with clear conscience just once a year?

Yet, I am fortunate that I am only in my late 40s, and I can still feed myself, and I can still run my companies. What about those from the pioneer generation? How do you expect them to fend for themselves when they don’t get their promised CPF, are too weak to work, and cannot afford basic healthcare? You really think they are pushing cardboards, tens of kilos a day… for fun?

No matter which party you favour, have a little conscience, have a little heart. Don’t be too cruel with your words to those who built the country for you. Don’t be too selfish and claim all glory to yourself.

We are a country, and when we were young and able, we did not calculate the tax monies we paid for your education, your parks and your sporting facilities. It is beginning to look like by making you prosperous, we have created some monsters without any sense of social justice.

Everybody grows old and will become helpless one day. I will, and so will you. Karma is something I don’t ever mess with. What about you?

This commentary was written by Pamela Lim.
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