What is the Point of Our Government?
I read the news today that Rebecca Loh, the woman who pushed her disabled nine-year-old son out of a window, would plead guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Though she was diagnosed as suffering from post-schizophrenic depression at the time and has a history of schizophrenic illness, IMH still judged her fit to stand.
We need answers to the following questions:
- Why was Rebecca left to fend for herself with a nine-year old son who suffered from osteoporosis and numerous other debilitating conditions? The report says that she did not intend to kill her son only wanted him injured so that he would be taken to a home.
- Was there a social worker assigned to her case by MSF?
- As she had a history of schizophrenia and police had been called to her mother’s flat on several occasions when she had beaten and strangled her mother, why was the child not put on an “At Risk” register as in other countries like the UK? She had also been arrested for threatening a stall holder with a chopper in 2011.
- What help did the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) provide? Rebecca should have been entitled to close to $1000 a month from Public Assistance as her mother was earning below $1700 a month. Perhaps because she lived with her mother MSF deemed her ineligible for assistance? When foreigners write about our Government being stingy they assume that the levels of assistance they promise to provide are in fact provided. However they are not aware that this is frequently not the case. Our bureaucracy seems especially skilled at denying those in need the help to which they are entitled
- Why do we not provide Special Assistants to disabled children like Rebecca’s son so that they are able to attend school? Again this would be the case in most first world countries. Her son’s disabilities were physical not mental.
Unfortunately the questions will not be answered now that Rebecca has pleaded guilty. In other advanced countries there would be outcries against the social workers and the Ministry responsible for letting this happen. The role of MSF and the social workers (if any) has not been examined. An incident like this would also normally lead to changes in policy to ensure that this does not happen again. There would be a public inquiry. Yet this has been quietly brushed under the carpet.
Lee Kuan Yew after all is well known to be a supporter of eugenics and his philosophy is embodied in such policies as providing financial incentives to poor women and single mother “who keep their families small” with free family planning through the HOPE scheme..
Recently we have been working to help another woman in a similar situation to Rebecca Loh. I first met Madam S while conducting block visits with my volunteers in Radin Mas. Since the 1980s she has been the sole carer and provider for her son who suffered severe brain injuries as the result of a hit-and-run car accident. Her son was seven when he was injured but now is in his mid-thirties. As a result of his injuries he has a range of disabilities, both physical and mental, is an epileptic and unable to work.
The driver of the vehicle was never caught and it is not clear what compensation Madam S received, if any, from the special fund set up by insurers to compensate the victims of hit-and-run accidents. Madam S has been unable to work for years as she has to look after her son full-time and is in any case too old to work now.
At the time I first met her she seemed quite cheerful despite her sad story and hard life challenges. She asked to have a photo taken with me and I gave her my contact details to get a copy of that photo. A few days ago she phoned me to say that her situation had deteriorated and she was feeling quite desperate. She was particularly concerned that had no money to buy food or new clothes for Hari Raya. She had been suffering from asthma attacks which really needed hospitalization but this was a luxury she could not afford as she had full-time care of her son.
When I saw her she seemed in a very bad way and far from the happy smiling woman of the first photo. I asked her whether she was getting help from CDC and she said no. I pointed out that she should be getting around $800 a month from Public Assistance She has been to see her MP but he does not seem to have been able to help her. She has also approached MUIS but said that MUIS were unable to give her much help.
This is where our team of volunteers and members came in aided by the power of the internet where we put out a call for help. .Thanks to our great team of volunteers and public response, we were able to put Madam S. in touch with a lovely woman called Zarina who runs a charity called 3R Sincerely and Giving. I will quote from her Facebook post:
“Just for info, I’m the admin from 3R Sincerely & Giving. We are just a small outfit currently assisting needy family and adopting few families with long-term need. We are self funding as such we won’t be able to extend large monetary to any one family. At most we can give her $200 per month till more permanent solution is found. We also do a monthly visits to our adopted family more like a befriender programme. Sometimes, we rope in their neighbors to keep an eye on them and beep us if there’s a need.
Admittedly, we are rather stretch as we have only a small team doing the errands and currently very involve in our Ramadan Charity Drive.”
Zarina has already been to see her and has given her some NTUC vouchers and a set of baju kurung for Hari Raya. Some of our volunteers, though not by any means well off, have also made personal donations. They will follow up with MUIS to see what help she is getting.
As for me, I will pick up her case to see why she is not getting Public Assistance. I will follow up on that with CDC and the Family Service Centre. I understand that CDC stopped helping her some time ago and Madam S. has shown me a letter from CDC over a year ago promising to look into her case. Till now nothing has been done. If this is correct, then that is absolutely unacceptable but unfortunately I frequently see these cases where people fall through the cracks and paperwork gets lost. I have been helping an elderly gentleman again in Radin Mas in a wheel chair to liaise with AIC in order to get him a mobility scooter. After a few months when there had been no progress I chased them up and it turned out they had lost his contact details. They asked me to go and visit him and tell him they were trying to contact him. Often those who are most in need are worn down by the paperwork and the necessity of chasing people up by phone. If they are carers as Madam S is then visits to these offices are almost impossible.
Towards a longer term solution I will try to establish whether Madam S did receive compensation from the insurance fund for her son’s accident and if not whether it is still possible to apply.
The charity is now also working with her to try to persuade her to let them clear out her living space and give it a lick of paint.
So even if our Government, which runs a surplus of over $30 billion a year, is unwilling to help its own citizens, it is good to know that people like Zarina and our volunteers, with hearts of gold, are prepared to step in and help even though the resources at their disposal are modest.
It would be too easy to contrast this case with Rebecca Loh, who appears to have had no resources or charity network to call upon,because Rebecca’s case is one of mental illness, schizophrenia. As such I have been told by charities that they would not have worked with her as they are not professionally trained. This make it even more unbelievable that Rebecca was deemed fit to take care of her son, day in day out without any respite.
We need to ask what is the purpose of Government? Why do we elect one that wriggles out of even the most basic responsibilities to care for its people? Why does the Government need excess assets of $400 billion and to force us to save so much through CPF? As the Government runs a real Budget surplus of $30 billion a year why can in not afford to help the citizens who fall through the cracks?
More importantly as it is our money can we not afford to help these citizens. I would like to make it clear here that form an economist’s point of view I am not a big fan of the Nanny State or the Welfare State model. Even the Swedes are no longer fans of the Scandinavian model , putting back their retirement age at which they can draw their generous pensions. So I am not suggesting we use this surplus to fund a full welfare state and a dependency culture. If I could sum up my philosophy it would be that I believe in less STATE and more WELFARE, rather than a welfare state. My reading of the Government’s figures shows that we can afford to be more generous with welfare neither needing to raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere.
Certainly on an individual and small group level this case above shows that Singaporeans are caring generous and compassionate. How strange then that our government so poorly reflects the citizens on the ground being heartless, stingy and uncaring.
I dedicate this article to all the volunteers in charities or individually who devote themselves to helping in our communities and catching those in need before they slip through the cracks. Thank you. You make a difference.