PUBLISHED BY THE ONLINE CITIZEN ON 25 SEPTEMBER 2008
Get a good education, work hard, save money, get married, own homes, make babies, retire and enjoy the fruits of your labour - this was once the Singapore Dream.
In the last 5 years, I know of several friends who have left Singapore because that Singapore Dream, which was once achievable, is now more distant.
A majority of these friends who have left are married.
To some, the decision was very clear and a no-brainer. There was a better quality of life waiting for them beyond the Singapore shores even though it came at the expense of higher taxes.
Some thought long and hard before making this decision. At least one of them even purchased a property in Singapore and was thinking of having children here. But the more they contemplated, the more they got sucked into the rat race and realised that this was a life they did not wish to lead.
Life, to them, is not about stashing away more and more money in their bank accounts but about leading a contented life. And, since they left, they have not regretted making that decision.
Another group of these friends are single and homosexual. They feel strongly, for various reasons, that they cannot live a life of dignity in Singapore. Legislation such as Section 377A of the Penal Code also impedes them from being themselves.
They are now happily settled elsewhere, either still single or attached by civil partnerships to other males. Most enjoy a standard of living higher than they would have in Singapore. One friend has even adopted a new identity in the interest of his family, who remain in Singapore.
Of course, there are another group of friends who have left simply because they can make more money elsewhere. To them, a personal priority is to save as much as they can early in life so that, later in life, they can retire blissfully.
Some years ago, at a Singapore International Foundation event for foreign undergraduates, I asked the then Minister for Law & Foreign Affairs, Professor Shanmugam Jayakumar, about this trend.
He basically made statements to the following effect. There is nothing or little the Government can do to change the minds of those leaving Singapore, and that Singapore should continue to focus its efforts on attracting foreign talent.
This was at a time when the Singapore Government was dishing out scholarships to foreign students and citizenships to foreign sportsmen. We would only realise much later that some of these sportsmen would flee the country as soon as they had accumulated their bounty!
Thankfully, Shanmugam Jayakumar’s view has not been a view shared by the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has set up the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) in the Prime Minister’s Office and made it the direct agenda of his office to reconnect Singapore with Singaporeans who have left.
How well the OSU will do remains unclear, especially in light of more developments, which are encouraging or enabling more Singaporeans to leave Singapore.
Since stepping down as Prime Minister, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has gone on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East to promote Singapore and Singaporean talent.
This has created new opportunities for some, like an uncle of mine, who, after reaching their mid-40s, faced great difficulty finding jobs here. These experienced persons are now being talent-spotted for work in the Middle East in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Another Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Lim Boon Heng, is pushing for more people to work beyond the retirement age and lobbied very hard for legislation to make employers offer re-employment to those above 62 years old.
My folks and I do not buy this idea that one has to work for life or beyond the retirement age. There is so much more to do in life after retirement.
Like some of those who have left, they are thinking of liquidating some of their assets to purchase a retirement home in Thailand or India where the cost of living is comparatively cheaper.
I also know of many older friends who have purchased homes in Penang and Malacca in Malaysia or moved to Australia or New Zealand, because that is where they wish to eventually retire.
Today, the Singapore Dream has changed: get a good education, work hard, save money, get married, own homes, make babies, retire and then keep on working.
As a result, many more find themselves abandoning the Singapore Dream and fleeing this city of possibilities.
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