Thursday, 21 November 2019

Wanted: Vision of Singapore based on values, not just economic value

The old narrative of material success and survival against the odds doesn't spur the young. To root young people to Singapore, we need a vision based on being a global city of opportunities, and being inclusive and embracing differences.
By Clarence Ching, Published The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2019

A recent casual chat with a friend turned to emigration, that old chestnut of an issue.

She is a 24-year-old law student, and is all set on a legal career when she finishes her studies. Asked if she would consider leaving Singapore to work one day, she responded starkly: "If Singapore doesn't serve your interest, why should you serve hers?"

Her bold statement and the way she framed nationality and identity in terms of serving individual interests jolted me.

The idealism of "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" clearly did not resonate with my friend.

But no one can fault ambitious young Singaporeans for being on the lookout for opportunities outside the Republic to advance their careers and improve their lives.

The way this friend saw it, heading back to Singapore meant that she was going to be another cog in the system, defined by her academic results without any real value and having her qualities overlooked. She reckoned a slower pace of life with less pressure in another country would suit her better and help her grow more holistically.

That conversation got me thinking about emigration, young Singaporeans and identity.

As it is, many Singaporeans are attractive global workers with skills well sought after around the world. An annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community in 2017 revealed that seven in 10 Singaporean youth aged 18 to 35 were looking to move overseas to pursue opportunities.

Similarly, a study conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2016 showed that 29.2 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were actively examining the possibility of emigrating in the next five years, an increase from 26.4 per cent in 2010.

Already, 214,700 Singaporeans live overseas as of 2017, compared with 172,000 a decade before that, according to the Department of Statistics.


Why do Singaporeans emigrate?

Surveys point to issues such as the high cost of living, high stress of work life and the education system.

Being able to explore opportunities not available in Singapore and living in societies with greater degrees of freedom were also mentioned as pull factors by some friends I spoke with.

I think another important factor contributing to brain drain is the national psyche.

There is no denying that the "Third World to First" story built on pragmatism and meritocracy forms the bulk of Singapore's DNA. But this is the same narrative that can propel emigration.

Pragmatism means one should seek the best life for self and family regardless of obligations or cost and whichever country is offering that life. There is little place for patriotism in that narrative. Meritocracy rewards those who strive and succeed, regardless of those left behind. Such narratives do not emphasise solidarity or a sense of belonging.

As a friend doing his post-graduate studies in an Ivy League university noted, the world is too big and diverse to be stuck in one single place for the long term. "If life abroad is better, why head back?"

Without a strong sense of identity as Singaporean, talented young locals who set their sights on global ambitions and dreams can easily forsake the land of their birth.

Indeed, countries struggle to maintain a national identity amid the challenges Globalisation 4.0 poses. The Republic is no exception - with the Singapore identity in a constant flux, our sense of who we are as a nation evolves and moves so quickly that we become lost at times.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Reflections on trust from a Pioneer Generation citizen

At the People's Action Party convention on Nov 10, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of societies where citizens have lost trust in the government and how, in contrast, the PAP Government enjoys a "deep reservoir of trust" from Singaporeans. In Singapore, high standards of governance, validated by international rankings, mean such trust is merited. Where there is high trust in government, it is not undemocratic or politically naive to keep returning one party to power.
By Margaret Chan, Published The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2019

Trust in government is crucial for a functioning society, and especially for a small, culturally diverse and complex society like Singapore. I agree with the Prime Minister that the Government enjoys "a deep reservoir of trust" from Singaporeans. Let me give my personal take on this issue as a former university lecturer and a Pioneer Generation citizen.

I trust in our Government because it delivers. Let me count the ways.

First, I have confidence in the rule of law here. Investors want it as assurance, but for citizens, faith in the rule of law is an existential necessity. Singaporeans take for granted what others find crucial and missing in their country, leading them to migrate here.

Some time back, a friend pulled up her roots elsewhere to become a Singapore citizen. When I asked her the reason for her decision, she memorably replied: "I want to live where I can send my children to school knowing they will return home."

Singaporeans take such basic things as personal security for granted; for my friend and millions around the world, assurance of personal security is a gift.

Second, we have a high-functioning education system, although Singaporeans liken it to pressure cooking. The stress does not come from the Government. It is caused by the exponential growth of world knowledge and the speed of information delivery.

Workers today compete in an international labour force. To give Singaporeans a fighting chance in the world market, we must have an education system that is abreast of all international developments. This requires that our education system be a work in progress continually responding to change.

We have universal education and social equity. For example, the recent decision to double state spending on subsidies for pre-school learning is a response to research findings that early childhood education gives children a head start in life. Subsidies make pre-school programmes available to more families so that they are no longer a privilege of the rich.

Singapore's meritocratic system means we are judged on our performance and not because we belong to a certain social class or racial community. We have all heard of people who are living their Singapore dream: children of cleaners, labourers and hawkers, catapulted into the upper middle-income professional class in one generation.

The crucial knowledge we should take away from this is that Singaporeans have the best chance to fulfil their personal potential.

The World Bank Human Capital Index measures the productivity of the next generation of workers relative to the benchmarks of complete education and full health. An economy in which a child born today can expect to achieve complete education and full health will score a value of one on the index.

Singapore topped the 157 countries on the index with a score of 0.88. Comparative indexes: Finland (0.81), Britain (0.78), Switzerland (0.77), the United States (0.76) and Malaysia (0.62).

Third, the Government has fulfilled its paramount pledge to make Singapore an egalitarian society regardless of race, language or religion.

Identity politics has resulted in racial and religious violence in some countries. To be able to complain about "brownface" indiscretions in Singapore is a privilege, for this means we have rights that allow us to call out racist behaviour. However, when we complain of someone's insensitivity, it should not be with a vehemence that can instigate hate. This threatens social harmony.

When a Chinese woman complained on social media that tall Sikh men wearing turbans had blocked her view at a concert, Internet trolls attacked her views. But the Sikh community, trusting that the woman had no ill intentions, offered friendship. Their graciousness in inviting the woman to their temple taught Singaporeans a signal lesson on good citizenship.

Fourth, our Government is clean. Singapore is ranked No. 3 in the list of least corrupt countries by Transparency International.

I have a personal experience of this that remains vivid. In 1976, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises was formed, and I volunteered to guest-edit its first annual report. I visited prisons as part of this job, and one day, I came face-to-face with an inmate who was a former minister. I was only 27 years old then, and I found it a sobering lesson on the Government's zero-tolerance stance against corruption.

Fifth, we have social equity. Housing, healthcare, education and public transport are subsidised. Singapore has an enviable 91 per cent home ownership rate.

I could go on and on. Climate change might cause flooding in coastal areas? A 100-year plan has already been mooted.


I am a Pioneer Generation citizen, and I remember how, in the pre-Independence days, poor people would rush to grab leftovers.

My late friend, 10 years older than me, worked in a shop when he was a boy - not for the pay, but for the right to take home to his family what remained of dinner at the shop. In those days, Chinese businesses provided meals for workers.

The shop supervisor used to sell the leftovers to a farmer for swill. Angry at the loss of his side income, the man made a point of mixing up all the food so that what my friend took home resembled… swill.

My friend became a wealthy medical doctor, but he never stopped eating like a ravenous wolf, causing younger people to remark on his bad table manners.

I can imagine that by now, many younger readers would be sighing "Okay boomer, we've heard it all before", but bear with me, especially if the coming general election is going to be the first one in which you vote.

Or don't take it from me. Here are views on Singapore governance from international observers.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Next GE will decide if Singapore can sustain a good, stable Govt: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the PAP65 Awards and Convention 2019

Keeping Singaporeans' faith in the PAP
He tells PAP to get ready for tough fight, with next election about Singapore's future
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2019

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday set out what is at stake for the next general election, saying it will decide if Singapore can sustain a good and stable government that can safeguard Singaporeans' lives and well-being.

Addressing 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) activists at what could be the last major party gathering before the general election, he told them to be prepared for a tough fight.

PM Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, called on activists to continue working hard to convince Singaporeans to give the ruling party the mandate to lead the country again in the upcoming election, which will take place amid an uncertain global environment.

There is a lot to lose if Singapore's politics turn unstable or dysfunctional, he said, adding that the upcoming polls are "not just about the PAP doing a bit better or a bit worse", but whether Singapore can be different from other countries for a long time to come.

"The next election is about the future of Singapore," he said. "Soon, it will be time for battle again."

The general election must be held by April 2021, but is widely expected to be called next year.

PM Lee began his speech by highlighting what the PAP Government has done since the last general election to improve people's lives, from increasing pre-school and tertiary subsidies and rolling out the Merdeka Generation Package to help manage the cost of living, to creating better jobs and improving the public transport network.

He then set out the challenging external environment Singapore has to navigate, and outlined what the party has to do to retain the electorate's trust, from giving people hope for the future to ensuring unity and social cohesion.

Externally, Singapore is likely to come under more pressure from the United States and China to take a side, as tensions between both powers grow, PM Lee noted.

Nearer to home, while relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are good, there remain difficult issues to resolve, he said. These include water with Malaysia and airspace arrangements with both countries.

PM Lee stressed that aside from a capable government, strong domestic support is crucial in managing these external issues. "The unity of Singaporeans is our first line of defence," he said at the PAP convention at the Singapore Expo.

"Others will be watching us closely to see if the PAP wins a strong mandate, especially at a time of leadership transition."

He said the PAP will have to maintain the "deep reservoir of trust" it has with Singaporeans - a compact he said the party had built up by being upfront about unpopular but necessary policies, and delivering what it promised.

He also reiterated the rationale for potential hot-button issues at the next general election, including raising the goods and services tax some time after the election and amendments to the Constitution to ensure the president is from a minority group from time to time.

On changes to the elected presidency, he said minority ethnic groups now have an assurance that their place in Singapore's society will always be safeguarded.

"Overall, from a short-term perspective, this issue is a political minus for the Government, for the PAP," he said. "But this is part of governing. I am convinced that we did the right thing. We must never, ever be afraid to do what is right for Singapore."

Beyond race and religion, the country also has to guard against fault lines like a disconnect between the masses and the elite, he said. The PAP's strength stems from having the people's mandate, he added, urging party activists to always keep in close contact with the people, understand their issues and put their interests first.

He said the PAP has to make sure the system always works for ordinary Singaporeans so that they will embrace it.

Highlighting the party's "symbiotic relationship" with the unions as a key way it stays close to workers, he said the PAP will always serve and represent workers' interests.

PM Lee then stressed that the electorate's trust in the PAP has to be sustained in every generation.

The party's fourth-generation team, led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, has taken shape, he said, adding that it has a very difficult task and deserves full support across the party.

"Back them. They are our team, they are Singapore's team," he said.

The country, he added, needs the best team to take it forward. "That team is the PAP."

Monday, 11 November 2019

Rail Manpower Development Package: $100 million package to help train rail workers

This will allow for investments in simulators and virtual reality tools
By Clement Yong, The Sunday Times, 10 Nov 2019

An injection of $100 million to better train rail workers here is set to ease rail operators' cost burden as the industry strives to meet Singapore's transport needs.

The Rail Manpower Development Package (RMDP), announced by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan at a transport workers' appreciation event yesterday, will become the main source of training funds for MRT and LRT workers in the next five years.

"Operators are financially not the most healthy at the moment... In order not to hold back such investments, the Government, through the Land Transport Authority (LTA), will co-invest," said Mr Khaw in his speech at the event.

"That way, the worker will have the tools to do what is necessary to raise their productivity and do their job better... The bottom line is we want to improve service levels for the commuters."

Both rail operators have recorded massive losses in recent years. In the 12 months to end-March this year, SMRT Trains' losses hit $155 million - almost double from a year ago - while SBS Transit's train division also registered losses in the tens of millions.

The LTA said the RMDP was co-developed with rail operators and the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) as a coordinated effort to ensure training programmes stay relevant to rail workers' needs.

Among other things, it will allow for investments in hardware equipment like simulators and virtual reality tools.

With these, workers who currently only get the chance to practise what they have learnt during limited engineering hours - often after midnight when trains have stopped operations - will be able to do so in the day, accelerating their pace of learning.

The SGRail Industry Scholarships, as well as sponsorships for current workers, will benefit around 400 students and staff, the authority said.

NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong welcomed the move in a Facebook post yesterday, saying that the new plan was partially the result of the union's insistence that more resources be invested in manpower training.

"We recognise that the rail operators face (the) significant challenge of balancing heavy investments in maintenance with manpower training," he said. "(But) a world class public transport system requires a world class public transport workforce."

Mr Yong, who is also an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said the union will ensure there is money for experienced workers to get certified for skill sets they already informally have, and for younger rail workers to build their careers.

The focus on the rail industry comes amid the planned expansion of the rail network from 230km to 360km over the next decade, even as stakeholders focus on upgrading ageing assets to make sure current lines continue to be reliable and efficient.

Free Trade Agreements have created more jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

Minister cites figures to refute criticism that CECA helps Indian nationals steal jobs here
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Nov 2019

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has come out in defence of Singapore's free trade agreements (FTAs), saying these have helped more Singaporeans get employed in higher-skilled jobs.

He made the point yesterday as he refuted criticism that one such agreement, between Singapore and India, had given Indian professionals unfettered access to jobs and citizenship here.

Such falsehoods, circulated online and in WhatsApp chat groups, were aimed at scaring and dividing Singaporeans at a time of economic uncertainty, he said. Some purveyors of such untruths had gone further to play the racial card.

Warning against such behaviour, he said: "The Government takes a very serious view of these attempts to rattle Singaporeans and divide our society."

He told reporters in remarks at his office: "Times are uncertain. It is important for us to stay cohesive, help one another, and never allow others to stoke the fears and racial biases of our people. Never do this for selfish personal or political reasons. We Singaporeans are definitely better than this."

Of Singapore's 24 FTAs, the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has often been fodder for critics of the Government who say it has opened the floodgates for Indian nationals to enter Singapore.

Last Sunday, participants at a Speakers' Corner gathering in Hong Lim Park denounced the agreement. This was after a video of an Indian condominium resident berating a security guard went viral. In August, Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock launched his new party and pledged, among other things, to make CECA an election issue.

Addressing claims that CECA helped Indian nationals steal jobs from Singaporeans, Mr Chan cited figures to show that the number of higher-skilled jobs for Singaporeans grew by 400,000 since CECA was signed in 2005.

The proportion of Singaporeans in such jobs has also gone up from 50 per cent to 56.8 per cent.

In 2005, of the 1.65 million Singaporeans and permanent residents in the workforce, 825,000 of them were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

There are now 2.2 million in the resident workforce, of whom 1.25 million are in PMET jobs.

Also, Singapore's unemployment rate among citizens has always been among the lowest globally and CECA did not change that, he said.

"Our network of FTAs, including CECA, has created many opportunities for our businesses and better jobs for Singaporeans," he added.

As to charges that CECA gave Indian nationals unconditional access to Singapore, he said this was not true. None of Singapore's FTA allowed for this. Indian professionals must meet the Manpower Ministry's qualifying criteria like any other foreigner before being granted an Employment Pass, S Pass or Work Permit.

Criticism over CECA has also centred on intra-company transferees, a common FTA feature globally which allows for the movement of professionals for short periods to set up offices or for ad hoc projects, for example.

Critics say this has helped companies circumvent the Fair Consideration Framework, which mandates that Singaporeans must have a chance to apply for jobs before foreigners can be considered.

But the Government has said there is a stringent definition for intra-corporate transferees and additional criteria that make it harder to game the system.

For instance, to qualify under CECA, a person must have worked for the company outside Singapore for at least half a year before being posted here. They are also allowed to stay for a total term not exceeding eight years after accounting for any extensions.

Mr Chan also dismissed the misconception that CECA gave Indian nationals privileged immigration access. "Anyone applying for Singapore citizenship must qualify according to our existing criteria. All our FTAs, including CECA, place no obligations on Singapore with regard to immigration."

He said he understood Singaporeans' worries about competition and job prospects, given the current economic environment. He pledged that the Government would continue to create good jobs by attracting investments and equipping students and workers with the skills to compete globally.

"The way to help Singaporeans is not to mislead them and create fear and anger," he said.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Homeless in Singapore: 1,000 homeless people sleeping on the streets in Singapore

Six in 10 of the homeless interviewed in nationwide study were working, mostly in low-wage jobs
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2019

The first nationwide study of homelessness in Singapore found that about 1,000 people were sleeping on the street.

They were sleeping rough in most parts of the island, but more were found in the older and larger housing estates such as in the city area, Bedok and Kallang.

These areas also had more rental flats, as homelessness is linked to poverty. The study did not specify which areas in the city it was referring to.

Over eight in 10 of the homeless were men and of those interviewed, six in 10 were working, mostly in low-wage jobs like cleaning and as security guards.

Half the number had been toughing it out on the streets for between one and five years, and nearly one-third did so for six years or longer.

They slept in places like void decks, commercial buildings and playgrounds.

The study was done by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore.

He led a team of close to 500 volunteer fieldworkers who covered 12,000 blocks of flats and other public and commercial spaces over three months to count the numbers sleeping on the streets.

The fieldworkers, who started work after 11.30pm, recorded the number of people who were asleep or going to sleep in public spaces. These rough sleepers also had some form of bedding or many belongings.

The study also interviewed 88 of the homeless people.

Prof Ng said: "Homelessness exists in Singapore. But despite growing policy and public attention in recent years, the size of the homeless population in Singapore is not known. Knowing the number of homeless people and where they may be found allows services to be designed and organised in a systematic way."

The study, which was released yesterday, is an independent one funded by a research grant from the LKYSPP. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) also helped to mobilise social workers for the street count and asked the homeless interviewed if they are willing to seek help from government or social service agencies.

The key findings include:

• Some six in 10 of the homeless were working but their median wage was $1,400 a month, compared with the national median wage of $3,467.

• About half said they were sleeping on the street as they were unemployed, did not have regular jobs or earned very little. So they could not pay their rent or mortgage, or they had sold their house. Family conflicts and break-ups were cited as another main reason for homelessness.

• Some 26 per cent either rented a flat from the Housing Board at highly subsidised rates or bought an HDB flat. However, some chose not to go home because of conflicts with their co-tenant.

• Some 40 per cent of those interviewed had sought help in the past year. They did so from a number of places including the Social Service Offices which administer the Government's financial aid schemes or their Member of Parliament.

Prof Ng noted the complexity of their problems, saying that could be a reason why 40 per cent sought help but still found it hard to break out of their homeless predicament.

Mr Lee Kim Hua, a senior director at MSF, said the ministry defined a homeless person as someone "who feels he has no home to go back to, whether he owns a house or is renting a place".

He said: "As long as he doesn't feel safe going back at night to sleep, we take it as homelessness."

Mr Lee said the ministry has stepped up its partnership with community groups to reach out to and aid the homeless over the past two years. This is needed, as among other reasons, some of the homeless may be afraid of and shun help from the authorities but not staff and volunteers from charities.

So the key is for the community groups to engage them and build trust, and when they are ready, the ministry can extend the help needed.

The ministry has brought together the different groups helping the homeless and in July, the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network was launched. It now has 26 members, such as the Catholic Welfare Services and the Homeless Hearts of Singapore.

Mr Lee said that the ministry is working with the Peers Network to build an interim shelter for those sleeping on the streets.

There are currently three transitional shelters catering to the homeless.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

E-scooters banned from Singapore footpaths from 5 November 2019; $7 million E-scooter trade-in grant to help food delivery riders switch to alternative modes of transport

E-scooters banned from footpaths amid rise in accidents
From November 5, riders can use them only on park connectors and cycling paths or face fines, jail
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2019

Electric scooters will be banned from footpaths from today, in the latest and toughest measure yet to address public safety concerns surrounding their use.

Those caught flouting the rules can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for up to three months if convicted.

There are 100,000 registered e-scooters in Singapore.

From now until the end of the year, the authorities will mainly issue warnings to errant riders, but a zero-tolerance approach will be taken from next year.

The ban means that e-scooters will be confined to 440km of cycling paths islandwide, instead of the 5,500km of footpaths the riders could use before.

Bicycles and personal mobility aids such as motorised wheelchairs will continue to be allowed on footpaths, cycling paths and park connectors.

But the ban will progressively be extended to other motorised personal mobility devices (PMDs) in the first quarter of next year, including hoverboards and unicycles.

Announcing the tougher stance, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said in Parliament yesterday: "This ban of e-scooters from footpaths is a difficult decision. But it is a necessary step for pedestrians to feel safe again on public paths, while still allowing e-scooters to grow in tandem with cycling path infrastructure."

He made the announcement in a statement responding to questions from five MPs, including Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir), who asked about the Transport Ministry's plans to improve safety levels around the use of PMDs.

Dr Lam noted that calls for a total ban on PMD usage have been getting louder as more accidents occur.

"We expected the co-sharing of footpaths to be challenging but we were hopeful that with public education, PMD users would be gracious and responsible," he said.

"Unfortunately, this was not so."

Previously, PMDs could be used on cycling paths (at up to 25kmh) and footpaths (10kmh).

They are not allowed on roads.

Dr Lam noted that the move was not a complete ban on e-scooters as PMDs can still be used on cycling paths and park connectors. The total cycling path network is expected to triple by 2030.

Countries such as Japan, Germany and France have also banned e-scooters from footpaths.

Dr Lam also told Parliament that plans to issue PMD-sharing licences will be scrapped.

The move will have some impact on the plans to improve last-mile connectivity.

Dr Lam said that the authorities had earlier felt that PMDs could be allowed on footpaths with mitigating measures in place, but this had not worked.

"At the same time, we understand that we should not push for connectivity at all costs. I think public safety is still paramount. And looking at the current situation, I think it is not possible for the Government not to make a decisive decision, and therefore the decision to prohibit the use of PMDs on footpaths," said Dr Lam.

The number of accidents involving PMDs has gone up with the increase in users. There were 228 reported accidents involving PMDs on public paths in 2017 and last year, with 196 resulting in injuries.

In September, a 65-year-old cyclist, Madam Ong Bee Eng, died in hospital after an e-scooter accident in Bedok. A 20-year-old man was arrested and the case is being investigated as one of causing death by a rash act.

A few riders of motorised e-scooters have also died in accidents, Dr Lam said.

He added that the authorities will also work with food delivery firms to help their riders switch to motorcycles or bicycles.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Give money to others instead; Elderly caregiver surprised at response to his life story and grateful for offers of assistance

Elderly good Samaritan refuses money: 'I have enough... I don't need anything else'
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 1 Nov 2019

Offers of donations and assistance have poured in for Mr Lee Cho Poon, an 83-year-old retired busker who has opened his rental flat to three different housemates over the past decade, caring for their every need, including their funerals.

But when The Straits Times visited Mr Lee in his one-room apartment in Ang Mo Kio on Wednesday, he politely declined every one of them, asking instead that donors help those less fortunate than he is.

Mr Lee, who never married, lives in the flat with his housemate Neo Cheng Liang, 86, a former neighbour who moved in with him in 2017.

Mr Neo suffers from dementia and is hard of hearing.

More than 30 people have reached out to The Straits Times, offering to help Mr Lee since his story was reported on Tuesday.

One such person was pre-school director Ben Lee, 41, who said: "He gives so much with the little he has. I have so much but I give so little. It's really inspiring."

Both young and old offered a variety of donations, ranging from money to bed sheets, clothing, furniture and groceries. Some also volunteered to spend time with Mr Lee.

Lawyer Suzanne Liau, 70, said: "Mr Lee's generosity of heart and spirit is not only admirable but, given his financial circumstance, also astounding.

"There is just no comparison with people who have more, but have done very much less and are not even aware that they have not done enough."

Student Megan Lau, 23, said: "My boyfriend and I realised Mr Lee actually lives in his neighbourhood, which made it feel so much closer to home.

"We realised that the people who have so little are the most generous. It makes us want to help him out in whatever way we can."

She offered not just to donate money but also to take Mr Lee out for meals if possible.

It is not just Singaporeans who have been touched by Mr Lee's story.

Mr Ajit Iyer, an Indian citizen who has been living in Singapore for the past decade or so, offered to help Mr Lee in whatever way he could.

The 45-year-old, who works in human resources, said: "I'm not sure that when I'm 80, I'd have a heart that big. It's very humbling. It's quite amazing that he's able to do something like that."

Social services agency Lions Befrienders is currently helping to coordinate the offers of assistance for Mr Lee, who has no major illnesses despite suffering a mild stroke a few years ago.

The agency has clarified that it will not take a cut of the donations, which will all be given to Mr Lee.

Lions Befrienders' chairman William Loh said: "We are heartened by the outpouring of goodwill from the public and are immensely grateful for their strong support.

"This is indeed a hallmark of an inclusive society with a culture of giving."

Mr Lee, however, was completely unaware of the buzz his story had generated.

"All I did was take care of my friend, who's like a brother to me - why is this such big news?" he asked in Mandarin, surprised at the public's response to his life story.

He was also surprised at the many offers of assistance, and repeatedly thanked those who had reached out. However, he said he did not wish to receive anything.

He said: "I never wished for anyone else's money, as long as I can take care of my housemate and continue to live with him.

"He's like my dear brother… as long as I can continue to eat with him, that's enough. I don't want anything else, I don't need anything else.

"Please tell readers that I'm very, very grateful, but that they should give the money to people who are needier than I am."

The men live on financial assistance of $600 a month each after Mr Lee's savings from his days as a busker ran out.

He added: "We already have enough to eat... we have about $40 (for two people) a day, that's enough.

"Most importantly, I want to remain healthy, to continue caring for Mr Neo, for him to not fall ill, to eat and be happy. This is what gives me satisfaction... I have no regrets."