Thursday, 17 September 2015

Appreciation of Singapore policies from a British perspective

There has been some unhappiness about a few of Singapore's policies.

Having lived in Britain for 10 years, I share my take from a more personal perspective.

• Central Provident Fund (CPF)

When I moved to Britain in 1988, my wife and I had to cough up 100 per cent cash for the down payment on a house and we had to service our monthly mortgage with cash.

When the interest rate shot up from 8 per cent in 1988 to an astronomical 15 per cent in just one year, many people lost their homes.

I was the sole breadwinner and, after servicing such a high mortgage, my wife and I had little cash left.

We wished there was a Singapore-style CPF system in Britain that could help us pay for the down payment and service the mortgage, and legislation that compelled employers to contribute 20 per cent or more to my pension scheme, like in Singapore.

• Pension

In my years in Britain, I never heard anyone complaining about the state pension/national insurance scheme that deducted 25 per cent or more (depending on income) of people's monthly income. No one ever said: "Give us our pension money back."

More than 10 years ago, Britain gave its citizens and permanent residents the option of opting out of the state pension scheme and joining private pension schemes.

This option was not because of pressure from the electorate, but realisation that because of the ageing population, the existing monthly pension to all pensioners was not sustainable.

• Tax/goods and services tax (GST)

In Singapore, we enjoy one of the lowest personal tax rates in the world. In Britain, the basic tax rate is 20 per cent and the maximum is a high 45 per cent. Our GST is only 7 per cent, compared with Britain's 20 per cent.


In Britain, when the London Tube breaks down, which it does more often than in Singapore, no buses or other forms of alternative transport are ever provided.

Commuters have to find their own way home, but no one blames London Tube, as Londoners accept that mechanical and electronic things do break down occasionally, no matter how well they are maintained.

Paul Huan Soo Hai
ST Forum, 15 Sep 2015

The blame game when things go wrong

In his letter, Mr Paul Huan Soo Hai highlighted a distinctive difference between two peoples - Britons and Singaporeans ("Appreciation of S'pore policies from a British perspective"; Tuesday).

Why are Britons not as prone to complaining as Singaporeans notoriously are?

Psychologists have a term to describe people who assume responsibility for the choices they make and for the outcomes of their choices - self-efficacy.

People who have self-efficacy see themselves as capable of determining the outcome of a decision. They have a surer sense of control or influence over life circumstances.

Hence, they avoid making the "fundamental error of attribution" when things don't turn out the way they expect - blaming others and external factors as causes of their unhappy encounter, while excusing or absolving themselves of blame.

What contributes to or diminishes self-efficacy?

In a culture where children are generally "spoon-fed" and not allowed to make mistakes, we tend to raise dependent people who can't see how they can survive without external help.

They tend to be deprived of the critical opportunity of learning from experience, which is to suffer the consequences of a bad choice.

Overprotective caregivers, be they parents or the government, though well meaning, can unwittingly nurture a complaining lot of people who are not used to taking primary responsibility for their decisions or choices in life.

People accustomed to and raised in such a protective environment are prone to commit the "fundamental error of attribution" when things don't go their way.

We need to ask ourselves, if this is largely true, is this the course to continue on in how we care for our children and our people?

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)
ST Forum, 17 Sep 2015

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