May 5, 2011

SINGAPORE: An old problem for Singapore

PENANG, Malaysia / The Star / News / May 5, 2011

SHAHANAAZ HABIB reporting from Singapore

Aging citizens find life harder as foreigners and youths take over.

IT is tough to be an old person in Singapore. Leong (not his real name) found this out when he turned 63 and retired.

He has an MBA, a CPA and had worked most of his adult life as a finance manager in a huge organisation in Singapore, but after retirement, he could not find another job.

“I am actually someone that some people might call a millionaire because I stay in a landed property, drive a big car and have quite a bit of savings.

“But when I try to apply for a job at my age, nobody wants to employ me because they say I am too qualified,” said Leong, who speaks three languages - English, Malay and Mandarin - fluently and also has a certificate in education.

Concerned about the future: Thousands of people at the
NSP rally at Chua Chu Kang on Tuesday night.

He feels that it is such a waste that the Government encourages foreign talent from other countries, but does not make use of local talent and expertise after they have passed the retirement age.

“I feel unwanted. It's as if my experience doesn't count,” he confessed.

Leong said he has kept the minimum of $70,000 (RM169,623) in the Central Provident Fund (CPF) which gives him $400 (RM970) each month but that is not enough to live on in Singapore.

“Prices keep going up."

“My wife and I stopped going to fancy restaurants once I retired. But even with just the basics, we need $2,000 (RM4,850) each month for food, bills and transport and I have to keep drawing from my savings.

“I am lucky in the sense that I have savings but there are many in my age-group who are really suffering because they have little or none.

“The (PAP) Government has failed totally to plan, on this part, for my generation.

“They started advising the people on financial planning really late, so people of my generation are actually in trouble,” Leong said.

He insisted that he was not anti-PAP but was worried about what would happen if he and his wife lived to 83 or more and used up all of their savings.

Foreign workers, rising prices and cost of living, CPF, increasing the age of retirement and a lack of solid support system for the elderly are among the issues in the run-up to Saturday's general election.

Leong and his wife Angie were so concerned about these issues that they showed up at the National Solidarity Party (NSP) rally at Chua Chu Kang on Tuesday night.

Angie (not her real name) used to be a teacher but she retired on medical grounds before the age of 50 because she had bone problems.

Now at the age of 64, she feels fit and physically better than she ever did.

But the Ministry of Education (MOE) refused to employ her because she had quit 15 years earlier for medical reasons.

“I can do much better than many of the young teachers but they only want to employ these young teachers.

“The MOE is bringing in a lot of teachers from China and many are using Singapore as a springboard to get their PR and then leave for the US or Australia.

“I met some of these foreign talent' teachers and they can't handle the students in Singapore,” said Angie, who does some relief teaching in schools.

For Angie and Leong, working is important to keep their minds active and for some “pocket money.”

While retired professionals like Leong and Angie face problems securing employment, older people in Singapore who are less educated seem to be able to find blue collar jobs.

It is not uncommon to see Singaporeans in their 60s, 70s and 80s sweeping streets, working in fast food restaurants and as cleaners.

Although Singapore is a young country, its low birth rates means that by 2030, one of five residents would be over 65.

And despite the 14.5% growth in the economy last year, CPF only paid an interest rate of 2.5% to contributors, which had people grumbling about the low returns, especially when the inflation rate was at 5%.

They worry that they won't have enough left for their retirement.

At a recent rally, corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao, who spent 30 years abroad and is the Workers Party candidate for the Aljunied group constituency, said the Government should be more sensible about bringing in foreign talent.

Chen said the huge numbers of foreign workers depressed the wages of Singaporeans and even displaced locals from their jobs.

He took to task the Government for constantly upping the retirement age and making it difficult for Singaporeans to benefit from its economic success and “live a dignified life.”

“The goal post keeps moving back and back and you keep dribbling, but young foreign players keep tackling the ball away,” he said.

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