NDR: 生活费 – Cost of living
MOVIE TITLE: 生活费 – Cost of living
Starring: Emperor Gao Tan Lui, Empress Pai Chiak and Empress Dowager Kiam Siap
Co-starring: Assorted eunuchs and terracotta warriors
PLOT: This Chinese period drama is set during the reign of Emperor Gao who is upset with the spendthrift ways of his Empress and the court officials. His treasury is depleted and he is being pressured by eunuchs for new all-silk court attire to celebrate the Empress Dowager’s 80th birthday. But the Empress Dowager intervenes, quoting a long-dead Chinese philosopher on the value of thrift and humility. She goes down in history as the wise leader who said: “Cost of living is not the same as cost of lifestyle”.
REVIEW: The PM touched on cost-of-living in his English speech, but he said much more in Mandarin. Clearly, the Chinese community’s grumbles about “things getting so expensive” uttered in Mandarin and a variety of dialects is an issue he feels the need to address. It is a perennial hot potato, which is unlikely to be cooled no matter what he says. These are the issues that general elections revolve around, especially in the HDB heartland.
Is it a “real” pinch or have we just formed a habit of complaining about prices whenever we have to pay a bill? Never mind that inflation has come down, people say, it just doesn’t seem to be reflected on a day-to-day basis. Has cost of living gone up in tandem with standard of living? If so, everyone should expect to pay for a better quality of life. More importantly, are wages keeping pace? If they aren’t, are enough subsidies being put out to ensure that basic necessities are within reach of the lower income?
But that’s the point, isn’t it? Cost of living is about basic necessities.
On this front, the PM made a commitment to keep necessities such as food, public transport, healthcare and housing affordable. Seniors above 65 are happy with the hefty discounts on medical care that their PG cards give them. Mr Lee said so, although he needn’t. Their satisfaction is clear. Last night, he also announced that even households earning below $1,000 will be able to own their flat.
As for food, he referred to the staple, rice, and how NTUC Fairprice supermarkets sell 30 brands, including 10 house brands which are presumably much cheaper. And in a nod to a change in lifestyle where more people are eating out than at home, he said that more hawker centres will be built and different operating models were being tried out. PM Lee said he visited the new hawker centre at Ci Yuan Community Club in Ang Mo Kio-Hougang. Operated by Fei Siong Food Management, this hawker centre runs on a not-for-profit model. He had noted that queues are long. But the test will probably come a year or so later, when hawkers decide whether the model is good enough for them to sustain their business and prosper.
As for transport, and it’s PUBLIC transport, mind you, the PM disclosed that wage increases over the past 10 years have outpaced transport fare increases. It makes one wonder about the salaries of bus and train drivers. Can they be paid more if transport revenues aren’t going up as much as wages, especially since public transport is in private sector hands?
Then the PM went on to more sensitive ground, couching his words carefully so as not to offend. There may be reasons why the money is not enough, such as the desire to lead a better lifestyle. It is a reasonable aspiration, he said, but it will mean higher expenses that cannot always be solved through policies.
He picked two examples: the widespread use of air-conditioning, which forms a substantial part of the PUB bill and how each person seems to have a mobile phone, instead of a household sharing a landline like in the past. There will probably be countless retorts to this, such as how both are necessities now given the humidity (which drains the ability to work) and the use of mobile phones for work purposes (especially needed in this Smart Nation phase).
Perhaps he could have used a better example, like drinking coffee at Starbucks versus drinking kopi at a kopitiam. Will cutting down on designer coffee help to pay for air-con? Time to check the bill.
This is the first for our National Day Rally coverage. Read the rest of our four-part series on what happened at the National Day Rally on August 23, 2015.
Part 2: A home to call our own.
Part 3: Where are you, baby?
Part 4: Space EduCity 2020
Bonus: Dear PM
Text by Bertha Henson.
Photo Illustration by The Middle Ground.
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