Vivian Balakrishnan wants you to save money

From ‘Minister calls on S’porereans to save money, not make sacrifices, on energy’, 5 Dec 15, article by Albert Wai, Today

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday (Dec 4) expressed confidence that Singapore will meet its pledge to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, adding that for many Singaporeans, this will mean having to be more conscious about saving energy on a daily basis.

Speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before leaving for Paris to attend talks on a post-2020 global climate change regime, the minister said “a concerted and deliberate long-term plan has been put in place to ensure that we can all save money, at the personal, national and industrial level”. “I’m not asking you to make sacrifices. I am asking you to save money. We all need to pay attention to the way we use (electricity) and, more importantly, go back to the age-old wisdom about not wasting.”

Yes, we should all tighten the purse strings, nevermind if Christmas is round the corner. Instead of popping the bubbly, let’s toast with goddamn NEWater. Christmas lights? Hell no. Free range organic turkey? Bah! In fact, let’s all have our meals in hawker centres instead of grand buffets.

This exchange between MP Lily Neo and Minister Vivian with regards to how much recipients under the Public Assistance scheme should be getting is worth reproducing in its entirety (2007).

Dr Lily Neo: Sir, I want to check with the Minister again when he said on the strict criteria on the entitlement for PA recipients. May I ask him what is his definition of “subsistence living”? Am I correct to say that, out of $260 per month for PA recipients, $100 goes to rental, power supply and S&C and leaving them with only $5 a day to live on? Am I correct to say that any basic meal in any hawker centre is already $2.50 to $3.00 per meal? Therefore, is it too much to ask for just three meals a day as an entitlement for the PA recipients?

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?

Oh if only the entire government subscribed to Vivian’s thinking that urging Singaporeans from the very beginning to abide by ‘age-old’ values would be good enough to keep unnecessary spending in check. Then we wouldn’t have to wait till we’re 55 before the Government relinquishes our piggy bank, i.e. withdrawing part of our CPF.

It’s one thing to be told that you should save money by your stingy dad who refuses to throw holey singlets away. It’s another to be educated about money matters by a highly-paid minister, especially one who needs to justify how the YOG budget blew up to $387 million. Luckily he didn’t bring up sacrificing simple pleasures into the picture, like how ex Health Minister beseeched women to ‘save on a hairdo and go for breast screening’. If there’s one leader role model that one should look up to when it comes to frugal financing, it’s the late, jogging shorts-mending, underwear-washing LKY.

Talk is cheap, of course. If you want your citizens to take you seriously, get off the high chair and show that you mean business. Do your part to cut carbon emissions by cycling as part of your daily commute, like Britain’s ‘minister of cycling’ Robert Goodwill. Take the train not just to get a ‘ground feel’ of commuter suffering, but because you choose to do so over driving. Organise an ‘eco-Xmas’ party with your Holland residents, where Xmas trees are made out of recycled trash and the most expensive item on the dinner menu is Farmers’ market eggnog, not airflown Iranian caviar.

Nonetheless, our Minister would do well to be conscious of his own personal spending after making this statement, and keep his luxurious holidays, if any, thoroughly hidden from the public eye. Especially any that involve learning how to cook fancy French food over 5 weeks for $46000.

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One Response

  1. I watched the exchange between Dr V Balakrishnan and Lily Neo in Parliament some years back.

    This response was unfortunate and he will be remembered for life to have said those words. But I believe he is not a mean-hearted person – I have read some comments from people who know and work with him personally who testified to his good side.

    Sometimes in arguing a point with somebody one can use strong / forceful words to support our claim but only to regret it later, I am sure this is not unique to Dr VB – we ourselves must have been caught in similar situations too.

    By the way, the person who spent $$ to learn French cooking is not a minister but a senior civil service employee. Of course he is paid big bucks and can easily afford such high life but it is important nevertheless to state the distinction. I recalled it was reported later that he was chided for writing the article about his holiday at a time when many sporeans were suffering due to the economical crunch at that time. He acknowledged his lack of sensitivity although he defended that it was not his intention to show off.

    Most of our ministers while earning millions a month will not flaunt their wealth quite so publicy. Not necessarily because they are all humble but that is the culture which LKY cultivated in the cabinet and passed down the line. Any minister who does otherwise will likely be left out of the cabinet in later elections because PAP cannot risk the adverse consequences. Thus far, I have yet to see a PAP minister living ostentatiously. Top civil servants and some backbenchers yes but not ministers.

    Well to do people can be insensitive to the less fortunate (some of my relatives are very rich and they do occasionally behave as such) as they can lose touch with the lower incomers. I have to sometimes gently remind, although not always successfully, my closer relatives to not let their wealth get into their heads.

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