The Ministry of Health plans to build a nursing home at Bishan Street 13. This is a good thing and it should be welcome. Too often, Singaporeans are found complaining that the current government is not doing enough for the elderly and the poor. I would, therefore, expect that a decision to build a nursing home would therefore be welcome.

However, as in the past, residents living near the affected area are unhappy with the idea of a nursing home being built in the vicinity of their homes. Whilst welcoming the idea of a nursing home, these residents are not happy that it would be in their own backyard. What’s wrong with my fellow Singaporeans? Why such selfishness?

To be fair, it has been reported that some residents welcome the idea. Besides, those individuals that are opposed to the building of the nursing home might well be in the minority. But, the disconcerting fact is that this is not the first time that residents living in a particular locality have opposed the building of a facility that would have served a larger communal goal. Why is the narrow-minded asset-enhancement mentality so entrenched in us that we are so troubled by worthwhile welfare projects cropping us near our housing estates?

Whilst I was not too surprised by the fact that some residents were unhappy about the decision to build a nursing home, I was definitely surprised to read a statement from the Singapore Peoples Party about this issue:

28 May 2012

The proposed nursing home at Bishan Street 13

The SPP believes in a humane and just Singapore, where the disadvantaged such as the elderly will be looked after with dignity. The proposed nursing home in Bishan will be an essential facility towards this, but the residents most affected deserve consideration.

Alternative sites should be actively sought. The location of the nursing home in this case is still negotiable. A voting exercise similar to that for the Lift Upgrading Programmes should be conducted to determine the site for the nursing home. A more entrenched culture of greater consultative decision-making can only be good for Singapore in the long term.

From what we understand, the residents in Toh Yi Drive who faced a similar incident a few months ago were in fact more unhappy that they were not properly consulted before the plans were drawn up, rather than the plans for building the nursing home in itself.

The situation we are in is caused by the PAP Government’s policy of “asset enhancement”. It has been drummed into Singaporeans that their HDB flat is not only a home, but also an asset that they can cash-out in their old age. It is naturally a hard sell asking Singaporeans to accept anything likely to devalue their ‘retirement plan’. This situation will not be fully resolved until Singapore returns to when a HDB flat is affordable housing, when retirement savings are diversified and liquid, and when Community regains its importance in Singaporeans’ lives.

The SPP has observed the good work of the various Lions organisations among the elderly and poor in Bishan and Toa Payoh. We thank them and encourage them to persevere in their efforts. Going forward, we hope to be able to work closely with them in our service to Bishan-Toa Payoh residents.

Finally, we note that residents will need more information and will need to be consulted thoroughly throughout the planning, construction and operations for the nursing home, should it proceed. The SPP will be engaging Bishan residents for their in-depth views during our scheduled walkabout this Sunday, 3 June 2012, beginning 9am that will cover Bishan Street 13. The SPP will work constructively with the Government, residents and the Lions Home for the Elders on this issue.

CHIAM SEE TONG
Secretary-General, SPP

I believe that there was no necessity for the SPP to wade into this issue. I have to admit that statement is finely poised and nowhere in there does Mr Chiam See Tong rubbish the need for a nursing home. He takes issue with the lack of consultation. However, should any government really be held ransom to popular sentiment when making decisions about land use especially when the use of the land is for the greater good of the community? After all, we are not talking about residential property being acquired and destroyed in order to make way for a golf course or a highway. Nor are we talking about destroying a heritage site in order to construct a highway. Even in instances where people may feel justified in objecting to government decisions on land usage, I do not believe that government decision making should be tied to a issue based voting by citizens. The SPP’s idea of having a voting exercise similar to the Lift Upgrading Programme is in my view undesirable.

I do not oppose the idea of consultation. In fact, I welcome the suggestion that the government should consult before making decisions on land use where there may be significant impact on the properties of citizens. But, such consultation should not result in an expectation that the government should be restrained from exercising its discretion and making a decision one way or the other. Democracy in the form of a general mandate to govern based on a package of policies is one thing. This should not be confused with an anarchic attempt to engage in popular decision making on every single administrative and policy task.

I have often taken a critical stance against the PAP on matters pertaining to the law and the Constitution and in relation to the rights of individuals. But, I welcome the building of nursing homes. They are needed. As much as we demand that our government be more compassionate, we should examine ourselves and ask whether we are even taking any effort to cast aside at least a minute amount of our money-faced selfishness.

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