Singapore Stats

September 7, 2011

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We’ve had a great time here in Singapore, we always enjoy this place – it’s clean and  safe and highly efficient and it’s beautiful to behold. We’ve learned bits and pieces about  Singapore over the years but we had such a great tour guide this morning that I thought  I’d share some incredible information about this gorgeous though tiny island nation.

Where to start…

Singapore used to be part of Malaysia but has only had it’s independence for about 46  years; apparently 46 years ago during a particularly feisty cabinet meeting of the  Malaysian parliament, the Singapore representatives were told they were no longer  wanted in the Malaysian government and they were kicked out of Malaysia and  Singapore gained it’s independence overnight.

The problem for the Singaporean people is that this tiny dot of an island was at the time  only about 500 square miles big…on a world map we’re talking less than the preverbal  dot! So the man who took charge (I can’t remember his name at the moment) decided  that the only way Singapore could survive independence was to attract foreign  investment and to work hard at a high standard of education, good paying jobs to keep  the people here and to ensure that the land mass they had wasn’t completely built out.

They set about reclaiming land from the sea and the island is now 700 square miles big  and they have 5 million population. Education isn’t free but is heavily subsidised by the  government with primary school students only paying about $5 per month and  secondary student paying about $12 per month. University fees are also heavily  subsidised by the government and depending on the subject can cost around $9000 a  year and up. University fees re high, but the wages here are also very high.

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Teachers at entry level straight out of uni start at about $3000 per month and after about  2 years are paid about $5000 per month and department heads are paid around $7000  per month. In order to keep a strong work force permanently, the Singaporean government maintains very healthy wage standards though this wasn’t the case at the time of their independence.

The brand new nation allowed business people to set the wages themselves with no minimum or maximum boundaries, workers were encouraged to negotiate with their employers and this is how the nation got established.

Much of the work went into infrastructure; roads, buildings, housing, hospitals, schools etc, one of the really important resources that Singapore lacked was an independent water supply. It was this lack of water that brought about the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in WWII – the Japanese bluffed the British into thinking they were attacking from one direction when they were in fact attacking from the opposite and all they had to do was cut the water from Malaysia and Singapore fell without a fight. They endured 3 years of Japanese domination and cruelty before they were liberated. So to prevent this scenario from occurring again, Singapore went to great lengths to develop a large catchment area which now provides all Singaporeans with a fresh water supply without having to depend on the goodwill and relationship with it’s main neighbour – Malaysia.

As you can imagine, such a small island nation still has a great many limitations, for example, they only grow 3% of their own food here, the other 97% is imported predominantly from Malaysia but they import rice from Thailand, meat from Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia and fruits and vegetables from Malaysia and Indonesia. I guess my first thought was that if they had an enemy who decided to attack it, it may not be a water issue that brings them to their knees, but rather a food shortage instead. Singapore may need to look to slightly more distant neighbours like Australia and New Zealand for food so it’s not quite so dependent on it’s closest neighbours.

We were also quite surprised to learn that military service is compulsory for all Singaporean men once they turn 18 and they do a minimum of 2 years national service. Because Singapore is so tiny, it has agreements with Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and some other nations I can’t quite remember where training of her young soldiers takes place.

Our guide said he believed it was one of the best decisions the government had every made because it taught young men discipline, obedience, patriotism, team work, leadership and courage. These young boys enter the army and leave it as men and all Singaporean men know how to defend their nation as well as their families.

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Right now, Singapore has a standing army of 360,000 soldiers as well as it’s reserve army…that’s phenomenal when you consider it only has a population of 5 million. Every young man regardless of his race or religion must serve his mandatory 2 years and I personally think this is something Australia should also be doing. What a difference it would make to our young people if they learned the skills and training that the army can provide…I believe the social structure of the nation would be very different indeed.

Another thing the government of Singapore was determined to do was ensure there was always enough jobs for the population as there is no social security here unless you’re disabled and unable to work or you’re over 75 years of age. Having said that, most elderly people are still working to meet their own financial needs.

They have a great health care system here, it’s heavily subsidised by the government – 85% – and the individuals pay the difference. It’s built into the wage structure, so if you need to see a doctor, you either take a receipt to your employer or the doctor simply bills the employer and the individual meets the difference. It’s a great scheme.

The birth rate at the moment isn’t great and so the government is encouraging all young married couples to have more children and are giving them financial incentives. For each child born, a young married couple will be given $4000 immediately no strings attached. After that, they’re given a $10,000 tax rebate and after that a further $12,000 incentive. We were told that they’re considering doubling the tax rebate and the following incentive because the birth rate continues to drop. An ageing population and a dwindling birth rate doesn’t bode well for Singapore’s future.

Just going back to the education situation for a moment, they’re about to make some changes to the situation regarding foreign students and workers…the situation to date has been that for foreign students and workers coming here, they were getting the pick of the jobs, but the population has been up in arms about this and so laws have now set in place a rule that says the best jobs and education positions must first go to Singaporean nationals. Not very PC, but very sensible. Perhaps this is something the other nations should take seriously as well.

I’m going to shock you now with some figures regarding housing and transport.

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Firstly, the Singaporean government is working really hard to dissuade people from owning cars because the island is so tiny that too many vehicles causes woeful traffic problems, they’ve established a highly efficient and affordable public transport system that is world class. You can catch a bus to anywhere on the island for $1, and you can catch the underground rail (MRT) for slightly more than that, but when you’ve used your voucher, you return the card and get  small refund! Fantastic. Buying weekly passes for bus and rail is cheaper still.

But if you decide you really must have your own vehicle, this is what you’ll have to fork out….

For a small car you’ll pay a minimum of $90,000! If you decide you want a BMW or a Mercedes or some other luxury vehicle, you will need to hand over a minimum of $400,000 as a starting price. But that’s not all…it will cost you $10,000 per year to register your vehicle and you can only run it for 10 years before you have to start the ball game all over again. But that’s still not all…because the cost of maintenance, insurance and, toll fees and upkeep, not to mention petrol means it will cost you around $2000 per month on top of everything.

Still people are buying cars left and right, they want their cars no matter what and congestion is becoming a bigger and bigger issue every day. So the government is talking about increasing costs even further and not only that, if you happen to happen to be in a car accident and cause traffic problems, the government will bill your credit card!

Believe me, it’s much cheaper to take a cab, bus or train to get where you need to go, and you can sit and read or snooze during the ride and leave the navigation headaches to the drivers.

Now for the price of real estate.

There aren’t many houses in Singapore as most people live in high rise apartments, there simply isn’t the land mass available for the population to spread outward, so they’re go up! Everywhere you look you see tall high rise apartment blocks and the tell-tale washing hanging out the windows. ‘Chinese Laundry’ is an understatement.

To buy a small 2 bedroom apartment with a lounge, kitchen and bathroom in the main city and business area you’re looking at about $1 –  1.5 million dollars. The same sized apartment in the outer regions of the island will set you back about $800,000. If you wanted to buy a house, you’re talking about a duplex that is between 2 and 3 bedrooms, lounge room and kitchen and again, these are small homes not like the large houses we’re typically used to in Australia, you’re looking at a cost of around 3 million dollars. We were shown a new set of apartments being built in the city centre which were 2 bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and bathroom that have a starting price of 3 million dollars each. The cost of real estate is absolutely phenomenal.

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I mentioned foreign nationals working here earlier and this is the case still in Singapore, the law now states that the best jobs are to go first to Singaporeans but this isn’t stopping a large number of Malays from crossing the border each and every day for work. Around 120,000 Malays make the commute to Singapore everyday to work, even if it’s menial labour because the wages here are so much better than in their home nation. Most of the hotel workers are Malay and their take home money is more than double what they would earn in Malaysia. One Singaporean dollars is the equivalent of 2.4 dollars in Malaysian currency which is ringet. So they’re really not perturbed about what they do when they work here, they’re just grateful they’re getting paid more than they would be if they were getting work in their home nation.

The laws here in Singapore are quite strict and grace is seldom extended to law breakers. There is a mandatory death sentence for drug traffickers, rapists and murderers, there are hefty fines for most other things from fighting and littering and jail sentences for theft and other such crimes. No negotiations are entered into, no plea bargains are worked out, if you commit a crime you will pay the penalty. The result is that the crime rate is seriously low here and that’s why everyone feels so safe when they’re travelling around this country.

Back to the land itself…60% of Singapore is built up, while 40% is retained for nature. Parks, recreation, nature reserves etc are strictly protected and there are on going ‘greening’ programs to ensure the trees are always replenished. It’s the perfect environment for all vegetation to grow well, and the government maintains it really well, Singapore is without a doubt one of the most beautiful nations in the whole world. The flowers and vegetation are stunning and so incredibly colourful, it’s one of the things we love the most about visiting here.

So what about the politicians in Singapore? Well, their system is very different from most other countries. They have a parliament and a Prime Minister, but the PM is not allowed to be affiliated with any political party. He is not allowed to be divorced, he is not allowed to have had any kind of criminal background, not even a parking ticket! He has to have had experience running a multimillion dollar company and be pretty much a perfect paragon of virtue and good social standing…if he’s not, he cannot run for office.

Once he makes the top spot, he will be paid around $300,000 per MONTH…around 4 million dollars per year. Most other government ministers will be paid somewhere in the vicinity of between $150,000 – $300,000 per year.

The PM is really the watchdog of the government and it’s his job to make sure the ministers do everything properly and if they make a decision to do something or employ someone or pass a law, the PM has the power to say yes or no. The buck stops with him and he has ultimate power. He has no political affiliation and therefore no loyalty issues, his goal is to ensure the best for Singapore and Singaporeans.

They’ve done such a good job, that the government had about 800 billion dollars in reserve currency which saw them through the 2008 financial crisis and it only took them 10 months to recover and last year they had a 7 billion dollar surplus which they poured straight back into health care, housing and education.

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Singapore is incredibly religious with Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam being the predominate religions here. There are quite a number of churches, there is a small Jewish community as well and a few fringe ‘Christian’ religions as well like SDA’s but the three biggies are Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. There are very strict laws in place too which prevent any kind of discrimination or negative attacks be it physical or verbal against any religion or individual religious adherent. What this has done is ensure that all the religions live together side by side quite harmoniously. Admittedly, the Muslim neighbourhoods are fairly closed but their is no animosity shown toward others.

It’s nothing to see a Buddhist temple right beside a Hindu temple, or a church beside a temple or near a mosque and we even saw a synagogue quite close to a church as well. The worshippers in each religion simply show respect and deference toward the others and live and let live. Which is quite refreshing. You can maintain your own religious beliefs, you just can’t attack the religious beliefs of others.

Melting pot is a perfect description of Singapore.

Having said that, it’s quite a cultural change to see so many eastern religions so prominent and all the smells and bells that go with it…incense is everywhere here and worshippers are seen everywhere too, offering prayers to their various deities. It’s quite an experience.

Well, that’s just a taste of what we’ve learned about Singapore, this tiny island nation that we’ve enjoyed visiting numerous times over the past decade. What they’ve achieved over the past 46 years is nothing short of amazing and it’s a place we can’t recommend highly enough to visit.

Mandy

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