Please stop wasting our public money


For a couple of years now, I’ve been increasingly annoyed by the poor use of taxpayer dollars by the Singapore government for frivolous or impractical things, while cost of living continues to shoot up and everyone is unhappier than ever with the state of things.

Today I read a news story which really took the (50th birthday) cake.

According to this article in Today:

With ideas from the public pouring in on ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Republic’s independence, it was announced yesterday that all Singaporean babies born next year, including those born overseas, will receive a gift pack from the Government that could consist of practical and commemorative items.

The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), which will fund the Jubilee Baby Gift, is calling for suggestions on the items to be included in the gift pack. It has ruled out giving cash handouts, as parents of newborns already receive monetary incentives under the existing Marriage and Parenthood Package.

There could be about five to 10 items and the idea is to make the gift pack “a meaningful, significant (and) tangible keepsake with heritage value”, the NPTD said. Among the gift ideas thrown up at a focus group discussion yesterday were a chain with a key, baby shoes and bibs, while Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu suggested a sarong with a national flag motif, which she felt is practical — parents can use it to carry their child or during breastfeeding — and signifies a parental bond.

Already, Singaporeans are making all sorts of snide comments online and some wonder why only babies born next year will get a handout, whatever happened to babies born before that.. and so on.

My take: this gift pack WILL be discarded by many parents shortly after it is dished out, and nobody considers the millions of dollars required for production, storage and distribution of these “disposables”. Babies grow up fast, those cute little Singapore-design booties won’t last very long, and they grow mouldy in our humid cupboards over time.

Why not come up with something more permanent, yet low-cost, like a commemorative edition of the kid’s Birth Certificate? It’s not going to cost much that way, and is more meaningful to everyone who has it for their rest of their lives.

To all the civil servants who come up with such initiatives, I would like to ask you if you have ever thought of the ways you are using our tax dollars that don’t make the country a better place. Why not use the money to further subsidize maternity ward fees, pre-natal/post-natal classes, improve health services and so many other things that could help parents rather than some cute accessories.

For goodness’ sake, we don’t even have enough hospital beds in this country!

Do something worthwhile today, help to send in your suggestions which make sense and don’t waste everyone’s hard-earned tax dollars. I already did so with my suggestion below, because I want to put my tax dollars where my mouth is, and hopefully someone listens.

lowcost BC

And here are my other pet peeves with the poor use of public money (someone please, convince me they have been worth the expenditure)

1. How much has been wasted on the useless ineffective Baby Bonus scheme to date? Millions? Billions?

(Update: There are parents asking me why do I think it’s a waste of money. The purpose of BB was to raise the low SG fertility rate – where it has failed utterly – and it is now repositioned as helping existing parents manage costs. Despite high hopes from the Govt, BB has never been an incentive to have kids in itself. Yet it continues to burn through tax money and people have no idea how much. In 2008, it was $230 MILLION, imagine the cumulative sum over the past decade. Read my old post for my views on it, there are deeper societal and mindset problems that need to be dealt with to effectively reverse the aging society crisis and you can’t throw big money at the fertility rate anymore. I’ll change “useless” to “ineffective” though.)

2. How much is spent on National Day Parades each year, and how many weekends are taken away from youth and NSmen who don’t exactly have a say in how they want to celebrate our national anniversaries? I’m not saying to do away with NDP (imagine the howls from the masses), but we could spend less on fancy theatrics and more on meaningful activities. Keep the fireworks, cut down on trying to outdo the previous year’s entertainment segments. I loved NDP parades as a kid, today my family doesn’t even bother to switch on the TV.

3. How much was spent cleaning up the chaotic mess of the Marina Coastal Expressway opening from poor road planning? And has the Govt ever considered the real financial cost to everyone who got stuck in the first few days’ of traffic jams?

4. Why does the Govt keep pouring money into buying more public buses that clog up the congested roads even more when they need to fix the train system first? Don’t even get me started on why we are using tax dollars to buy buses for so-called privatized transport companies.

5. How much was spent setting up the Do Not Call registry only for it to be crippled right before launch by pandering to the worries of big companies?

The bottomline: We don’t need cute 50th anniversary baby booties. We need to use our tax dollars to improve people’s lives.

Update 3 Apr: I’ve gotten some good feedback from some readers on why they don’t see Baby Bonus as a waste of money. I’ve given my views in the comments section below.

What’s more disturbing is to read some Facebook comments on how some people don’t seem to care how their tax dollars are being used, or are aware of how it is earned in the first place. Eg. “Isn’t a handout better than none?” Yes, but what is the context of the handout and is it really solving long-term problems or just a short-term goodie?

For many Singaporeans, they don’t pay much personal income tax, but everyone is being taxed in many other areas of consumption – eg. GST, vehicles, housing taxes, vice taxes etc. Todayonline has an excellent resource (i hope the link still works) on Budget 2014 and how the govt. earns and spends your money in broad strokes. Note that you won’t see minute breakdowns of where NDP or Baby Bonus is in this infographic.

budget 2014
Todayonline’s excellent Budget 2014 interactive infographic

You may think that you are not paying much taxes upfront, but think again on how your lifestyle choices lead to how much tax you pay otherwise. Then you need to ask yourself, given how much money you contribute to the nation with every meal, every shopping purchase or trip under the ERP, how would you like that money to be spent for the betterment of society?

What are your wishes for the country to spend our money in more accountable ways? Comments section is below, but please use your real names or I won’t approve the posts. Tired of Internet trolls myself, just like the Government, fancy that.

15 Replies to “Please stop wasting our public money”

  1. With the arrival of my first born, I had to adjust & juggle new work arrangements. All financial help was useful & much appreciated. As a recipient of Baby Bonus, I feel rather sad to hear it being described as “wasted”.

  2. The baby bonus was definitely appreciated, Ian. On what basis do you consider a waste, that it didn’t raise the national average for the birth rate? Because it sure helped this middle-income parent with 3 kids and another on the way.

    1. Please read my earlier post from five years ago on the Baby Bonus and my views still stand today.

      BB was meant to increase the birth rate, and while I did appreciate the money too (I used it for my second kid), it did not meet its objective of encouraging people to have more kids. Whether you want to have more kids or not is often a personal choice, and the Baby Bonus supplemented the costs for many parents who had already made up their minds.

    2. I have to say that as a recipient of 4 rounds of BB, I appreciate the extra help, but Ian is right – BB was designed to encourage people to have babies. Its nice little side-effect of helping to offset some very very minor costs does not redeem it for the utter policy failure that it is. Did the BB affect my decision to have children? Not in the least. It’s irrelevant.

      $6,000? $12,000 in CDA? How about making education cheaper? How about making healthcare for children free? How about reforming education so we don’t need to pay for $20,000 worth of tuition fees? How about cheaper housing for larger families? Cash upfront is seductive, but when we consider what else the money could be used for (actually fixing REAL problems), and the fact that the policy objective was an utter failure, well, yes – it was a waste.

  3. Rather than term the BB as “wasted” I’ll say it doesn’t meet it’s objective of encouraging fertility. As mentioned, people don’t give birth just because they have financial help. They have babies because they want to. Perhaps a better way will be to help couples who find it difficult to conceive due to health/stress etc problems.

  4. I like the “commemorative edition of the kid’s Birth Certificate” idea. Though I disagree with the idea that national day celebrations are a waist. The bay area is packed with many people including tourists. The hotels are all booked in that area, food courts and restaurants also packed. That generates tax as well as gives many of us a sense of pride. As far as failed first attempts like the Marina Coastal Expressway or the Do Not Call registry… I see a government making efforts in the right direction. Not all things work out according to plan and it might take a bit to sort things out. I guess this generation thinks that every fix is so easy. I’m originally from Detroit and can say Singapore could set a fine example to many US cities as how to better move forward. But sadly USA thinks they are #1 and probably not learn.

  5. Hi Jeslyn, good idea there. I think many parents will disagree with my use of the word “wasted” for the Baby Bonus, but I’ve had two kids – one before BB and one after BB was implemented, and I just shake my head at the lack of accountability on how much money has been used for BB while the population continues to age.

  6. Thanks Daniel. I think many parents who have young babies or toddlers now do not yet realize how much the BB cash payout will pale in comparison to the upcoming expensive problems for older kids caused by the current education system (eg. tuition being the one big headache for all parents) – these are the same problems that already stop many couples from having kids to begin with. BB preaches to the choir, and has set a precedent where many parents might think they deserves a big handout because they procreated – can we say that promotes a crutch mentality?

    1. To me it’s basically like this – if you were considering taking out a personal loan, would you go with the bank that has lower interest rates and no freebies, or the bank that has higher interest rates and give you a free gift (the value of which is far less than the interest rate delta)?

  7. The BB is not a bad idea but won’t do much to raise the birth rate. Considering the rising cost of living now, and what it will be in the future, perhaps the government could consider providing free university education for every child born to a couple with three or more children.

  8. I would add the current media blitz “proclaiming” the great work done by LTA, MND, PUB etc to the list of things they should not be wasting our tax dollars on!

  9. If I have a kid, the baby bonus + CDA payout is $12k. My own polytechnic education comes up to $7K, local university comes up to $25K, mind you this is after the heavy subsidies. Need to paid in cold hard cash. You think any sane man in this island would believe education costs, much less other things like milk powder, is going to simply stagnate 20-30 years later?

    In the words of the immortal LKY: “who is going to pay for it? (for my hypothetical kid) ” Hint: not our govt.

    Hey govt, the ivory tower doesn’t have a monopoly on calculators and long-term financial planning spreadsheets. Geez, I wonder why our birth rate is low, maybe because we are intelligent and upright enough not to burden our next generation with insane costs?

    Now, before anybody has the same olf tired idea of accusing me “then, what brilliant idea to you have then, smart alec?…How about a complete waiver of GST for families with dependent kids if they are so sincere, I don’t mind paying extra tax for that provided I know that money doesn’t go into some GLC black hole. That surely who do more long-term to curb CoL costs than some inital $12k payout for the rational common man.

    Then again, I’m not the one paying myself handsomely with taxpayer funds, so.

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