I want to talk about this headline last week: “Woman, 75, detained for conservancy fee arrears”. My knee jerk reaction was: why is the G so cruel — detaining people for something as minor as conservancy charges?
But I beg you to look at the issue in a broader context. When you hear about a headline that translates into “Old, helpless grandma detained by police for failing to pay $400 in conservancy charges”, you tend to ask the authorities (in modern lingo) “where is the love”?
And where is the love indeed? A careful reading of the non-payment grandma’s case reveal the following1:
She tries to pay, but is always behind time in payment
She has not held a job since 2003, and was widowed in 2008
5 court notices were issued to her since 2000
She could pay the cash bail, but not the arrears
She turned herself in
Town council staff visit people who do not pay their conservancy charges and only issue court summonses on tardy individuals who do not respond after six months
It appears that the $411 she owes is indeed a problem for her to pay up. It sounds reasonable; she might well be someone living alone who has been relying on handouts and donations from well-meaning neighbours. Yet, a question that is left unanswered: if the Town Council issues court summonses, why could they not have redirected the needy towards other forms of assistance?
Behind the headline, there exists many questions that were not asked of this case.
How could someone be visited by government agents, yet not be flagged out for assistance?
Does she have any children? If she had, where were they?
How do you exercise “soft-touch”, without setting precedence for abuse of rules?
We may not have the complete answers, but the questions should raise some fair points about society at large. How will our old live their senior years? If they are lucky, they may be in a multigenerational home, living happily ever after. If not so lucky, they’ll be deserted by their children – with need for a place to stay.
In this case, there is a clear lapse in community duty to identify at-risk people. Maybe she is just one case and fell through the cracks. My fear is that the causes may go deeper. This is not just a greying population, this is also a population that is not having children to save themselves.
Whilst the internet is laughing off the grandma’s case as “G being tyrannical at suing someone over a $411 debt”. Honestly, the very fact that the figure seems to be trivial for a court summons should raise serious concern over how she could not even pay such a debt.
The G is probably the most lenient debt collector, but no lenient debt collector would be able to solve deep-seated issues. Yet, at some point, a debt has to be returned.
And consider this – come another 30 years, this country may be bankrupt of young Singaporeans. How are the elderly going to be cared for? What will expenses look like then? What will medical assistance look like then?
Who are the people that are going to provide care and taxes to look after a large generation of elderly in another 30 years?