11 Aug 2005

Singapore:Rich-Poor Divide Increases

Singapore, 10 August (AKI) - As Singapore celebrated its fortieth year of independence, the divide between the rich and poor in the city-state is widening. Taxi drivers, sales staff and factory workers do long shifts at minimum wage, while the number of millionaires - some 48,500 - rose at the world's fastest rate in 2004, according to consultancy firm Cap Gemini Merrill Lynch. “Twenty percent of the population earns less, in real terms, than ten years ago and a third of the working population does not earn enough to pay income tax," Sinapan Samydoray of Singapore's Think Centre told Adnkronos International (AKI).

At forty, Singapore is South East Asia's pearl, a real political and business miracle which made the city-state far richer than its neighbouring countries.

But according to most, living in Singapore requires a minimum monthly wage of 1,500 Singapore dollars, around 734 euros. AKI spoke to three average Singaporeans who live in the city who say that they don't earn that much.

“I work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I never go to the movies, never take holidays and yet I don't earn enough to support my family”, said Lion, a 52-year-old taxi driver.

Another Singaporean Fil, a 20-year-old saleswoman who works at the Suntec commercial centre, said that her wage doesn't allow her to live by herself. “I work extra hours but the extra 990 Singapore dollars (440 euro) that I earn are not enough to make me independent. I still live with my parents and if I want to move out, I would have to find another job," she said.

A security agent, Razman, 30, who works at the supermarket chain Carrefour also works extra hours and has a second job in a gym. “I work 14 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. And then I work as a private gym instructor 3 days a week”, he said, adding that he does all these jobs to earn a total of 1,600 Singapore dollars (783 euro).

According to Samydoray of Singapore's Think Centre, these three cases represent the living conditions of the majority of the city's inhabitants.

Samydoray explains that Singapore doesn't have minimum wage and each employee has work out the conditions of his or her own salary. The local population has been left with virtually no negotiating power since cheap labour is available from neighbouring states and the government tries to limit the wages in order to attract foreign investments.

The situation is completely different for the wealthy portion of the population which rose at the fastest pace in the world in 2004, according to a report by the consultancy firm Cap Gemini Merrill Lynch.

Singapore's millionaires rose 22.4 percent to 48,500 people, the report said. In the US, the number increased 10 percent to 2.5 million and in Hong Kong they rose by 18.8 percent to 67,500. Asia had 2.3 million millionaires last year, up 8.2 percent, the research showed.

Mukhopadhaya Pundarik, a professor at Singapore's National University, said the rich-poor divide in the city-state has increased during the economic crisis which hit South East Asia in 1997. In that period, said the professor, the average income of Singaporeans fell by 2.7 percent, while the that of the poorest families fell by a staggering 49 percent.

Despite the gap, Singapore remains an efficient state. The former British colony, which gained independence in 1965 from Malaysia, has become in just a few decades a financial and technological centre as well as one of the world's busiest ports.

“For the rich and for foreigners, Singapore is an exceptional place. I have no doubt about it. I only hope the majority of the local population could have the chance to benefit from the city," said Samydoray.

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