Honour Our Pioneers – But Don’t Forget Our Duty

singapore senior citizens
 
The recently introduced Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) is to “honour” first generation Singaporeans who were at least 16-years old in 1965, when Singapore became an independent state from Malaysia.
 
The package is basically to give some peace of mind to our senior citizens as far as healthcare is concerned. Indeed, healthcare has always been a major worry for Singaporeans of all ages, and in particular for the elder ones who, naturally, would require more such care.
 
The package for those 65-and above is primarily to:
  • pay for their MediShield Life insurance premiums
  • get subsidies for outpatient treatment
  • enjoy extra top-ups into their Medisave accounts every year - for the rest of their lives.
 
It is the government’s way of helping senior citizens to pay for their healthcare costs, coming as it does on the back of feedback in recent years that healthcare costs and Medishield premiums have risen to such an extent that even doctors were advising their patients to let their Medishield coverage lapse. [See here.]
 
While such help is to be applauded, there is a difference between one’s duty to someone and honouring someone. 
 
There is no disputing that the aim of recognising the contribution of this generation is a noble one and indeed such a gesture is long overdue.
 
Nonetheless, it does bother one a little that the benefits of the PGP kicks in only when one is sick – for example, when one sees a doctor, or is hospitalised. 
 
To be sure, there are help schemes for those in need – as the government has said, there is the 18-level “kuek lapis” welfare schemes.
 
But that is precisely the thing – the honouring of our pioneers should not be based on their healthcare or medical needs, important as these are. But being a nation of pragmatists, our inclination is to honour by rendering help, in the process seeing the old as “needy” or as “sickly”.
 
It is a little weird to be saying we are honouring the elderly but such “honour” kicks in only  when they are sick.
 
It is like saying to one’s parents, “I am going to honour you. So here is $100 I have put into your bank account – but you can only use it when you are sick.”
 
That is not honouring them. That is doing one’s duty to one’s parents.
 
And it is even more puzzling – and amusing – to see some suggesting that we should means-test the elderly for eligibility for the PGP, and that those who do not need these subsidies are encouraged to “opt-out” of it.
 
Again, it is like saying to the senior folks, “We want to honour you but can you please opt out?”
 
The problem here seems to be a conflation of two different things – duty and honouring.
 
Honouring someone is an act of respecting or recognising someone’s worth.
 
Duty is what one does because of one’s responsibility, or one’s moral obligation.
 
And one would argue that caring for our elderly in their old age, to ensure that they have access to medical care, is not an act of honour but one of duty.
 
This is because when one ages, one’s physical body and mind becomes frail, and one becomes dependent on others for help and assistance. And the State, perhaps above everyone else, has a responsibility, an obligation, to care for these citizens.
 
This is duty. 
 
To honour our senior citizens who went through our nation’s early days of nationhood is in fact rather different altogether. To honour them is to respect their contribution, to recognise that they stood with the country when times were uncertain, and to show appreciation for the sacrifices they made.
 
In short, it is to say to them, “Thank you.”
 
And this honouring is not dependent or conditioned on one’s medical needs or state of personal health.
 
One would think therefore that honouring our pioneers would or should involve something more positive, if you like. 
 
One could think of several ideas.
 
For example, seniors should be given free access to all public attractions in Singapore. Or be given free rides on public transport. Or perhaps a heavy subsidy for taking taxis. Yes, why not? It will help the elderly get around better and more conveniently than to jostle with the younger folks on public transport. 
 
Or let us dedicate a national day of celebration to these folks – and make such a day a public holiday! And on this day, shops will be encouraged to give discounts to senior citizens, the elderly be given priority admissions to attractions, celebratory events be held throughout the land. 
 
Imagine an entire nation celebrating our senior citizens. Imagine what message that would send to our young and indeed to everyone. And surely we can set aside a day for this.
 
We already have the Senior Citizens Week which takes place towards the end of the year. Maybe we should tweak that a bit to make it a more prominent day or week.
 
The point is to make honouring our elderly folks more prominent, more celebratory, an occasion where a nation shines a spotlight on them and say, with one voice, that we appreciate them – and that we appreciate them no matter what and just because.
 
This is not a superficial celebration which would mean we discard or ignore doing the other important things. We can still top up their Medisave yearly, we still can have the PGP, we can continue to subsidise their out-patient medical costs, and so on.
 
There is nothing to stop us from doing these, and indeed we should.
 
But let us do all these because it is the right thing to do – and not package it as some act of honouring them. 
 
As a nation, it is our duty to care for those who have aged. 
 
And the suggested celebratory events are also not to say that we should not do more for the senior folks who are still out there struggling, doing manual work which is physically demanding. Work such as making the rounds at hawker centres, going from table to table selling small packs of tissue paper. Or collecting tens of cents from hours of working at a public toilet. Or, as this writer witnessed only a few days ago, clearing and wiping tables and sweeping and mopping floors at a food court at almost 10pm at night.
 
Or collecting cardboards for 10 cents a kilogramme. 
 
singapore senior citizens
 
Yes, we must continue to address all these other ills which our senior folks face on a daily basis.
 
But when we talk of honouring them, it should be something which we should do as a nation – loud and clear, with an unmistakable message that we appreciate them.
 
And such a message cannot come by honouring them only when they are sick or ill.
 

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