This week, my challenge has been to catch up with work and hold myself to more regular (and healthier) working hours. I’ve been doing fairly all right so far, but Friday’s plans went straight out the window because I ended up saving a five- or six-year-old cat from a migrant workers’ dormitory.
Homeless in Singapore
I’d volunteered for the single-night count for this study, and had wanted to be at the seminar in person on Friday night, but cat-rescuing duties meant that wasn’t possible. So thanks must go to Jolene Tan for live-tweeting the event!
The key points is that, between a cumulative study done over three months and a point-in-time count done over a single night, the study found that there are about 1,000 homeless people in Singapore. The majority of them are men, aged 50 and up, who are employed. People are also spread out across the island, particularly in the city, and in larger and older housing estates.
While we’re on this topic, please also remember to check out the book Homeless: The Untold Story of a Mother’s Struggle in ‘Crazy Rich’ Singapore by Liyana Dhamirah. This newsletter also had an interview with Liyana some time back.
Also related: on 30 November, Ku Swee Yong, Yeoh Lam Keong, and Tay Kheng Soon will be presenting a paper proposing solutions to deal with upcoming challenges with public housing.
A sudden ban on PMDs
Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs), or e-scooters, have been annoying many a Singaporean pedestrian for some time, seeing how we all have to share pavements. On 4 November, the government suddenly announced that e-scooters will no longer be allowed on footpaths—and the ban would be effective from the next day on. Given that there aren’t always shared paths (like park connector paths or bicycle lanes) around Singapore, and that e-scooters aren’t allowed on roads either, this effectively bans e-scooters from quite a large chunk of the island. Riders who go on the grass next to the pavements could also face a fine of up to S$5,000.
This has effectively pulled the rug out from under the feet of thousands of food delivery riders—working for companies like Foodpanda, Grab, and Deliveroo—who use e-scooters to get around for their work. Suddenly unable to work, and anxious about their future, they’ve been flocking to Meet-the-People Sessions. Retailers who have brought in e-scooters that are in line with the Land Transport Authority’s regulations are now also stuck with stock that they’re worried no one will buy.
The government and three major food delivery companies have since announced a $7 million grant, in place until the end of the year, to help the delivery riders: if they trade in their e-scooters, they can get up to $1,000 to buy a power-assisted bicycle (which is allowed on the roads), or $600 for a bicycle. It doesn’t look as if this had been the plan originally—otherwise they surely would have announced it alongside the ban?—so it seems like this is a quick response to the outcry from the riders in recent days. The cost of the scheme will be shared equally between the government and the three delivery companies.
Politics and politicking
There are plans for a new facial recognition system that’ll track the attendance of Members of Parliament. But attendance isn’t what Singaporeans have been talking about this week: performance is.
Specifically, Heng Swee Keat’s (i.e. The Chosen One) performance. On Tuesday, he stood up in Parliament to file a motion saying that the High Court had found that Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party had “acted dishonestly and in breach of their fiduciary duties, and their conduct lacked integrity and candour”, and demanding that the two opposition politicians recuse themselves from all financial and oversight matters in the running of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. But it was reported that he had fumbled his delivery, and had to ask for an adjournment to consider how to respond to Sylvia Lim’s rebuttal that such a motion was “premature”, since she and her colleagues are still going to take the case to the Court of the Appeal. “We have been told time and again that the 4G leaders are ready to take over. They need to do a better job of convincing Singaporeans of this,” says Nicholas Yong in his commentary for Yahoo! Singapore.
In other partisan politics news, the Singapore Democratic Party is targeting the millennial vote, but when the election rolls around their slate of candidates won’t include their party vice-chairman John Tan. He isn’t allowed to stand for elections due to his contempt of court conviction—he was found guilty of scandalising the judiciary because he’d made a comment on the action taken against Jolovan Wham for his comparison of Malaysian and Singaporean judges.
Still got some more
Rest In Peace to two migrant workers this week: Jaspreet Kaur, who lost her life in an accident, but saved her employer’s son by pushing the stroller out of the way. And Velmurugan Muthian, who died when a crane collapsed at his worksite.
There’s been a slew of stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault in Singapore, from unsolicited dick pics from Hitch drivers to gang rape (although The Straits Times referred to it as a “threesome” in their headline, ugh). People have also been victim-blaming, which is most disappointing.
This week on New Naratif, we’re kicking off a series of pieces about the transboundary haze. Even though it’s cleared up, it’s an issue that shouldn’t be forgotten, because it’s ongoing and recurring.
We begin with this powerful piece from our Comics and Illustrations Editor, Charis Loke. We’ll be following up with photos, reporting, and video. This weekend, we also have a fundraising event in Kuala Lumpur, in collaboration with Malaysian environmental groups. We’ll be raising funds for WALHI, an environmental group in Indonesia that has prioritised anti-haze advocacy.
For those of you in New York City, we have our first diaspora event, talking about diasporic identity with award-winning author and New Naratif member Jeremy Tiang. This is being held in conjunction with the Columbia University South Asian Feminisms Alliance, but non-Columbia students are welcome too!
Last but not least, we’re in the middle of crowdfunding for a very important story. We want to bring the voices of villagers in Aceh who allege that they were arrested, beaten and tortured by members of the Indonesian army guarding the ExxonMobil plant to light—but we need your help to do it.