A tale of two different dwellers (Singapore’s Own Caste System?)

Are there different policies for different addresses?

While there is little by way of a caste system here, there continues to be a perceived divide between the Housing Board dwellers and those who live in private homes.

Those who live in private abodes are thought to be better off, better educated and able to look after themselves. They form less than 20 per cent of the population. The overwhelming majority, 80 per cent or more, including yours truly, live in the so-called heartlands.

Never mind there are HDB flats right in the heart of the city, in places like Blanco Court and Chinatown. Somehow they are regarded as a little naive, often incapable of looking after themselves.

As a result, some policies and rules appear to be designed specially for them. Some are good and necessary but others can amount to condescension. The intentions may be good but the results may not be so.

Take for instance the ban on R21 movies in the so-called heartlands. Why is this so? Those who want to see such movies can easily take an MRT train or a bus to avail themselves of such pleasures, or in the eyes of some, such forbidden fruit.

It is not as if Singapore is such a huge place, with its own hinterland and one has to travel hundreds of miles to the “ulus”. So it is heartening to note that the state-sponsored Censorship Review Committee recognises that the lines between the so-called heartlands and the city are blurring and has decided to recommend that R21 movies be screened in the cinemas of the housing estates. For sure the proposal also comes with certain conditions – that such films be screened only between certain times (the sinful hours?) and there is no advertising of these movies at the cinemas.

Thankfully, former stock-broker Goh Yew Lin’s committee recognises that the divide between the so-called heartlands and the city is becoming blurred. But that is because it also acknowledges that in any case such content can be easily obtained from the Internet – in fact being made even more speedily available these days as the various enablers improve their services.

And then the more recent kerfuffle over the provision of free shuttle rides from the heartlands to the Resort World Sentosa. To some, it appears that the heartlanders were like innocent lambs being led to slaughter at the gaming tables of the casinos at the resorts.

Since much of the ranting was on casino promotions to heartlanders and the operating hours, why not impose restrictions on the transgressions instead of banning the shuttles which benefited the majority by providing free or easy access to the other facilities at the resorts like the eateries and the shops? Some took the rides just to get into Sentosa or to some other destination on the island.

Instead of having a divide between the haves and the have-nots, here we have a separation depending on your dwelling.

It’s not like all Housing Board flat owners are have-nots. There is also a mix of dwellings these days in the so-called heartlands, with design-build condominiums and executive apartments put up by the HDB. There are even private apartments being built in these enclaves.

While many of the less-fortunate live in HDB flats, the vast majority of the such dwellers are not poor. As was recently reported by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, 3 per cent or some 24,000 HDB owners also own private flats. Over half a million HDB dwellers own cars, causing a shortage of parking lots in the estates.

HDB residents are also better educated these days and are quite capable of thinking for themselves. Not all need nannying, despite the good intentions of the authorities.

So rules, regulations and services must be better calibrated at those they are actually meant for, and not just on the basis of their abodes or districts.

The writer is editor-at-large at Today.