Archive for June, 2007

Singapore, My Home

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Often, we write/complain more about the bad than we do the good. With our Nation’s birthday a little over a month away, I thought I’ll do a summarized reflection on why Singapore really isn’t a bad choice to call home.

Safety

Singapore is really safe. People walk the streets at night without the fears that someone would stick a gun at them and rob them, nor do they have to clutch their purses while walking along the road to ensure that their purses will not get snatched by thieves on motorbikes.

Here, guns are not a norm. Only law enforcements and the military have weapons. In fact, possessing a gun and firing one leads to the death penalty. Likewise, smuggling drugs is a big no-no, with the death penalty in place for those who try. This is not to say that guns and drugs aren’t available – they are, but they aren’t mainstream at all. Parents need not fear that their kids will have easy access to drugs, because it is not a common thing.

In the US, murder cases are so common, it takes a serial killer to make headlines. Here in sunny Singapore, a murder is big news. It’s simply not tolerated in Singapore.

Many outsiders would deem the laws too harsh, but such laws are what help created such a safe island, and such laws would hardly affect the normal citizen.

Taxes

Taxes are relatively low. Those whose taxable income is less than S$20k a year are exempted from paying tax. Even the highest tax bracket of 20% is still lower than that other developed countries like USA (35%) or UK (40%). To reach the 20% tax bracket, one would have to earn an annual taxable income of S$320k.

Interestingly, a large number of Singaporeans do not pay tax. That isn’t good news though, as it means that a lot of Singaporeans aren’t making enough.

Apart from income tax, there is also the Good and Services Tax (GST). It was first introduced in 1994 (3%), and has increased to 4% in 2003, 5% in 2004, and will be 7% on July 1st, 2007. Right now, it is comparable to similar taxes in the US. While the intentions for the increase is to raise money to aide the poor, the poor will be among those that will be hit by the 7% increase. Perhaps Singapore might follow states like California in the US, where common commodities like food and household items like toilet paper are tax-free, thus making sure that everybody, including the poor, will be able to afford at least the basics.

Tourists should note that there is a GST Tourist Refund Scheme, where if they make purchases from participating outlets, they can claim back the GST paid.

There also exist in Singapore, a scheme known as the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Basically, every working adult is forced to contribute 20% of their salary to their fund, which can only be withdrawn after the age for retirement. CPF was created to serve as a forced retirement scheme for each individual, such that Singapore would not become a welfare state. This is different from the Social Security Scheme, where current working adults support current retirees, and also avoids the concern which some Americans fear – that Social Security will be bankrupted by the time they retire. CPF contributions are tax-exempted.

There also exist another scheme known as the Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS), where individuals can choose to contribute to their SRS accounts to lower their tax brackets. SRS contributions are tax-free, and cannot be withdrawn till retirement. However, as with CPF, one is free to invest the money in any way they deem fit. SRS however, are 50% taxable upon withdrawal. (This is slightly similar to the Traditional IRA in the US.)

Education

Primary School education is compulsory, and education from primary to junior college in public schools is free. There is however a low miscellaneous fee. On top of that, there is an edusave scheme where the government contributes S$170/yr for primary school children and S$200/yr for secondary school children. Upon reaching 21, any money in the account not spent is then transferred to their respective CPF accounts.

Entertainment

– Shopping –

Singaporeans are known to love shopping. This is evident by the countless shopping malls located throughout the island, and the famous Orchard Road which boasts a rows of shopping malls for endless shopping pleasures. New malls sprout up all the time, like the recent Vivocity at Harbourfront, and existing malls are constantly being expanded and upgraded.

– Arts & Theatre –

Most major plays and musicals make a stop in Singapore. Singapore has numerous theatres to house these international and local events in locations like The Esplanade, The National Library and Indoor Stadium to name a few.

Stomp, Le Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, Quidam, Snow Wolf Lake … these are a few international shows which have been to Singapore, some more than once.

Apart from that, local theatres like Wild Rice, The Necessary Stage, Toy Factory, Dream Academy, all provide us with local productions, with local content, that locals can identify with!

– “Asian Venice” –

Singapore was featured in Australia’s Time magazine talking about it’s new look to come. It has been described as the soon-to-be “Asian Venice”, with the two major Integrated Resorts (IRs) in the makings. Soon Singapore will be able to boast it’s own theme park by Universal Studios, probably the only theme park in Asia that isn’t dominated by Asian characters on their signposts.

Most westerners or english speaking tourists would be comfortable here, plus with other attractions that will come with the IRs, and other attractions like the Singapore Flyer, plus existing vibrant nightlife at places like the St James Powerhouse … Singapore is set to be a tourist destination.

For locals, we can finally get to visit Universal Studios without playing over a thousand dollars to fly to the US!

– Beaches & Reservoirs –

Singapore is an island surrounded by water! This gives us access to tons of beaches. At East Coast Park, we get to enjoy cycling/walking tracks which stretch on for miles, and enjoy chalets or bbqs by the beach, and take up some sea sports.

There are also quite a few reservoirs in Singapore, and a few of them have opened up to activities like canoeing and fishing.

– Events to come –

Plus who can forget that F1 is finally coming to Singapore, and in a night race set in the city!

Government

Our government is still largely a one party government, and with the recent unhappiness about the large pay hikes ministers are getting, the fact still remains – the government is still doing their job. They may not be perfect, but without them, Singapore could still very much be a “fishing village”.

Normal affairs are largely transparent. One need not have to figure out if bribing is necessary to expedite normal tasks like getting your passport issued or if driving licenses are given tho those who really can drive. Things aren’t so clear-cut in other countries.

Singapore is known for it’s campaign and schemes. Campaigns like “I Love Children“, set up to encourage us to have more kids might sound cheesy, but at least they make the effort to provide some reliefs for those who do intend to have more kids.

There are also tons of schemes available from work-related to school-related, but you often have to make the effort to find out about them.

Environment

Singapore is clean and green. It’s highways and roads are lined with trees, to provide both shade and a pleasant drive. Being small in this sense is an advantage, as it’s easier to plant trees to cover the island.

Trash is collected daily and a large ‘invisible’ workforce of sweepers and cleaners help maintain this ‘clean and green’ image. Sweeper trucks sweep the sides of the streets daily, brushing and vacuuming up dead fallen leaves, as do the sweepers. Trees are pruned regularly. And best of all, Singapore doesn’t have to deal with chewing-gum related damage, as the sale of chewing or bubble gum is prohibited in Singapore. (If you buy a pack overseas though, you can still consume it though.)

To top it off, for a small island, we have quite a few state parks (eg. Bukit Timah Hill) and reservoirs (Macritchie Reservoir, Seletar Reservoir etc.) which are opened to the public. Efforts have also been made to connect these parks with park connectors. Hiking in these parks provide a temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, and can take a few hours to complete! We do also have a ‘mountain’ called Mt. Faber, though it’s more a mount than a mountain, but still high enough for scenic views.

The Public Utilities Board (PUB) has also embarked on a project to turn Singapore into a ‘blue city’, and not just a ‘green’ one. It intends to do this by turning our existing storm drains and canals into waterways and rivers, so that it not only appeals to the eyes, it also helps improve water quality and provide more areas for recreational use.

Food

Nobody can forget the food. Singaporeans love to eat, and so we have all kinds of food available in Singapore. We boast a large variety of local food, and most foreign food are also available in Singapore. German, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Turkish, you name it, we probably have it.

Connected

– Transport –

Traffic on major highways can get a bit sluggish during peak hours and especially when there is an accident, but compared to a major city like Los Angeles, where the traffic on highways crawl almost all day long, is still an efficient way to travel across the island. Cars are more expensive then in most countries, but the low range cars can be bought for about S$30k+.

But unlike countries like the US and Australia, where cars are sometimes the only mode of transport you have, the public transit system here enables you to get to any part of the island. Bus and train rides are relatively cheap and are quite well connected.

Train stations already has a information board near the entrance of their stations that informs you when the next two trains will arrive. SBS Transit has also recently come up with a system to let bus commuters find out when their next bus will arrive. The system has been branded ‘Ask Iris‘. This can be done via the web, or via sms (singtel only). On top of that, they have also started a rewards program, where points are given for evey bus ride, and these points can be converted for food items or services on their website.

Who can forget TV Mobile? Most buses these days are air-conditioned, and on SBS buses, most of them are fitted with two TV monitors, one in the front and one in the back, broadcasting an exclusive channel called TV Mobile, which simulcasts programs from a variety of Mediacorp TV networks. Get entertained and updated on the move!

Taxis are an alternative to cars. With a flag down rate of $2.50, still affordable.

– Communication –

Singapore has 3 major telco operators, with reasonable cellphone plans starting from $19.95 a month, or for the visitor, prepaid cards are also available at $18.

– Internet –

There’s both cable and broadband in Singapore. But what is more interesting is the concept of wireless@sg, which will cover most public places with free 512kps internet connection. Singapore will not only be connected locally, but will be connected with the world.

Alternatives

Should one ever find the need to get away, other asian destinations are just nearby. One can take a boat to nearby islands like Bintam or Batam, or a bus ride up to Malaysia (about S$50 to KL, and RM$50 back).

Besides that, there are several budget airline carriers like AirAsia and TigerAirways which would otherwise connect Singapore to other vacation hotspots, and even to Darwin Australia.

Of course, there is always …. the cruise to nowhere on cruise ships like Star Cruise.

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[Sources]

Wikipedia
Tax bracket
Taxation in Singapore

Ministry of Education
Education System
Edusave Scheme

GST
Ministry of Finance: GST Information
GST Toursit Refund Schemes

Neil Humphrey’s
Sexy City

TIME
Singapore’s New Look May 24 / pdf backup

Universal Studios on Sentosa via Genting IR