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    Jun 03, 2014

    A self-reliant man and an aircon auntie

    CITING two starkly contrasting cases, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin urged students not to take things for granted and to live within their means.

    In the stories that Mr Tan shared, both characters are not well-to-do.

    The first one is a 74-year-old who supports himself by collecting and selling cardboard boxes and old newspapers or items, instead of simply getting help from the Government.

    He walks long distances, such as from Hougang to MacPherson, and said it keeps him active and fit, and is grateful that residents leave unwanted items for him. On good days, he earns $30 a day.

    The other one is an "auntie" who racks up utilities bills of more than $100 a month. Every day, she switches on the air-conditioner at full blast and set at the lowest temperature because it is too hot and she is unable to sleep.

    He shared the stories yesterday at the opening ceremony of the Pre-University Seminar. The theme this year is "Many Stories, One Future", a shift from previous years, where the focus was mainly on government policies.

    Speaking to some 550 junior college, centralised institute and polytechnic students, Mr Tan said that he admires the older generation of Singaporeans "who believe in standing on their own two feet and providing for themselves".

    He also fielded questions on topics ranging from minimum wage, national identity, xenophobia and income inequality to the arts and polytechnic education.

    On the issue of living on less, he gave the example of the auntie and said that the "challenge" is lifestyle and consumption patterns, regardless of income group.

    "We spend on things as if it's a norm...When people start talking about not having iPhones as a sign of poverty - and there are (such people) - I think it becomes a bit worrying."

    Mr Tan said he was not convinced that a minimum wage suits Singapore at the moment.

    "The easiest thing to do is to implement the minimum wage. Government just legislates and that's it. Government doesn't pay a cent. Employers bear the cost, and that's why there's an impact. Whereas we take the approach of Workfare, where we actually top up and we come in and intervene."

    As for national identity, he said that there is no official definition, but rather it is a "make-up of different identities" because of the diverse cultures here.

    He added: "I'm not sure whether it's wise to pretend that race, religion don't matter...We recognise that there are real differences, but we learn to accommodate, we adjust, we learn to harmonise."

    As for income inequality, Mr Tan said that it is important to minimise the gap, and that is done through providing a range of opportunities so as to "uplift as many people as we can".

    But in order to be able to provide those opportunities and generate jobs, there needs to be a "decent level of economic growth".

    Students said that the session was enriching.

    Republic Polytechnic student Alastair Ng, 18, said: "We are able to see things from a more adult perspective, to see how the policies and decisions made can affect Singaporeans."