Kampung spirit alive in Moulmein-Cairnhill, says Heng Swee Keat

Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat (in yellow) and MP Melvin Yong (third from left) taking a tour of the garden in Goldhill Estate, on Oct 29, 2017.
Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat (in yellow) and MP Melvin Yong (third from left) taking a tour of the garden in Goldhill Estate, on Oct 29, 2017.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MELVIN YONG

SINGAPORE - Tucked away at one end of Goldhill Avenue, amid bungalows and semi-detached homes, is a plot with all manner of fruits and vegetables.

The ladies fingers, bitter gourds, sweet potatoes, mangoes, rambutans and bananas, among others, are the fruits of labour of residents in the private estate, who come together to tend to the community garden.

Some 30 of them take turns watering the plants, pruning leaves and plucking out weeds daily, and those who have no time to tend to the garden contribute fertilisers.

When the fruits and vegetables are ripe for harvest, they are collected and distributed to neighbours.

After a visit to the estate on Sunday (Oct 29), Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat declared the kampung spirit alive, and said he hoped this strong sense of community can be fostered all over Singapore.

"That sense of neighbourliness, that community spirit, is very palpable...And this sense of how we take care of one another is a very powerful idea and you would not be able to do that if people don't interact," he said after wrapping up a ministerial community visit to Moulmein-Cairnhill ward in Tanjong Pagar Group Representative Constituency.

Speaking during a dialogue with residents at Cairnhill Community Club, he said that common facilities play an important role in creating a natural reason for people to come together, and it is important to look at how residential buildings and facilities can be built to encourage mixing and interaction among Singaporeans.

Mr Heng was hosted by the Member of Parliament Melvin Yong on the visit, during which he also mingled with residents in public housing estates in the Pek Kio and Farrer Park neighbourhoods.

A new phone app Mo-Ca Cares, named after the ward's acronym, was launched to connect residents keen on volunteering with those who need help.

With 88 per cent of the 29,000 housing units in Moulmein-Cairnhill made up of private housing, there are many people in the ward who have the ability and willingness to help other needy residents, said Mr Yong to reporters.

He added that he had been inspired to help residents link up, after a man living on Cambridge Road - which has public housing estates on one side and private housing on the other - asked him how he could help his neighbours across the road.

"It's a matter of leveraging on the resources that we have. My role is really to make connections," he said.

Lauding this attitude of wanting to "take care of one another", Mr Heng said he was heartened that people were asking about "what can we do for one another", and not just "what can you do for me".

During the dialogue with residents, Mr Heng discussed issues ranging from how to remove elitism at the workplace to the reasons for rising healthcare costs.

A group of residents making a short presentation had suggested that reducing income inequality might help to reduce elitism, and suggested there should not be so much pay disparity between people at the top and bottom of an organisation.

To this, Mr Heng said that Singapore is a very open economy with people who are very mobile, and artificially limiting pay could lead to talented people leaving the country for higher pay elsewhere.

He added that Singapore's progressive tax system has helped with redistribution of income as those who earn more pay higher taxes.

Referring to the need to raise taxes as healthcare and social spending goes up to support an ageing population, he said: "It's not a matter of whether we'll do it, it's a matter of when we'll do it...that's the only way of keeping our finances steady in the long run."

He added to laughter that he hoped people would put up their hands to support him when the time comes.

On Singapore's healthcare system, Mr Heng said it is well-regarded by many, and he himself had benefited from it when he suffered a stroke in May last year (2016) and was nursed back to health by dedicated doctors and nurses.

He added that the Health Ministry has taken steps to address rising healthcare costs, such as by focusing on disease prevention, and placing the emphasis on primary care so illnesses can be detected and treated early before they become very serious.

He added that the Government was also talking to researchers here to do research that is targeted at addressing the healthcare needs of people in Singapore.