I applied for the NTUC SIRS - Self-employed Covid-19 relief for Singaporeans, here's what happened
As part of the Singapore government's S$5.1 billion (US$3.6 billion) solidarity budget, self employed workers like myself were supposed to obtain cash funds to tide over the Covid-19 pandemic which is still ongoing. Community infections have been rising since the lockdown was lifted on June 19. People can now dine inside restaurants and malls.
The funds were supposed to be distributed in a period over 6 months - May, July and October. However at the end of May, I did not receive any notification from the government about receiving any small business owner funding, so I like many others, submitted an application for appeal that was strangely outsourced to NTUC (National Trades Union Congress) that considers itself a non-governmental organisation yet the leaders of this "union" are either previously or currently in governmental positions. The president of NTUC is a former Nominated Minister of Parliament Mary Liew and the Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress Ng Chee Meng is a current Member of Parliament who is a candidate running for the Singapore 2020 general elections on Friday, 10 July.
It has been more than a month or to be exact 38 days, since I submitted my application for appeal for the self-employed persons income relief scheme (SIRS) offered by the Singapore government.
The SIRS scheme was meant to help small business owners like myself tide over this turbulent period of uncertainty.
The Coronavirus pandemic has not faded and most countries such as America, Australia and the UK are starting to see a second wave of virus infections.
Small businesses not just in Singapore but around the world have been faced with layoffs, closures and financial difficulty as the economy reels from the effects of restricted travel and activities.
Despite this, plenty of self-employed individuals face a huge hurdle for eligibility towards this fund.
Eligibility criteria and lengthy processes for self-employed persons made sure few people got access to the money allocated from the budget
These applications cannot be considered an appeal if the requirements for the eligibility of small business funds are the same as those of people who were auto-included in the scheme.
Multiple complaints happened right after NTUC was tasked to handle SIRS appeals
NTUC claims to respond to applicants in "approximately one month", however 38 days have passed and they have not responded to me at all on whether my application is even being processed or not.
The ability to reject appeals without providing a good reason demonstrates NTUC's commitment to processing applications. Small business owners who rented rooms were still considered "home owners" and were not eligible for funding.
Disgruntled Singapore citizens full of disappointment in the government as NTUC officers ignore or lie to applicants about disbursing the Covid-19 support budget. Even self-employed taxi drivers were unable to get their SIRS relief funds.
How long and how many people does it take to go through a few documents, considering the fact you can only upload a maximum of one additional document?
I am almost certain that if this was road tax processing, it would be immediate. However, distributing money seems like it would take forever and never happen.
Why did the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) give NTUC the job of disbursement when IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) or the tax bureau, would have been perfect?
NTUC's facebook page manager who essentially plays the role of a spokesperson for the company on social media, didn't even bother responding to multiple complaints on Facebook.
Instead, the person-in-charge continued posting articles on ironically how to deal with coronavirus, talks by ministers and of late the upcoming Singapore general elections which was announced suddenly, leaving politicians and people scrambling to make hasty decisions in about two weeks. The 2020 Singapore elections will take place amongst the Covid-19 situation which does not seem to be improving.
NTUC senior management should be sorting out the problems with their organisation carrying out a task they were appointed by MOM to do, which they are either struggling with or simply incompetent.
Where is the monetary relief for small business owners going to?
They continued posting regularly. almost on a daily basis promoting their organization's business-driven causes, while ignoring the people they were supposed to help in the first place.
Since April, many self-employed people like myself have not received any of the support which was due to be paid in May, that they have publicised on the news in flashy infographics from what "non-essential" graphic artists.
More than a month has gone by since my application for appeal was submitted on June 2.
There has been zero response and now I was told I may have to wait for more than a month (which would be after the elections) to know if my application was successful.
Can you imagine being told to wait for one whole month - not to process an application for appeal but to reject it? (insert people who waited 34 dayss...
A reminder, this is only an appeal process so people shouldn't be waiting days or worse months for an appeal. In addition, there shouldn't be that many people appealing after they the auto-inclusion. This means the auto-inclusion is more auto-exclusion than inclusion.
Where happened to the millions in crisis relief that are supposed to be disbursed to small business owners? https://imgur.com/a/v1siNX5
So far, no one has done nothing to expedite our application for appeal because you do not want to do anything about it, since the funds are never going to be disbursed to the self employed people who need them the most.
Strange occurrences and causes for concern
A kind soul on LinkedIn who read about my plight referred me to a member or parliament he thought highly of - Minister Zaqy Mohamad who is also the Minister of State for National Development & Minister of State for Manpower.
Almost immediately, I received a short answer - a generic feedback link on MOM's website.
This was greatly disappointing as the minister had no intentions to help, let alone deal with the problem.
After expressing my disappointment to him, he simply told me that since the president of Singapore issued the writ of elections to dissolve parliament on 23 June 2020, he is unable to represent any resident and there are no Member of Parliaments in office until a new Parliament or Government is elected in coming General Elections.
He also added more amusing excuses, saying "we are all ordinary citizens" yet government agencies will have to look into these and go through a "proper process" when all the above did not materialize in the first place.
Basically the minister offered more excuses for not wanting to help, claiming he is powerless when he wasn't fired from his one job of helping citizens in need.
The anger and frustration reached boiling point when an anguished Singaporean called them "Pencil pushing bureaucrats who've never had to take a risk in their life.."
The destitute and needy do not get help in Singapore
Singapore is infamous for not offering any help or benefits to unemployed workers so why would they care about struggling business owners and entrepreneurs who are trying to build their company?
This myopic and short-term "solution" may help Singapore hold on to their reserves for the moment but the failure to invest in human capital for a tiny island-country has led to many valuable lost opportunities - just think of it as a poor investment. How many times can a country's leaders keep making poor decisions and investments?
The ones that need it most, do not get a single cent from the government and are automatically excluded from Covid-19 support packages.
Why do they need to dissolve parliament 2 weeks before elections?
What is troubling to note here is the need to dissolve parliament when there wasn't any need to do so.
This move seemed more like an underlying threat that if the "correct party" who were tasked to distribute the funds in the first place but did not, were not re-elected, one would not be able to continue chasing the illusion and false hope they have provided to the people who think will receive any form of support from the incumbent government.
What should have been done
This should have been an automated process done by the relevant government agency - in this case IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) who would be able to check the taxpayer's income and distribute the money to struggling entrepreneurs and PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) whom some have not even made enough income to cover their daily living expenses.
A person who pays taxes and works two jobs is told they are not eligible for the self-employed fund because he earns lesser than S$2,300 (US$1650) a month. An NTUC spokesperson just said they could not do anything about it. Why are they tasked to review appeals when this rigid eligibility could easily be automated?
It is important to note that since so many people have not received their monetary support and appeals have been delayed for over a month with automatically-generated-response e-mails sent out at the end of the long wait only to communicate rejections without any given reason.
A commentator on facebook highlighted that this long and fruitless wait for government funding could be extended beyond the Singapore general elections day -10 July, and once voting is over the funds could be closed and no one would be able to get their much-deserved crisis support money.
Perhaps at the end of the claim and fund disbursement period, who is to know where all the "unclaimed" or undistributed money that was meant for Singaporeans during the crisis, would go to.