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MOM does assist non-Internet savvy seniors

  • Lianhe Zaobao (11 February 2014): MOM does assist non-Internet savvy seniors
  • Lianhe Zaobao (5 February 2014): Please can MOM also take care of people who are not Internet-savvy?

MOM does assist non-Internet savvy seniors
- Lianhe Zaobao, 11 February 2014

  1. We refer to Ms Sin Kwai Hoi’s letter (“请人力部照顾不擅上网民众”; 5 Feb).
  2. As part of our continuous effort to improve convenience and keep costs of government services low, we have gradually moved our services online. Notwithstanding this, we understand that there are individuals who require help to make online applications. Ms Sin, who needed help to renew the work permit for her foreign domestic worker, was advised to seek help from her family and friends, or approach employment agencies which perform such transactions for a fee. It helps to compare the charges imposed by different employment agencies, as there are agencies which charge significantly less than the $120 paid by Ms Sin.
  3. For those who are unable to tap on their family and friends’ help or employment agencies, we do arrange for an officer to guide them through the process over the phone. In fact, our officers had tried to reach Ms Sin on the mobile number provided by her on at least three occasions following her call, but were unsuccessful because her mobile phone was switched off.

Please can MOM also take care of people who are not Internet-savvy?
- Lianhe Zaobao, 5 February 2014

Recently, I wanted to renew the work permit for my maid and was surprised to learn that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has shut down its office for processing such applications. Applicants must now apply online, and this came as a real shock to me, a non-Internet user.

Singapore is a developed country and it is natural that we should keep abreast with developments on the Internet front. But in the case of government agencies, which deal with matters relating to people’s livelihood, how can they just assume that everybody in this nation has the ability to plug into the Internet and can conduct online transactions with ease? Especially since the letter from the authorities to explain this process is written only in English. As I am not proficient in English, all the more I do not have the confidence to try my hand at online transactions.

I resorted to calling up MOM for assistance. Fortunately, the automated phone service connected me to an officer soon enough. I even managed to get an officer who spoke Chinese to speak to me. He very politely suggested that I get a maid agency to help with the application, or enlist the help of family or neighbours. I also very frankly told him that if I have been able to do that, I would not be so troubled. He even suggested that I seek help from neighbours. I said: “Why should I trouble others? Why can’t MOM, which is in charge of the matter, help me?” I do not blame the officer at all and told him I wanted to lodge a complaint. He said our conversation had been recorded and the matter would be handled by his superior. I do not know how long I have to wait, so I am raising my views publicly through Zaobao’s Forum Page.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently announced that a function will be organised to honour our pioneer generation. It does not matter to me whether those invited really have made contributions or how much hongbao they are going to get. To me, it is the thought that counts. It is a pity that in real life sometimes, senior citizens do not feel the warmth of society.

My mother was born in the 1920s and had worked in a rubber factory when she was young. At 88, she is an ordinary but contented person. But like the others in her generation, she had lost access to information and entertainment in dialects without being given a choice. She picked up Mandarin in order to watch Mandarin TV programmes, without any grudge at all. Being a Chinese-educated person born in the 1950s, it was tough working in an English-dominated society but I made it to retirement. I have even picked up basic computer skills, but I do not have confidence yet to conduct transactions via the computer.

I know MOM will not change what has already been put in place just because I have a problem, but I want to say that now may not be the time yet to expect the entire nation to be online. Perhaps this can be achieved in the next generation.

I have paid $120 to a maid agency to handle the renewal of the work permit. Perhaps people may laugh at me for being stupid, but what to do? I only have myself to blame for not being Internet-savvy.

Editor’s note:

The Internet is now very widespread and has become an integral part of everyday life. But to the older generation, it is still unfamiliar territory. By utilising Internet platforms, government agencies may be providing convenience to the online community, but they should not overlook the needs of those who do not go online by doing away with the traditional service platforms in the name of efficiency.

Our bilingual education policy has been in place for years and younger Singaporeans are basically bilingual. However, we should not assume that all Singaporeans are proficient in English and that it is alright to make it the only language of communication for policies and public services. We would be overlooking something if this is so.

There is a segment in society, especially those who went to school before the implementation of bilingual education policy, who may not have mastered English. To these people, many of whom belong to the pioneer generation that the Government will be honouring soon, they cannot but feel helpless in such an English-speaking environment.