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Monday with the Editor: Are bankrupts the problem?

Hallo everyone

Today's Straits Times Forum page is chock-full of letters on former NMP Chia Shi Teck's ordeals in bankruptcy.

One letter headlined "Have Scouts Lost Their Way?" poured forth disappointment in the actions of the scout association. Chia was reported to have received a notice not to turn up at a Singapore Scouts Association award ceremony and asked if he would accept the award during a private dinner. The writer felt "the incident has presented a very negative image of the scout movement here and makes one wonder whether the movement has lost its values and purpose".

Bankruptcy is in itself not a criminal offence, yet, in Asian societies, bankruptcy is frown upon. It is a social stigma for those thus labelled. The inability of an individual to pay off his debts makes him no less a person. So why do others shun bankrupt individuals? Is it because bankrupt individuals represent failure and our society cannot condone failure?

Any change in mindsets must come from the Government. The Government signalled a change when it increased the amount for making a person bankrupt from S$2,000 to S$10,000 and made mediation an alternative to making a person bankrupt.

However, recent reports in The Straits Times have indicated that the Government office in charge of managing bankrupts has placed bankrupts into two categories - red and green zones. The green zone is for those bankrupts who co-operate with the office and make payments to settle what they owe. The red zone is for the others. Bankrupts in the red zone may never see themselves being discharged from bankruptcy for although the law has been amended to allow discharge from bankruptcy after three years, discharge is not automatic. 

The Straits Times Forum page today also has a letter highlighting a concern of a bankrupt couple's son. He wrote that his parents "were made bankrupts in the early 1980s while I was still in university".

What makes one sit up while reading his letter is a comment he makes in the middle of the letter. He said, "My mother was an undischarged bankrupt for 18 years until she was discharged in June 2000, about a year after her death. I wondered if this was a joke or how the system works".

The uncooperative attitude of those in the red zone must have confounded the chaps in the Government's insolvency office. Sometimes, it helps to enter into the world of the newly made bankrupt to understand things better. Why should a bankrupt be uncooperative? As Asians, many people may not be able to come to terms with being made bankrupts. Sure - by their actions before bankruptcy - they may have deserved such a status. But it is their inability to accept such a stigmatic labelling that may lead to some of them committing suicide. Leaving the world doesn't solve matters, but it would have made bankruptcy a non-issue for them as they would no longer be around.

Then, there are others who disappear into the woodwork. I am sure these are the sort of people who find themselves in the red zone - never to be discharged. Why do they disappear? To escape shame? To escape suicide? Yes, these could be the people who can't face public shaming, who have contemplated suicide but have decided against it. So, instead, they drop out of circulation. Now that's certainly better than leaving the world. It means they are still alive, still around on this good earth. Should we feel sorry for them?.  Or should we blame them for not having the courage to face up to their responsibilities? 

I don't think we should judge them for we aren't in their position. By placing bankrupts into red and green zones, the Government certainly has judged them. But, given a choice, would the red-zone bankrupts have preferred self-induced death to a lifetime of bankruptcy? It's certainly Hobson's choice, but I bet the latter is always better - taking that route means the bankrupt is still around in this world. Hey! Isn't that what living is all about? - being around on this good earth?

Have a good week!



Septfest 2003 Sep - Oct 2003

New Works on Paper 2003 - exhibition by Yeo Shih Yun  26 Sep - 12 Nov 2003

ExxonMobil Campus Concerts  Oct 2003

Dome Literary Readings: Identities  10 Oct 2003

Beyond Therapy 15-24 Oct 2003

The Vagina Monologues 28 Oct - 2 Nov 2003

HOME at Sculpture Square  30 Oct - 21 Dec 2003

Land Of Joy  6 - 30 Nov 2003

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29 September 2003

Singapore Time