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
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
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!