Nation Builders of Singapore – A documentary on the forgotten elderly…

9 Aug

“My job is to look after those who built the nation. Without them doing the dirty and hard work, I would not have a decent life, I would not have been a leader, my children would not have been educated.”

– Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times April 23, 2007

Martyn See, an independent film maker, who was investigated for making the documentary, “Singapore Rebel”, on the country’s outspoken Opposition Politician, Dr Chee Soon Juan, has made another short film entitled, “Nation Builders of Singapore” available on Google Video.

The 14 minute documentary which showcases street music from buskers singing in their colloquial slang, contains snippets of interviews with poor elderly citizens who were asked the amount of money they make by selling recyclable material or working as rubbish collectors in hawker centres.

In his previous documentary efforts, Martyn has often sought to tell stories bordering on the less told or often unknown revolving around the political climate in Singapore. In “Singapore Rebel”, a 26 minute short film, he provided a background of the authoritarian government in the city state while weaving the story of Dr Chee Soon Juan, an outspoken critic and opposition politician whose struggle for democracy has left him bankrupted and imprisoned on various occasions. In Said Zahari’s 17 years, which lasted for 49 minutes, he interviewed the man, a former journalist, who was detained for 17 years without trial under Singapore’s draconian ISA (Internal Security Act) legislation. Both films have been banned in Singapore for their political content. A trailer for his other film, “Speaker’s Cornered” captured scenes of a group of local activists involved in a stand off with the police during the 2006 IMF World Bank meeting.

While “Nation Builders of Singapore” may appear to be less controversial as compared to his previous work which includes protests and interviews with Dr Chee or Said Zahari, both considered by the PAP government as establishment critics, this latest documentary is nevertheless an important and heart tugging piece of work.

The film contains images which are uneasy to watch – scenes of elderly scrapping dustbins or selling cardboards. The documentary exposes what the Singapore government does not want its citizens or international community to realise – that the elderly poor has been left behind to struggle and make ends meet, without a social security net. In the near closing scenes of the documentary, Martyn films the elderly sleeping in void decks of public housing. It was followed by a glorious banner of Lee Kuan Yew’s bust which slowly pans over to reveal an old man sieving through junk.

“Nation Builders of Singapore” speaks volume and contradicts the words of Singapore government spokespersons which were quoted in the film. At the start of the documentary, Kishore Mahbubani, Former Representative to the UN and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy is quoted, “There are no homeless, destitute, or starving people (in Singapore)… Poverty has been eradicated.” By the end of the film, the audience would have been less convinced.

It is however, that last quote in this film which nails down and exposes the hypocrisy of the PAP government. A government that has failed in its promises to look after the elderly poor that has been left behind. The famous quote came from none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Modern Singapore, “My job is to look after those who built the nation. Without them doing the dirty and hard work, I would not have a decent life, I would not have been a leader, my children would not have been educated.”

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