SINGAPORE - This must be the saddest trade in Singapore.
Needy residents, who are given vouchers to put food on the table, have been trading them at a discount for extra money in the pocket.
Some do it to clear debt, others to buy cigarettes and alcohol, and many are just desperate for cash.
Members of Parliament give out FairPrice vouchers during Meet-the-People sessions to enable needy residents to buy rice and noodles. Almost every MP that My Paper spoke to had heard of some form of abuse of this well-intentioned scheme.
"Residents sell $100 vouchers for $90," said Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan.
"Some of these residents will then spend on things like cigarettes, which are detrimental to their health," he added.
MP Lee Bee Wah of Nee Soon GRC came across one of her residents selling his rice rations for cash. She warned him that the rations would be stopped if he continued doing this. "I still see him collecting his rice today," she said with a smile.
Acting Manpower Minister and Marine Parade GRC MP Tan Chuan-Jin highlighted the issue recently when he posted a picture of food rations on his Facebook page. He said he had given the items to a needy resident, who passed them on to someone else to pay off his debts.
Another resident, who regularly receives help from public assistance schemes, was given cash by a good Samaritan. The resident used the money to buy a gold bangle, said Mr Tan.
"If there are any abuses, and I come to know about them, I will want to find out exactly what the problem is," he told My Paper.
The assistance might stop if a resident is clearly not in need.
"But things aren't always so straightforward," said Mr Tan.
Some residents could have traded their vouchers because of legitimate needs or emergencies, the MPs said. And since these "traders" are in a minority, the MPs have found ways to work around the tricky issue.
Community vouchers - introduced in some wards - allow residents to spend at neighbourhood provision shops, barbers and hawker stalls. They also reduce the need for residents to sell their supermarket vouchers at a discount - a move that would whittle down the aid given to them.
MPs have also put in place processes to reduce the need to give residents cash. They write cheques directly to the Housing Board to pay rent, and send volunteers to pay residents' medical bills at clinics.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said his ward has a community fund for needy residents who need sums of up to $500, and a welfare committee which can buy big-ticket items for residents if needed or reimburse residents if they produce receipts.
"We do not publicise this too much as we are worried about abuse, but many of my low-income residents will know to come to me or the community centre for help," he said.
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