Elderly retiree spends Chinese New Year alone and in debt after son’s death
Son's death leaves retired widower, 70, with unpaid bills and $20,000 in arrears
As most Singaporeans celebrated Chinese New Year with family and friends yesterday, retiree Ng Kim Hai was all alone in his three-room flat.
He had no cheer on the first day of the Year of the Monkey, and there was much that weighed heavily on his mind.
"This flat belonged to my son and we used to celebrate the occasion together with a simple meal," said Mr Ng, 70, his eyes glistening with tears.
"He died in December, and I'm truly alone this Chinese New Year."
The former bus driver, who spoke to The New Paper in the spartan flat in Block 117, Potong Pasir Avenue 1, said his wife had died of leukaemia in 1992.
His son, Mr Ng Han Chong, 43, succumbed to heart disease on Dec 22 last year.
When asked if he had any other surviving relatives, Mr Ng replied in Mandarin that he has another son, but they have been estranged for more than 10 years.
Heaving a sigh, he declined to give any more details about his other son.
But being alone is not Mr Ng's only concern this year.
Nothing had prepared him for the nasty surprise he received last month when he found out that his son had not paid the mortgage on the flat for more than three years.
According to a letter from the Housing Board (HDB) dated Jan 27 which he showed TNP, the younger Mr Ng had failed to pay more than $20,000 in arrears.
Mr Ng also found out his son had left him with unpaid bills totalling about $5,000. These are for utilities, conservancy charges and so on.
He said: "I don't know how much Han Chong earned. I just live in this flat and left all the finances to him. I didn't know that he had not been paying the bills.
"But he is already dead. It's no use to be angry with him now."
Though he had left him in a financial bind, Mr Ng told TNP that his son, who had worked in a mobile phone shop, was a good person.
He added that his son was resting at home in November last year when he suddenly had difficulty moving.
The younger man called for an ambulance and was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
His father said: "He was diabetic and had heart problems. I called him almost every day when he was in hospital. He always assured me that he was fine and told me not to worry.
"That's why I was shocked when the hospital called me about a month later to say that he had died. I immediately burst into tears when I heard that my son was gone."
Thankfully, Mr Ng had a family friend to help him with the funeral expenses, which came to about $1,000.
The friend, who declined to be named, told TNP: "I contributed some money and collected some donations from family and friends.
"Now, I'm just helping him get through this difficult time to give him some moral support. It's the least I could do."
But Mr Ng said he does not want to burden her any more as she has her own personal matters and family to attend to.
He told TNP he is now withdrawing about $300 every month from his Central Provident Fund retirement account for his living expenses.
Though he could not recall if he had approached his Member of Parliament for help, he added that the Social Service Office (SSO) of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is providing him with financial assistance.
Mr Ng said that from January to March, he is receiving $38 a month for service and conservancy charges.
And during the same period, he also receives $90 monthly for his utilities.
Responding to queries from TNP, the ministry's spokesman said: "(Mr Ng) is known to MSF. Our SSO officers are also extending advice and referrals which can help him further improve his financial situation."
Mr Ng is also receiving financial assistance from a non-profit organisation called the Ray of Hope Initiative.
Its manager, Ms Sharmin Foo, said it has raised funds for his daily expenses and will give him $400 every month from February to June.
Despite the help, Mr Ng does not think that he will be able to settle the HDB arrears and the other unpaid bills as the amounts involved are too large for him to handle.
He hopes that HDB would not take back his flat as he has lived there for many years.
With a sad smile, he added: "This Chinese New Year, I will just stay at home the whole time and listen to the radio. I have no new clothes, did not buy any goodies and did not attend any reunion dinners.
"Of course I feel sad to spend the festive season by myself, but what else could I do? For now, I'm taking each day as it comes. I know times are bad. However, I'm thankful for all the help I'm getting now."