The reaction from readers to two articles speak a lot about the sentiments among the public about the issue of foreigners in Singapore.
“Is Singapore turning into a xenophobic society?” – 1,045 comments.
“Unacceptable nearly 40% of population is made up of foreigners” – 1,236 comments.
The issue is and will continue to be a hot one – until Singaporeans know what the Government has planned, going forward. In response to my article on it being unacceptable that 40% of our population is made up of foreigners, Christopher Gee has mistaken my position and seems to say that I am advocating a sudden, overnight, sacking of all foreigners from Singapore.
Nowhere in my Yahoo article did I suggest this. But Christopher is right in saying that we cannot remove all foreigners from our island. That is not the position of anyone, except the most extreme xenophobes. So, I think it’s a red herring to offer the question which Christopher did, namely: who is going to do all the work which Singaporeans will not do if we removed all foreigners from Singapore?
Sadly, though, that is also the stance taken by the Government when dealing with this issue. We need foreigners, it says. If we had no foreigners, our economy will go down.
Again, no one has advocated the removal of all foreigners.
This sort of extreme proposition is a chasm in communication between Singaporeans and the (mis)understanding by the Government.
Singaporeans welcome foreigners. Lets get this straight. We always have. We also understand the need to have an open-mind towards foreigners and what they can bring to us.
What we do not want is to see our country overrun by so many of them, to the point where life here is becoming increasingly unbearable. Besides the 5.2 million foreigners here, we also have an average of 1 million tourists every month setting foot on our shores.
While we do not advocate a sudden sharp decrease in the number of foreigners, we do want to know if the status quo will remain, or if the Government even has plans to increase the number of foreigners, going forward.
The problem is that all we have heard from the Government is that we should reduce our dependence on these foreigners, and how Singaporeans should welcome and help them integrate into our society. That is all well and good. I support the integration or assimilation of foreigners with Singaporeans. (However, I would also like to say that this itself presents several problems, especially in the way the Government is going about it. I shall perhaps elaborate on this in future.)
Ask yourself these questions:
1. The Government talks of restructuring the economy. But restructure to what? This is unclear.
2. We have seen tweaks to certain policies, such as Labour Laws (higher levies are charged for foreign workers), education (higher tuition fees for foreign students), and several others. But these are just tweaks, nothing more. Without an overall picture of what these tweaks are supposed to accomplish, what should we be thinking?
3. Wages have been an issue which Singaporeans feel foreigners are depressing. The Government and the NTUC have pledged to up wages for the lower-end workers. But again, these are just tweaks. What is the Government’s plans for the number of foreigners which is the root cause of low wages at the lower end?
We also understand the global competition for talent. But this does not mean that we adopt an open-door policy to attract them. We should be more selective. In the past, the Government said it only allows foreigners with the appropriate talents which Singapore needs and lacks, into our country. But clearly, this is no longer so – even a unskilled, lowly educated foreigner can set up shop here now. So again, we need to know what the Government’s plans are for foreigners like these.
In the end, we can argue about the need for foreigners (which really is not in dispute) or argue about their (necessary) contribution to economic growth (which again is not in dispute).
What we want to know is the big picture – where are we going with all these tweaks and piecemeal “improvements”?
Is that all that Singaporeans can expect – that changes will only be made when things take a turn for the worse for the ruling party, like when it loses a GRC?
Singapore needs leadership with a clear vision to take us forward. As you can see from the 2,000+ comments in the 2 articles mentioned above, many are still not sure where the Government is taking us. The National Population and Talent Division and the Institute of Policy Studies have both offered researched projections of population scenarios for Singapore, going forward. But these aren’t solutions. They are just projections.
It is not an easy issue to resolve, given the spectrum of considerations which it entails – from the low birth rate to wages, from social friction to political consequences.
The best way for Singaporeans and the Government to understand the matter better and perhaps even come to a consensus on how to move forward is to have an open and honest dialogue about the matter. The Government needs to chart a clear road ahead, before Singaporeans can be expected to understand and support such a vision.
At the moment, it seems we’re just stabbing in the dark.