From the People’s Action Party (PAP) to the Workers’ Party (WP), from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) to the National Solidarity Party (NSP), from the Reform Party (RP) to even the smaller Singapore Justice Party (SJP), virtually all the major political parties subscribe to the policy, belief or idea of “Singaporeans first”. Each has put this in public statements from their respective parties the last few years. And so have the NTUC, presidential candidates Tan Cheng Bock and now-president Tony Tan. All agree that Singaporeans should come first. [See below.]
Gilbert Goh, founder of support site for the unemployed, transitioning.org, has championed the same call – for a Singaporean-First Singapore. His latest initiative saw some 5,000 people supporting such a call at Hong Lim Park in February, following the Government’s release of the population White Paper which, among other things, included a “planning scenario” of a population of 6.9 million people in 2030.
Gilbert has since announced a second event at Hong Lim Park (on 1 May 2013) to protest the White Paper. And again, as in the first event, he is being accused by some of ‘xenophobia’, for allegedly fanning the flames of anti-foreigner sentiments; that his “Singaporeans first” call is xenophobic.
Such views are woefully misguided.
First, if anyone wants to see what being xenophobic is, perhaps they should read this article.
Second, there is nothing wrong about wanting a “Singaporeans first” policy or way of doing things in Singapore, and it is not xenophobic. It is no xenophobia.
Third, the accusation thrown at Gilbert betrays the lack of understanding of what constitutes xenophobia. Simply, it is an unreasonable or irrational hatred for foreigners or things foreign. In short, it is hatred for someone who is a foreigner simply because he is a foreigner.
So, does Gilbert have such hatred for foreigners, and secondly, that if he did, that it is also an irrational hatred?
To the best of my knowledge, and I have known Gilbert for several years now, what Gilbert has is not hatred for foreigners, which then follows that the question of it being irrational does not arise.
Gilbert has been raising employment issues concerning Singaporean workers for the last several years – and especially about the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives, technicians), way before the NTUC started to take it seriously, culminating in its call (2012) for better protection for this group of Singaporeans.
Transitioning.org, in fact, was started by him and a few friends following the 2008 economic crisis, to help those who lost their jobs transition (thus the name) to new circumstances. Gilbert was about the only individual Singaporean I know of who took it upon himself to help these unemployed folks.
I remember speaking to Gilbert about 4 years ago at a coffeeshop, where he first raised the matter with me. He was providing counselling to PMETs who had lost their jobs to foreigners because these foreigners were younger, cheaper or simply because they were being recruited by their fellow countrymen. (This is now a problem recognised by the Manpower Ministry, by the way, but Gilbert had already been raising it 4 years ago.)
He told me of Singaporeans in their mid-40s, PMETs, who were at their wits’ end, after failing to secure any jobs even after having jumped through all the recommended hoops – MPs, CDCs, ministries, e2i, etc. Some were in deep depression, others on the verge of suicide. Marriages broke down, relationships became estranged. Some even spoke of holding public protests. All were desperate.
I met with 2 of these men later. And what Gilbert had told me was true. You can see it in the men’s eyes, in their voices, on their faces. Men whose rage was so deep, who felt so helpless tears stream down their faces as they relate how they lost their jobs – in spite of them turning up for work loyally and putting in the hours required.
How do you get help when all the recommended avenues result in dead ends?
The consequences of an enlarged population are real. It is personal. It affects one’s livelihood, one’s family, one’s personal relationship with one’s most loved. Thus, the 6.9 million figure mentioned in the White Paper has stirred unease because of the potential negative consequences in many areas, including the job market and wages for Singaporeans across the board.
The subsequent backpeddling by the Government – that the “6.9 million” is only a “worst-case scenario” and not a target – does not assuage the concerns or reassure Singaporeans, given that the two previous “planning scenarios” of 4 million and 5 million of 1991 and 2002 were breached in 2000 and 2010 respectively.
And also, let us remember that despite all the outrage, feedback, and protests, the Government is still not stopping the influx.
It is only “slowing” it down.
So, it does seem that if we continue on this trajectory, we will in fact reach 6.9 million eventually.
This is what Gilbert – and many other Singaporeans – are concerned and indeed upset about. And they are not wrong in being so. Neither are they being “xenophobic” in protesting against this, or calling for Singaporeans to be put first in various areas.
Citizens must have certain privileges, priorities, preferences, advantages and rights accorded to them. And yes, even in the job market where each one of us makes a living to feed our families, Singaporeans must come first. That is our responsibility, in fact.
Does this mean we close the door completely on foreigners? No. Does calling for such a “Singaporeans first” policy mean we are xenophobic? No.
What it does mean is that we recognise that it is citizens who will have to live here, raise families here, work here, die here and be buried here. It is citizens who will, when the time calls for it, lay down their lives to protect all that they have built. It is citizens who decide the direction of the country, who build the nation according to their vision. It is citizens who, with the future of their children in mind, create the society which they hope their children will thrive in – and in the process of doing so, it is citizens who put in the sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears.
So yes, Singaporeans must come first – and we should not apologise for thinking so.
Foreigners who feel that Singapore is a great place and want to make it their home are welcome to become one of us, to become a Singaporean. They will be accorded the same privileges and rights when they do – and we do not deny them these things.
Let us be clear that when we stand up for the rights of citizenship that we are not being xenophobic. Xenophobia has a different meaning entirely, in fact.
All the political parties and others are not being xenophobic when they declare their beliefs in “Singaporeans first”. Neither is Gilbert.
On the contrary, if we do not recognise the privileges and rights of citizenship, then we are in fact headed in the wrong direction, a direction which will lead us to being a people fractious, where being a nation is meaningless, and where selfishness will be the order of the day.
Speaking out for Singaporeans does not make one a xenophobe.
One of the PMETs I mentioned whom I met later ended up being a taxi driver, because he had no choice. Although he told me he enjoyed the job, the question remains: why should our own citizens be forced out of their jobs in the first place?
The White Paper’s 6.9 million population projection – if it becomes reality – will exacerbate such problems. And it is us – Singaporeans – who will end up having to deal with the consequences. Indeed, that is what we are having to do now, as a result of the faulty policies of the Government the last 5 to 10 years.
Speaking up against such policies is not xenophobia.
In fact, it is duty.
Click on each party/name to see reports of their support for “Singaporeans first”: