SINGAPORE: Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) on Tuesday (Sep 1) called for the Government to relook at national policies on race and restore the balance of interests between Singaporeans and foreigners.
The four opposition MPs who spoke on the second day of the debate on the President's Address also touched on reducing the reliance on foreign workers and giving more voice to youths to shape policies.
President Halimah Yacob had told Parliament in her speech on Aug 24 that multiracialism in Singapore is still a "work in progress", with different generations bringing various life experiences and perspectives.
The Workers’ Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim said she hopes Singapore would become a "race-blind society" and to achieve that she suggested reviews in three areas: Ethnic classifications and data; elections along ethnic lines; and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) Ethnic Integration Policy.
Ms Lim said the Government’s CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) model of classifying the population to safeguard minority rights is “problematic”, adding that it would be better to talk about “citizenship rights”.
“There is an opportunity here to come together as Singaporeans and contribute to a national pool, helping the less privileged on a race-blind basis,” she said.
ELECTIONS ALONG ETHNIC LINES
Moving on to elections along ethnic lines, Ms Lim pointed out that ideally, there should not be minority candidate requirements in Parliamentary and presidential elections.
“Such requirements tend to focus on minority representation, which can put an uncomfortable spotlight on minority candidates,” she said.
As for the HDB Ethnic Integration Policy introduced in 1989, Ms Lim questioned if it has been working well, noting that it has caused “economic hardship” over the years.
The policy limits the total percentage of units in an HDB block or neighbourhood occupied by a certain ethnicity. Once the quotas are reached, buying and selling of flats can only take place within the same ethnic group.
Ms Lim said it is useful to look at neighbourhoods like Bedok where the Malay population has exceeded quotas, given that many of these families moved in before the policy was introduced.
“We should note that there did not appear to be extraordinary tensions or disorder there. It thus appears to me that some relaxation of the policy is possible,” she said.
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BALANCE OF INTERESTS BETWEEN SINGAPOREANS AND FOREIGNERS
Another issue that should be looked at is the balance of interests between locals and foreigners, the Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai said.
“Noting the widespread resentment and objections of our countrymen, we recommend immediate actions be taken to restore the balance of interests between the Singaporeans and the foreigners in our country,” he said in his first Parliament speech.
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Mr Leong suggested tweaking the foreign talent model by designating companies as "offshore" or "onshore".
Offshore companies offer products and services sold predominantly overseas, which Singaporeans do not yet have the skills to produce, said Mr Leong, adding that these companies should also satisfy minimum capital and business spending requirements.
Mr Leong said offshore companies can be given a “freer hand” in attracting talents from all over the world provided they are non-discriminatory and follow work pass salary requirements.
For the remainder of companies classified as onshore, Mr Leong said they must ensure Singaporeans are well-represented in top management, apply a foreigner-to-citizen ratio cap, create clear career succession plans for locals, and protect entry-level jobs for new Singaporean graduates.
REDUCING DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN WORKERS
Mr Leon Perera, the WP MP for Aljunied, also touched on the importance of reducing dependence on foreign workers.
Mr Perera noted that there is a need to “take a serious look” at the entire sector of workers on work permits and set long-term targets to “substantially reduce” Singapore’s dependence on these foreign workers.
He questioned the sustainability of attracting foreign workers from less-developed countries, pointing out that they might not “remain poor forever”. He added that there is scope to redesign some of these jobs.
“There may come a day when they don’t want to come to Singapore to do such jobs, or at least not at current rates of pay. What will we do then? Low cost today may not mean low cost tomorrow,” he said.
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GIVING YOUNG SINGAPOREANS "A BETTER DEAL"
In her first speech in Parliament, the WP MP for the newly formed Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Raeesah Khan stressed the importance of providing equal opportunities among Singaporeans, noting that meritocracy has contributed to this.
“But in this midst of this pursuit, we have inevitably left many behind, short-changed and sadly, made to believe they deserve their stations because they were simply, 'not good enough',” she said.
Ms Khan said the Government has to tackle three areas in order to give young Singaporeans “a better deal”.
The three areas are: Youths should have accessibility to opportunities in education and the workforce; maximise the opportunities available for this group to succeed; and put an end to job discrimination to create an inclusive job market.
“If we want young Singaporeans to triumph in our next phase of development, we need to enable them to have a seat at the table,” said Ms Khan.
“These young people are more than willing to start the conversation and contribute their ideas.”