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Ministers to address 'false allegations' that FTAs allow foreigners 'free hand' to live and work in Singapore

Ministers to address 'false allegations' that FTAs allow foreigners 'free hand' to live and work in Singapore

File photo of Parliament House. (Photo: Hani Amin)

SINGAPORE: Ministers will address "false allegations" that free trade agreements allow foreign professionals "a free hand" to live and work in Singapore, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Jul 1).

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Ong said that two ministerial statements will be delivered in Parliament next week to explain "how vital" FTAs are to Singapore and how they work.

The statements will be delivered by Manpower Minister and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng and Mr Ong, who is a former trade negotiator. The statements will be open to debate after they are delivered.

Mr Ong also referred to two recent incidents of “verbal and physical assaults on Indians”, which he described as “disturbing and not reflective of what Singaporeans are”.

Without specifying the incidents, Mr Ong said they occurred amid an “undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians over the past two years”.

“There are concerns from Singaporeans that need to be addressed, but the unhappiness is also fuelled in no small part by false allegations by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) about how the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has given Indian PMEs a free hand to come here to work,” he wrote in the post.

Following the incidents, Mr Ong said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam during a parliamentary sitting in May this year called on the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) to file a motion on FTAs and CECA. 

This was so Parliament could have a proper debate on the matter, discuss what is at stake for Singapore, and “shine a light on untrue statements about CECA", Mr Ong said.  

“In the run-up to the filing of PSP's proposed motion, we have received many parliamentary questions on the matter, including many from PSP,” he said, adding that the purpose of the ministerial statements was to answer these questions.

PSP RESPONDS

In a post on PSP's Facebook page on Thursday night, PSP secretary general Francis Yuen said the party refutes the "false allegations" by Mr Ong.

"We are bewildered by Mr Ong's baseless allegations that we have contributed in no small part to the undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians through PSP that CECA has given Indian PMETs a free hand to work here," read the post.

"This is a serious allegation made without facts as to where and when such alleged false statements were made by PSP. Unless there is evidence to back his allegation, the minister should withdraw his statement and make an apology."

Mr Yuen said that the debate is about professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), not "racial tension", adding that NCMPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa - both from PSP - will debate the issue of foreign PMETs "vigorously" in Parliament.

"We welcome (Mr Ong's statement) and urge the Government to furnish all employment related data in Parliament," he said.

SINGAPORE WILL FAIL IF RACISM, XENOPHOBIA ALLOWED TO BECOME PREVALENT: SHANMUGAM

Mr Shanmugam said in Parliament on May 11 that Singapore will fail if the country allows racism and xenophobia to become prevalent.

He was responding to a question from Mr Murali Pillai (PAP-Bukit Batok), who pointed to an incident in the previous week when a 55-year-old woman of Indian descent had allegedly been kicked in the chest and subject to racial slurs for not wearing a mask while brisk walking.

Mr Murali asked Mr Shanmugam for his assessment of “the security situation arising from this racial incident connected with the pandemic”, and what steps the authorities would take to address the situation.

Noting investigations need to be done before conclusions can be drawn, the minister said the attack appeared to be racist based on the victim’s claims. Such behaviour should be condemned, he added.

READ: Singapore will fail if racism and xenophobia take root: Shanmugam

Mr Shanmugam pointed to certain websites which were anti-government - which he said was “perfectly okay” - but also deliberately fomented racism, with comments describing Indians as “cockroaches” and “rapists”.

Such racist behaviour cannot be justified by saying “the Indians are behaving badly” or blamed on Government policies such as CECA.

“There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign,” he said, adding that any members of parliament who believed the agreement was a problem could put up a Motion for debate.

He singled out Mr Leong of PSP, who had previously said he was “deeply disappointed” that DBS Bank did not have a “homegrown” chief executive and whose party had called for agreements such as the CECA to be reviewed.

“I am looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a Motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false,” said Mr Shanmugam.

READ: Ministers respond in Parliament to NCMP Leong Mun Wai's comments on not having 'homegrown' DBS CEO

SINGAPORE SHOULD BE “VERY CONCERNED” ABOUT RACIST INCIDENTS

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said last Friday that Singapore should be “very concerned” about racist incidents because there is "always a risk we will regress and move backwards" on race issues.

In a dialogue moderated by Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Mr Wong answered a question on whether Singapore is moving in “the right direction” on race issues. He was speaking in the dialogue after delivering a speech at the forum jointly organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and RSIS.

READ: 'Take the extra step' to make minorities feel comfortable, says Lawrence Wong in speech discussing racism in Singapore

Mr Wong’s comments come after a series of incidents sparked public debate about race and racism. He said that while Singapore has "come a long way" from 20 years to 30 years ago, racism still exists in the country.

“Indeed, the recent spate of incidents are a concern,” said Mr Wong. “We should rightfully be very concerned about this because we cannot assume that progress will always move in one direction. There is always a risk that we will regress and we will move backwards.”

Source: CNA/zl

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