My name is Zheng Wen, a Singaporean student, now studying overseas. I would like to invite you to share your thoughts, on some of the comments you had made earlier and upon some of my concerns that were brought to the fore. Do pardon me if my post seems rather wordy, I feel it important to articulate not just my concerns, but the reasons they have arisen.
As they say so often in medicine “Understanding the pathology of a disease is crucial in successfully treating it”. In that light I do apologize if some of my comments might be critical or unsupportive of the unsung efforts and sacrifices, that you and your colleagues have been making for the nation.
I am curious to understand what precisely your stand is regarding foreign scholars, and by extension foreigners who choose to live and work in Singapore, and what manner of social compact would be appropriate between them and us. They are after all, having their education and living expenses entirely paid for by the government, whose coffers are filled by the taxes imposed on us, the citizens of Singapore.
Granted this can be a difficult question to answer, but to draw a comparison between Singapore and other countries, notably the in developed world, it is expected for all students, not just scholars to adhere to a standard of behaviour, a “code of conduct”. The rationale behind this requirement is one of simple human decency, going into another person’s home; it would only be polite of you to respect the manner by which that person lives.
In that light I cannot help but think towards Mr. Xu’s derogatory comments regarding there “being more dogs them humans in Singapore” and also back to another case earlier last year where a PRC family was successful in having the Community Mediation Center lock an Indian family into a contract of only cooking curry when they the PRC family was out.
It very much seems to me that this social contract of respecting the ways of our hosts is one that is largely unknown, or perhaps entirely ignored by many of our nation’s guests. And indeed I see this behaviour even overseas, in Australia. It is not a rare sight to see students from china spitting where they please, even right in front of a man walking past them, or throwing their refuse on the side walk, roads and in parks without a care.
These are the people whom we are inviting into our nation, and granted that what we would perceive as being the norms of polite behaviour are entirely alien to them. I cannot see any reason why Singapore would not have a “naturalization” program in order to teach these unwritten rules of acceptable social behaviour within our country. Indeed we should enforce these codes upon them, as much as we would upon ourselves, a simple thing about respect, for the race and religion of our countrymen for example.
Singaporeans have been called to task for being insensitive of those of another race or religion, many even charged in a court of law. Would you not agree that our laws should apply to foreigners as well? Should Mr. Xu be charged and sentenced for his comments whereas Singaporeans who have fallen to similar mistakes faced stiff penalties?
I would like to ask you to clarify you comment on Singaporeans becoming “divisive” over Mr Xu’s behaviour. Exactly how would condemnation in this instance be divisive? Granted you might perhaps be thinking of the divisiveness between Singaporeans and foreign migrants, the PRCs in particular, for if you are, I do share your fear. If I am not mistaken, it is those precise sentiments of resentment and barely contained rage that lead to the racial riots and brutal violence of Singapore’s early history. A problem that was only corrected through the introduction of national service, where by every man, regardless of whatever history or social standing would be put through the same regiment together.
I do not however believe that asking Singaporeans to simply “play nice” would quite work however, given that conditions in Singapore are not entirely pleasant. Rates of employment amongst the citizenship have gone entirely uncommented upon by statistics released by the government, nebulously lumping citizens and PRs into the category of “residents” (Though do correct me if I happen to be wrong). Wage rates, when adjusted against inflation and increasing costs of living have actually been on the decline these past few years, with salaries largely remaining static and inflation increasing at a breakneck pace.
The former of these ills I shall note has a very large part to do with the inclusion of foreign nationals into the labour force, in order to drive down costs, which has also driven down average wage rates, the lack of a minimum wage law further serves to increase the incentives for any employer to hire a foreigner, given they are prepared to work for a much lower wage versus a Singaporean, and often for longer hours. Something that Singaporeans are ill able to afford, given the costs of supporting a family in Singapore with its higher costs of living, versus a PRC who’s family lives in China. Never mind the time we need commit to the looking after of our children and our elders.
Furthermore, national service commitments from the men, which sees them entering the work force 2 years later then their Chinese peers, and further commitments through most of our lives for in-camp-training offers a major handicap.
I believe the resentment a lot of us feel towards the Chinese, springs from a sense of having to fight from a very inferior position. That, and even if we do happen to win a hold on the job market, competition from foreign nationals would require for us to take a salary that we might not be able to survive on.
In all truth it’s this environment that makes many of my colleagues studying medicine believe that “returning to Singapore to practice, is the height of stupidity”. And to be honest, I can understand why, stagnating salaries, increasing costs of living, as well as ugly neighbours who would not share the same unifying experiences that other Singaporeans have in common with you. Not to mention that foreign doctors choosing to relocate to Singapore receive extensive packages and allowances as an incentive, returning Singaporean doctors get nothing.
By comparison, in other countries, but it Australia, Britain or the United States, there are laws that help level the playing field, limiting the hours and jobs that foreign nationals can work and apply for. Laws that specify a minimum wage to prevent wage undercutting, and on a tangential note, laws to prevent speculative pressures on the values of properties, which I have mentioned because of the cost of a home in Singapore, and the role speculative buyers from out of the country have played in bringing it to such a level. (Though to be fair some new measures have been imposed recently to help alleviate housing prices, albeit to a minor almost negligible degree, kudos to you and your colleagues)
Long and short, “playing nice” isn’t something you can reasonably expect of so many people, living under such conditions. Would it be perhaps that you had something else in mind when you called for Singaporeans to be less divisive?
Scholarships, you made the comment earlier that Singapore being a meritocracy has no room for any consideration of the nationality of the person it then becomes awarded to. Although I do realize that you later made a further clarification on your statement, saying that the scholarship would be awarded to a Singaporean, if all else considered were equal?
I would like to understand why you would feel that way. After all, given that the funds that are allocated into scholarships are collected from citizens through taxes, it would be reasonable to argue that the funds should be allocated in such a manner that Singapore would benefit most?
An argument I am sure you agree with, in that light I am curious to know what justification there might be to awarding these scholarships to foreign nationals, versus Singaporeans. Particularly in the face of the retention rate we have of these scholars over 5 and 10 years, past their return of service bonds. I have not been able thus far to find any statistics that might shed light on this, but suspect from other indicators, new citizen emigration figures in particular, that the rate of which we have been retaining foreign scholars has been fairly low.
Would the money be better served by allowing Singaporeans, (And let’s face it, we the sum total of the citizenry, are Singapore) the opportunity to study aboard, gain skills and experiences that we might bring back to the nation? And also used towards improving our overall economic and living conditions so that returning home would actually be a welcome prospect?
Would it not be better to select our scholars, not on just on their academic achievements, but also on the strength of their relations with their neighbours, on the strength of their passions and their love of their craft? After all, people change, that and Singapore’s education system being such a competitive environment already handicaps our own children, particularly with adjusting exam scores to maintain an even distribution of grades. Why not use the money to give our own people a 2nd chance at making something of themselves, and making our home a better place?
Fourth (and Final!)
The role of foreign labour in our work force, you commented also that Singapore needs the best and the brightest in order to survive, an opinion shared and oft repeated by your colleagues in the PAP. Superficially it is an opinion easy to agree with, seeing how much of the scientific supremacy and economic growth seen over the previous century in America was a direct result of allowing the best and brightest to come.
Yet it is more than just the best and brightest we have been allowing into the country, I’ve see young individuals from other countries working in banks, laboratories, and all manner of professional jobs, none of whom strike me as being particularly bright or capable in comparison to their Singaporean counterparts. We’ve seen a plethora of middle management staff flowing into the nation from other nations, displacing Singaporeans. Then we have the service industry, the integrated resorts in particular, which have a very high proportion of foreign employees.
It is often said that Singaporeans are loathe to take up service jobs, but I would like to point out that one of the reasons and in my case, the deciding factor, was not the lack of “glamour” or distinction of such a job, but rather the pay. As mentioned earlier, realities of Singapore’s cost of living mean that many Singaporeans cannot afford to work for such a low rate, especially if we would like to have a family or a life beyond work.
Yet these industries cannot operate without staff, so the question then becomes, why did the government invest so heavily into promoting the hospitality and services industry in Singapore, if from the very beginning, there was an awareness that few, if any Singaporeans would be willing to work in the industry?
Would the money not be better put towards growing other industries that would not only provide the drive to power the countries growth, but also ensure that Singaporeans would have well-paying jobs, and most importantly, survive even if foreign labour were to dry up? As it seems now, Singapore is in a catch-22. Construction, tourism, hospitality are all industries dependant on a cheap source of labour, a demand that can only be met by importing foreign nationals.
What are the government’s plans on this avenue? For I would very much like to know my home is not just a good place for me to invest my money into (which Singapore is now), but also a good place to live and work (a criteria in which Singapore is not so well rated).
Thank you for taking the time to read this Mr Baey, and although I understand that some of my concerns may be outside of the boundaries of your office, I would none the less greatly appreciate it if you would share your thoughts. I look forward to seeing your reply, both to me, and all those, my Singaporean brothers and sisters.
Mr Baey’s reply:
Dear Zheng Wen, thank you for your note.
I agree with many of your points. I will be speaking on the topic of scholarships to foreigners in parliament next week and will post that on FB, please look out for that.
In essence, I am with you that priority should be given to S’poreans. Yahoo’s report gave the wrong impression that I was advocating merit over nationality. I was then referring to those scholarships that MOE is awarding to foreigners and opining that for such scholarships, S’poreans should be eligible too, hence my point that nationality (resulting in a bias against S’porean) should not be the criteria.
I just would like to clarify my point about “divisive” – I saw two groups of netizens commenting on my FB, some unhappy with my remark and others supporting it. At one stage, the exchange was getting quite bad and I was concerned that there will be hard feelings. Hence I made the point.
(The above was posted as a comment on Mr Baey Yam Keng’s Facebook)