THE PRIME MINISTER
MR LEE HSIEN LOONG
EITHER SINGAPOREANS PRODUCE MORE KIDS OR WE MUST BRING IN MORE OUTSIDERS TO BECOME CITIZENS need not be the only options available to us. As the Government invite the people to think deeper into this and other issues raised at the PM’s National Day Rally, we should also look into other possibilities.
Many countries, including the middle east, have been employing foreigners for decades now, and yet all or most of them remain foreigners on work passes. In some countries, the foreigners far outnumber the locals. They are there strictly for professional and economic reasons.
As they grow older, these workers (from cleaners to construction workers to executives, engineers, bankers & more), will go back to their respective countries. They are then replaced by newer workers. And life goes on. Almost no foreigners became localised or given citizenships because it carries certain responsibilities, rights & benefits AND THESE ARE RESERVED FOR LOCALS ONLY.
Locals are represented in their government service, the private sector as well as employed by many enterprises that set-up shops in Dubai, Qatar, Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, etc. And locals seldom feel threatened by the presence of foreigners. Their interest are looked after by their governments.
There is something in the way they did it that can be studied and considered for Singapore. Here are some examples:
(i) Qatar. Out of the total population of approximately 1.7 million (2011 est.), the make up of ethnic groups is as follows: Qatari (Arab) 20%; other Arab 20%; Indian 20%; Filipino 10%; Nepali 13%; Pakistani 7%; Sri Lankan 5%; other 5%. (Qatar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
(ii) In 2010, the UAE’s population was 8.2m, of whom only 13% were UAE nationals or Emiratis. Majority of the population were expatriates. Many expatriates have been demanding citizenship but there is no naturalisation process in the UAE. (United Arab Emirates – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
(iii) BAHRAIN with land size almost like Singapore, has a population of 1.2 million in 2010, of which 568,399 were Bahraini and 666,172 were non-nationals (Bahrain – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
(iv) KUWAIT – population 3 million, with about 2 million non-nationals. Kuwaiti citizens are a minority. The government rarely grants citizenship to foreigners to maintain status quo. In 2008, 68.4% of the population consisted of expatriates, making the country the 4th highest ratio of expatriates of the world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuwait#Demographics)
In our case, some of the best can become citizens, maybe as PRs first. If they stay long enough, got married and have children, then they can be considered for citizenship as the children are born here.
There is no serious need to give citizenship to so many as we have done the past few years. Lets not forget, those who became citizens early in their working life, will face similar issues to deal with, just like other Singaporeans, and they may end up not marrying or having a very small family. And we will be back to square one. By then they already have citizenship rights.
If we can keep most foreigners as PRs or work passes, the financial burden on the government will also not increase so much more as we add services for families and the elderly. Therefore the need to increase taxes or GST will be limited.
Like in the middle east, Singapore citizens also get regular handouts from the government, sharing some of the economic surplus dished out during the annual budget. It has been very useful for the lower income group. If we are strict in granting new citizenship, the size of the handouts and other welfare budget will not increase so much.
Singaporeans whose families have been here since before & after the 2nd world war, and since before and after the independence of Malaya (1957), as part of Malaysia (1963) and then independent Singapore (1965) have at least some common short history together as one people.
In the 1960s to the 1980s, as we embarked on economic development programme, people were asked to make early sacrifices for the sake of the country. One of which is when the Government acquired their land at around $1 psf for economic purposes.
Most villages were torn down and the established communities were dissolved. People were uprooted from their villages and moved to housing estates. Everyone had to adjust to new surroundings.
My village head used to own a 50-acre coconut plantation. We were all moved to Toa Payoh, Hougang, Kallang and Whampoa. We still stayed in touch. I met the children of the village head recently. They are mostly taxi drivers, property agents & hawkers.
They had to struggle hard to make a living and could only imagine what it would be like if their land (estimated to be worth a few billion dollars today) had remained with the family.
There are many other stories of locals working with the Government to ensure Singapore’s survival as the future looked very uncertain in 1960s. We all felt that we were all in ONE TEAM, as if everyone were looking after each other and have a greater common interest in mind. The government was seen as very caring and the people responded accordingly.
Back then we rode on Democratic-Socialist values – a mix of democracy with some essence of socialism that allowed us to come up with pro-people national policies – cheap education, housing, medical care and welfare assistance for the needy. We even erected stand pipes in villages.
I think we were all poorer but somehow I could feel that THE SENSE OF UNITY WERE A LOT STRONGER. This include the SENSE OF BELONGING and TEAM SPIRIT between the people and the government. It felt like we were all ONE BIG MULTI-RACIAL FAMILY. We moved as one, act as one – all for the good of the people and the nation.
Today we are so much richer – one of the richest country by per capita income. But I am not sure if the SENSE OF UNITY, SENSE OF PURPOSE & NATIONAL TEAM SPIRIT between the people and the Government have all become stronger. I suspect it has not grown stronger. Not everyone is doing as well. Not everyone earns as much as the per capita income number. But property prices had skyrocketed.
Naturally with one of the highest income in the world, our cost of living here is also one of the highest. Everyone understand this. But I cant say that THE SPECIAL FEELING OF BEING ONE BIG SINGAPORE FAMILY STRUGGLING TOGETHER FOR THE COMMON GOOD is still there. Maybe not as strong as it used to be. Although it should have become stronger.
And I suspect the newer development motto of Singapore Inc – CAPITALISM – had a lot to do with this situation. Capitalism, in extreme and especially as it is advocated in America, means to each his own. You do well, you enjoy your good life (even to the extreme). If you don’t do well, that’s too bad. Its your own fate or fault.
While some argued that capitalism will also bring out some good in people and the nation, I worry it will bring about some serious social problem. It can weaken, even tear, the fabric of our society. We may end up with a class society – the super rich, the rich, the upper-middle income, lower middle and the lower class – the ordinary folks.
The problem is, under such a system, everything will be priced according ‘to the market value’ – be it housing, medical care, food etc. And such prices are easily affordable by the richer people in our society. The not so rich will face problems.
For example, in 1971 when my family moved to Toa payoh, my father could only afford a 3-room flat. The price was $6,800. While his salary was so small, he had no problem to service the loan. While most people today are earning many times more than my late father’s generation then, they will not feel as easy to own and service the loan of a 3-room flat. The price has gone up like 30 times.
Somehow this and many more experiences of our people, has eroded the sense of ‘being cared’ by the Government. More people felt they had to struggle on their own all their lives, beginning at kindergarten age, in order to have a life here.
And today, with so many ‘new citizens’ included, whatever surpluses and economic benefits through Government ‘giveaways’ had to be shared with all the ‘new Singaporeans’. More people sharing the same cake.
But they, their fathers and grandparents, were not here then in our poorer days. Back then our parents and grandparents had to make sacrifices (land, home, kampungs etc) and sweat it out for our families, the people and the country.
This will forever mark the difference between the original citizens of Singapore and the newbies.
Will the capitalist system that the Government adopted and the big jump in demographic changes that has occurred the past few years create a wider gap between the people and government? Will we end up with LESSER UNITY AS ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE? I feel it has happened. I just hope it wont get worst.
If we are to move ahead stronger and more united, I think the Government need to study these carefully and make the necessary move to RE-UNITE THE NATION, so that we can all MOVE AS ONE again. I doubt we are.
It has become more fashionable these days for people to disagree with the government. That is to be expected as the people becomes more educated and discerning.
The more worrying trend is, many more people than before simply disagree with everything that the Government does. They even criticise good government efforts. But why? For them, its like there is no more trust left. They have entered a mode of less trusting the government.
It’s sad if we end-up a more fractious society with the people looking at the Government far differently than the earlier generation used to. Whatever has happened since about a decade ago, must have caused some hurt in the hearts and minds of the people. It caused a rift to occur. We need to do something to address and heal this.
The key to this healing is to BUILD TRUST between the people and the government. Otherwise, a DISUNITED Singapore, is not at all good for this little red dot’s future.
Maidin Packer, Singapore