SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Sep 14) appealed to Progress Singapore Party (PSP) MPs to refrain from “anti-foreigner” rhetoric as it can deepen fault lines between locals and foreigners, and those between Singaporeans of different races.
Addressing the House in a Parliament motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods, Mr Wong set out the Government’s economic and labour policies and repudiated PSP’s claim that its foreign talent policy has caused anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihoods.
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai (PSP) is due to speak later on a competing motion on foreign talent policy.
This debate is the second in Parliament on foreign manpower policy in Singapore, with the first, in July, also initiated by the PSP’s Mr Leong.
Mr Wong said that the Government cannot accept PSP’s motion on foreign talent policy, which is why it has moved a separate motion on the same issue.
“Please reflect on how your rhetoric can deepen fault lines – not just between locals and foreigners, but even between Singaporeans of different races,” Mr Wong said.
“The strong racist and xenophobic undertones in the PSP’s campaign against CECA have not gone unnoticed.”
CONCERNS FROM BUSINESSES, JOBSEEKER
Mr Wong said that the business community has expressed concerns about the rhetoric against foreigners and free trade agreements.
“They are worried that the PSP’s anti-foreigner stance will undermine their access to workers, and jeopardise their overall operations here,” he said.
Singaporeans also feel the impact, said Mr Wong as he shared an email from an Indian Singaporean who was worried about not being shortlisted for jobs due to concern over foreign workers from India.
“As Mr Ong Ye Kung said in July, we are prepared to fight the next election on this issue; we are prepared to fight any party that chooses to take a populist line and stirs racism and xenophobia,” said Mr Wong.
He invited Mr Leong to share PSP’s approach to the issue of job creation.
“I’ve set out comprehensively the Government’s strategy. We stay open and connected to the world, to create more jobs and uplift all Singaporeans,” said Mr Wong.
“We take concrete measures to deal with the downsides of an open economy – manage the inflow of workers, tackle discrimination at the workplace, and look after the minority who are displaced.”
He reiterated that Singapore cannot turn inwards and as a small island, needs to stay open and connected to survive.
“If we were to take a politically craven approach and impose many stringent conditions on (companies’) ability to operate here, we will lose out on many good investments, we would have fewer foreigners for sure,” he said.
“But many Singaporeans will also be deprived of good jobs and career opportunities. It’s like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”
Mr Wong said that the Government’s strategies to grow the economy and create good jobs have worked and cited data over the last decade to support this.
From 2010 to 2019 – up until COVID-19 struck – median income in real terms grew by 3.2 per cent a year for residents and household incomes rose.
Between 2010 and 2020, local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) employment grew by about 300,000, nearly three times the increase in Employment Pass and S pass holders over the same time period, at about 110,000, he added.
Calling the PSP’s thinking “fatally flawed”, he said: “The PSP wants to sweep these aside. They downplay the jobs, opportunities and outcomes we have created, and play up the anxieties.
“The PSP assumes that if we reduced the number of foreigners here; then all their jobs will automatically go to Singaporeans.”
Instead of that happening, Singapore is likely to lose its status as a business hub and its economy will “go down in a tailspin”.
“We’d end up with far worse problems, and it’s not foreigners, but Singaporeans who will ultimately pay the price.”
“SENSE OF NOSTALGIA”
Mr Wong said that those who want to see fewer foreign work pass holders may be feeling “a sense of nostalgia about how things were like in the past”.
While there were fewer foreign PMETs in Singapore in the 1990s, overall standards of living were also much lower then and median salaries were less than S$2,000 compared to about S$4,500 today, he said.
“Is that what we want? Stagnate in the 1990s, while the rest of the world progresses around us?” he asked.
The Finance Minister acknowledged that there are downsides to being an open economy but said that the Government tries to attend to these.
The Government is updating its manpower policies and rules to manage the flow of work pass holders, is putting in place legislation against workplace discrimination, and does its “utmost” to help those who have lost their jobs, said Mr Wong.
He added: “After the crisis, we expect a permanent shift in support levels with more help for our workers, especially as we enter a period of greater volatility and disruption.
“MOF is working through these details carefully, to make sure that the changes we make are financially sustainable.”
“RACIST AND XENOPHOBIC SENTIMENTS”
Mr Wong challenged Mr Leong to elaborate on PSP’s position, raising two questions that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had early asked Mr Leong in Parliament.
In July, Mr Ong asked whether the PSP agreed that “FTAs, including CECA, are fundamental to Singapore’s economic survival and our ability to earn a living and we should not shake this bedrock principle for political purposes”.
He also asked Mr Leong if he agreed that “CECA is not the cause of the challenges faced by our PMEs, and does not allow a free flow of Indian PMEs into Singapore”.
“Mr Leong had not given this House a clear answer to these questions. The PSP has had two months to think about their answers. So I hope that when Mr Leong rises next, he will speak clearly,” said Mr Wong.
Mr Wong said that if Mr Leong agrees with the above then the issue can be put to rest.
“But if he continues to equivocate, or to make misleading or false claims, then we can only conclude that CECA is a cover for the PSP to stoke racist and xenophobic sentiments,” he said.