Hear us out, Singapore!

It’s been two months since the start of 2013 and we’ve already seen some intense political discussions, starting with the marriage and parenthood package to the recently amended motion to the much-controversial population white paper.


Just over a week ago, the parliament endorsed the white paper, sparking online debate on Yahoo! Singapore that the government is “sell[ing] our stakes” and that it was a “very SAD DAY” when the news first broke.


This is despite PM Lee’s repeated emphasis that the initial population projections are for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning, and not a population target that the government is trying to achieve.


It’s easy to understand why people are frustrated. For years now, we’ve been voicing our concerns over the influx of foreign immigrants entering our country.


The debates around these incoming foreigners stealing the local’s livelihood have in fact escalated to a whole new level – come 2030, is it possible that we will have a minority of native Singaporeans doing National Service to defend the foreigners?


For what it’s worth, I am not against the idea of foreign talent. I work in an environment with a substantial portion of foreigners and I welcome the cultural diversity and varied perspectives they bring to the team.


But it’s our innate instinct to become territorial and aggressive when the number of foreigners being introduced is not kept in check – especially when we’re talking about a worst case scenario of 6.9 million population all squeezed into a land area of 715 square metres.


It’s not just the job opportunities we’re worried about. Our recent transportation woes, spiking COE, and resale HDB prices adds to the overall fear factor. No wonder Singaporeans are fighting back.


The question isn’t whether the local government has heard its people; rather, it is about them taking proactive actions to resolve the situation. And it certainly gives the impression that the government is taking many steps backwards when the population whitepaper was released.


I see hints of saving grace in the white paper amendments, which calls on the government to focus on precisely these issues. With the Budget set for release next week, I thought I’d share my two cents worth on what I’d like to see being addressed:


Ensuring job opportunities for our people


  • Extending the foreign worker levy to those on S Pass and Employment Pass (EP): The fact is that Singaporeans are increasingly feeling the heated competition in our local job market from their foreign counterparts. This is not specific to the lower-skilled roles, but also professional employment. No doubt a drastic measure, but it would help to further tighten the inflow of foreign workers and ensure that there are sufficient job opportunities for the locals.
  • Provide wage subsidies for organizations hiring local workers: Such an incentive, which is much like the Special Employment Credit given to businesses who hire older and low-wage workers, will hopefully help to cushion the impact from the extension of the foreign worker levy.


Focusing on the “now”


  • Developing our public transportation in pace with passengers’ needs: It’s not always about having a world-class transportation to boast about. What we need is an effective, reliable mode of transport to go about our daily regime without having to worry about MRT breakdowns and not being able to get a cab when it rains. Besides, as the ownership of cars become more of a luxury than a necessity, it is only fair that we demand an improved public transport network. Perhaps Singapore can look to Hong Kong in that aspect.
  • Making public housing available and affordable to the masses: We’ve heard a fair bit about the housing measures for first-timer married couples in the Marriage and Parenthood Package 2013 and some of the property cooling measures to keep our housing prices in check, but I hope that more can be shared about specific implementations for the elderly and low-income families.


The silver lining to these heated conversations from the ground up is that our people are concerned about where Singapore is now, and the direction the country is headed in the years ahead. At least compared to the other extreme which is a pool of political apathetic citizens, it’s reassuring to know that Singaporeans have taken an active and strong stand on what is at stake.


No doubt the government has played a significant role in moulding the nation to achieve so much with so little in such a short time, but it is imperative now for them to take a pause and relook into our growth engines.


Is it really necessary to pursue economic growth at the expense of the people’s dissatisfaction and our Singaporean core? I certainly don’t think so.


Gone were the days when the focus was to ensure Singapore’s survival as an independent nation, and its people willing to accept, without questions, the targets and plans that the government distinctly mapped out. We want to be part of an inclusive community where our voices are truly heard, especially with an issue as close to heart as this.


It’s not about informing and dangling carrots, but about making a collective decision. And it’s certainly not about blind faith, but a trusted leap of hope.


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