This article first appeared in mandarin on 9th Sept 2015 by Elaine Chua
Whenever I thought of our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his motivational quote would immediately come to mind. He said, “To the young and the not too old, I say, look at the horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.” I drew much inspiration and motivation from the quote. The quote, while encouraging, probably did not make clear a point, that is, the rainbow will only appear after a storm.
At 28, I’ve been through rain and thunderstorm, often drenched to the skin (No prizes for guessing right, I’m really not one who would carry an umbrella wherever I go)
Despite the uncountable encounters with rain and storm, I have only seen the rainbow twice. I remembered how I wished for rainy days just for an opportunity to see the rainbow appear when I was young only to have my mum lament that her clothes will never dry when it rains. Once, I remembered this chapter in a book of quirky science experiments titled “Create your rainbow”. I got myself a glass of water and stood by the window, waiting for sunlight to pass through the cup. Light went through and was refracted, and yes, there was a mini cast of rainbow at the side of the wall but I was utterly disappointed. I felt cheated. The rainbow I wanted to see, is the rainbow across the sky!
Gradually, I gave up on seeing the rainbow.
Until a day on Bus 179, where I sat uncomfortably, soaked to the skin from the heavy downpour. Someone yelled: “Hey, look out of the window, there’s a rainbow!” The bus was abuzz with amazement and excitement. I remembered how I stared at the rainbow and nearly missed my stop. The rainbow is indeed a fascinating sight to look at.
The limited experiences with rainbow taught me that, there may not be rainbow after every downpour but without a heavy storm, there will definitely not be rainbow. Experimentations with light refraction also taught me that, only when light persist to pass through obstacles, then will it be refracted to form the rainbow. Resiliency and persistence.
For the past few days with General Elections in sight, whenever I logged onto Facebook, I would be swamped under and overwhelmed with the sight of negativity on news feed and comments on posts related to General Elections. Many have expressed their dissatisfaction towards the ruling party’s policies and plans, they opined that it is those policies and plans that became their hurdles to achieving their dreams, to reaching their rainbow. To them, riding the rainbow is a myth.
I can briefly categorise the negativity online to 3 main areas:
- Foreigners are at approximately 40% of our population and many do not understand what the Population White Paper is about;
- Scholarships to foreigners; and
- Job competition with foreigners
The problems do exist and should not be swept under any carpet. Unfortunately, I’m not a sociologist or politician, I can only offer my perspective with regards to these 3 areas.
Firstly, it is undeniable that we do have approximately 40% foreigners amongst us, but Singapore was all along an immigrant society, our ancestors were all immigrants. Regardless of citizenry and nationality, all do contribute in some ways or another to our metropolitan and rich culture, growth of economy and operation of service line (for the non-PMET foreigners) on this little island where we call “home”.
To many, however, the growth of the nation’s economy is of no direct relation to his or her personal economic status and it can make one feel really gutted if he or she is below the mean income level of Singaporeans, leading to negative thoughts such as being “left behind” or “left out” of Singapore’s progress. The angst is not without reason, the anger is understandable.
And when some deliberately reminds us of the over-expenditure of Youth Olympics and Minister’s salary, magnifying the wealth-poor divide, it is easy to lose our logic and sense to emotions. But ask ourselves, are the low-income and those in need abandoned and forgotten? Have they been cast aside as we grow as a Nation? I think the answer is no. While not all encompassing and definitely, there are gaps to fill, we do have the Public Assistance Scheme, self-help groups like CDAC, Mendaki and Sinda and MOE-Financial Assistance Scheme for low-income families. CHAS card (in both orange and blue flavours) and Pioneer Generation Card are good news to those who are down with chronic diseases, those who need to see general practitioner, those who need to be admitted to hospital and those who are helping to pay medical bills. We may not be a welfare state, but have our welfare really been compromised?
No. I have personally been a beneficiary of help and have witnessed how these schemes improved social mobility. Our society is built upon the principles of meritocracy, can we really blame the nation or lament that the nation has been unfair to us?
I came from a family with a single income of under $2000 a month and although we stayed in a 3-room flat, we had to rent out one of the rooms to make ends meet. My parents are not well-educated and I have never had a tuition teacher all my life, much less those brain booster trainings that’s all too common these days. But I made it to university, to a good and meaningful job, with the help of bursary awards, the old financial assistance scheme, old books from neighbours and cousins and sheer grit. I started picking up IT skills since 13 and do freelance work during holidays, through junior college and university days for pocket money. I’m not smart enough to be a scholar though, what I lack in intelligence, I make it up with persistence and resilience.
If you were to ask me, how do I feel when I know of foreign students studying in our local universities without paying a cent? Let me be really frank here, the feeling is as awful as stuffing an unripe bitter gourd down your throat. Why should I be working for my hostel fees and pocket money? I was bitter, really bitter. Who cares if these foreign students would eventually succeed or take up political leadership and then be a so-called “return” on our investment?
It took me years to accept and understand why. (Perhaps I had understood it whilst I was a student, but it was hard to admit that my anger was misfired)
Being with the foreign students, I could see how much more hardworking and focussed they were, compared to myself and my other local classmates. They have a lot to “chase” especially for English language, and they put in hard work to improve their English language. Their presence in class has also brought about diverse discussion and rich discourse. Unconsciously, they became our motivation to do better, to outshine them. That bit of “xenophobia” or “self-entitlement” or that very thought of “unfairness” teased more motivation and hard work out of us, than any motivation quotes. I have gained a fair bit through learning together with the foreign students.
Just as a particular saying goes, only the best would survive beyond their homeland. At first impression or without exploring the intent, providing foreign students with scholarships to study in Singapore may seem to benefit the foreigners instead of Singaporeans, but in actuality, I feel that Singaporean students may have gained more in the bargain than expected, albeit unconsciously so.
Singapore is but a “little red dot” on the map, for our continual survival and sustainability, we need to establish bridges with the external world and we need to build these links. In addition, if we are to see the school environment as a miniature clone of our entire work ecosystem, the opportunities to interact with diverse personality types and people of different nationalities will definitely be of benefits to one’s ability to engage and communicate. Such opportunities can never be organic, they must be deliberately built in.
Let’s face it, the members of the current ruling party will not be around forever, but the country and our future generations will be. Responsible and forward-looking governance is not about short-term benefits, but long-term vision. Can we move from SG50 to SG100 or SG150 if we opt to be self-contained? Remember, we do not have any natural resources and we still need a slot on the global world stage. Somehow or another, the bridges must be built. The provision of scholarships, to presumably the better or the best students of other nations, is a move well-thought out.
That said, it is still of importance that due consideration and meticulous checks are done in the process of awarding scholarships.
As for the complaints on job competition, I think it is pertinent to ask, is the issue really with nationality? As an employer, what are your criteria for hires? Gender, skin tones, nationality or attitude, ability and potential? (Request of remuneration are considered as well, but in this example, it is taken as a constant variable.) I do feel that nationality and gender are on equivalent status, it should not be considered as an advantage over a prolonged period of time, as that might erode not just the competitiveness of the work, but one’s willingness to learn and upgrade.
It is important to note that the government has stipulated that organisations should try to hire Singaporeans first, before they can consider foreigners for the role and that there is a local-foreigner ratio to abide by in service lines. In addition, there are upgrading and professional development opportunities such as SkillsFuture and organisations such as Workforce Development Authority provide on-the-job or pre-job training. Our unemployment rate of 2% is comparatively lower to most 1st world countries and our neighbouring countries.
Food for thought here, as some clamour for “Singaporean-first” benefits, we must ask ourselves, will this eventually grow into a sense of “national entitlement”, blunting our competitiveness? Do we want to build a country that is unable to stand her grounds on global stage and unable to compete efficiently and effectively economically with our neighbours? Do bear in mind that to any global brands wanting to set up a factory or make investments, we do already have comparatively higher labour costs.
I will not go further to illustrate the impact of foreign investors pulling out their investments and reinvesting in our neighbouring countries. I stand to be corrected but my opinion here is, a thriving economy or at least a sustainable one is the electricity to the plug of social initiatives.
Lastly, on the misconception of the Population White Paper, I think it is important to clarify once more that 6.9 million is not a target for population. It is the planning parameter for our infrastructure and land use. Whether or not, we will reach 6.9 million in population will remain as an unknown but if we based our calculation on 1% growth a year, as suggested by a specific opposition party, we will reach 6.35 million by 2030, not 5.8 million. (Based on 1% annual growth, we would hit 5.8 million in less than 6 years’ time – that, I fear, is not an adequate time-frame to plan and build infrastructure. It is also worth mentioning that over the past decade, our population growth has hovered between 1.3% and 1.6% annually; if we based our calculation upon 1.3%, the number would have exceeded 7 million.
Therefore, it is a must to plan ahead. Infrastructure and land use should be planned with a 10 to 20 years’ view, proactively. No one would want to live on an overcrowded island.
The population white paper was passed only with amendments such as “calibrated pace of immigration” and to encourage Singaporeans to get married and have children, so as to maintain a strong Singapore core.
It is important for all of us to read the population white paper and not just believe all that we heard or read online. I believe that the ruling party would have known that the moment the 6.9 million figure goes out to the streets and onto parliamentary debates, there would be much misunderstanding and anger. But why did they still hold an open debate over the Population White Paper? Why do they have it publicly available to scrutiny?
Because this is responsible governance. Because every one of us has a stake in the country we want to live in.
More often than not, I hear of and read of how many commenters would say, how the ruling party shouldn’t bask in the past successes and glory, hoping that the electorate would vote for them out of gratitude. Similarly, it is in my opinion that the electorate should not think that we have traversed and travelled safely through 50 years of storm and that the rainbow that we’re seeing will be forever. (I do predict naysayers saying, I have yet to see any rainbow because we are still embroiled in storm, but ask yourself, when you compare your living conditions, your education and your competencies, do you have it better than many in our neighbouring countries? We really do.)
Rainbow is transient. It does not last the whole day after the rain. Our future is like a bubble and beautiful as it is, it will burst easily. Our 21st century is one filled with unknown, our future is in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and do we want our dreams to burst?
The little red dot has stood tall for the past 50 years since independence even with all odds stacked against us. This is not a game and this is not because of sheer luck.
A wise and well-thought out decision must be in place.
P.S. Behind all speeches you hear and all articles you read online, is the author’s personal experiences and constructed agenda. Think through, think critically. For your convenience, my agenda is to clarify and to only offer my personal perspectives on complaints I read online.