Population White Paper: Debate with Ministers in Parliament

Immediately following my speech on the Population White Paper in Parliament on 5 February 2013, several government Ministers rose to seek clarifications on the points I raised. This is the transcript of my debate with them.

Immediately following my speech on the Population White Paper in Parliament on 5 February 2013, several government Ministers rose to seek clarifications on the points I raised. Below is the transcript of my debate with them.

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Mdm Speaker (Mdm Halimah Yacob): Mr Iswaran.

The Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr S Iswaran): Mdm Speaker, may I seek a clarification from the hon. Member? Am I right to infer from column one of his chart that was distributed that the implication is that under the Workers’ Party’s proposal, between 2013 and 2020, there will be no new additions to our foreign worker pool in Singapore? Indeed, if anything, there may be a slight decline. And secondly, that there will be no new Singapore citizens or PRs?

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I thank the Minister for clarification. Firstly, under our plan, we have proposed a 1% increase in resident labour force growth. So, we do not envision a need to have additional foreign labour except if we cannot attain that 1% growth in resident labour force growth.

Mr S Iswaran: Just to be clear, the Workers’ Party is advocating zero foreign workforce addition for the next eight years, including this year?

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Our goal is to reach that 1% of resident workforce growth as a way to — [Interruption by the hon Member Mr S Iswaran]. I will answer that question. Our goal is to reach that 1%, at least 1% of resident workforce growth. So, our priority is to make sure that we do all we can to increase the labour force participation rate so that we can achieve that 1%. If we can achieve that 1% without having the additional foreign labour growth, then that I think will be a bonus for us.

Mr S Iswaran: Mdm Speaker, I appreciate the Member’s clarification. I paid close attention to this table because it is a serious proposal. And I read the footnote because it is quite clear from the footnote that for the period 2020 to 2030, the Workers’ Party envisages some selective top-ups to compensate for any decline in the resident workforce. But there is no such clarification footnote for the period 2013 to 2020. So, it must be assumed that you are assuming zero foreign worker addition, and there is no new Singapore citizen or PR.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I think it would be reasonable to assume that. And I do not think there is anything wrong with having zero foreign workforce growth in the next eight years. But that is not primarily our target. Our target is to make sure that we maximise the local workforce participation.

Mr S Iswaran: State it for the record.

Mdm Speaker: Mr Tan.

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Immigrants and foreign workers: Let’s talk real numbers

The PAP Government should stop trying to repackage and sell a flawed policy. PM Lee says his grassroots leaders “understand logically why we need immigration”. Well, unlike his loyal grassroots leaders, I simply do not buy his argument for excessive immigration, either logically or emotionally.

As expected, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong devoted the lion’s share of his National Day Rally speech yesterday to the topic of immigration, which has gotten many Singaporeans of all strata in society hot under the collar in the lead-up to an election year. This year he went into overdrive mode, spending a full hour citing conversations with heads of big foreign corporations and showcasing individual foreign workers in Singapore. From talented architects to hotel chambermaids, to good-looking medical technologists and bus drivers—all were used to justify his government’s excessive immigration policies.

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Singapore: Multiculturalism or the melting pot?

Last week, Straits Times reader Amy Loh wrote to the paper expressing her disquiet about how the government’s emphasis on the need to speak Mandarin could be perceived as a clear signal to encourage residents of mainland China origin to choose to continue speaking only Chinese. She cited examples of how almost all new shop signs in Geylang are in Chinese only, fast turning this into a Chinese enclave.

In response, the Straits Times in an editorial slammed Ms Loh as being “xenophobic”, pointing to economically vibrant cities like London and Sydney as evidence that “recruiting foreigners” has brought great benefits to those cities. The paper went on to explain that the Geylang shop signs were in only Chinese for “purely commercial reasons”, as if that were an excuse for their cultural insensitivity.

This exchange raises another more important issue that Singapore, with its growing diversity and immigrant population, needs to start dealing with: The issue of multiculturalism versus a melting pot social make-up of our country.

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