As average Singaporeans get more and more concerned over potential job losses as economic downturns the world over looms, the People’s Action Party (PAP) led Government has gone into overdrive reassuring Singaporeans that there are plenty of jobs for all and that foreigners are not fighting them for jobs. Indeed, the issue of job creation was a strong campaign point on the part of the PAP in the general election back in July 2020.
Fast forward circa 2.5 months, what’s the prognosis?
There has been a lot of debate on whether or not foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) have been taking up jobs that locals with similar skill sets can perform at the expense of the Singaporean.
On the one hand, the Government has not so far provided direct data showing how their various policies, including the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) have directly benefited the rank and file of Singaporean society. On the other hand, there appears to be instances where the Singaporean attitude when it comes to jobs is lacking.
While foreign investment has poured in, to what extent has this helped the average Joe? This has led to questions on whether the government’s various policies have benefited society at large or just the crème de la crème of the connected few at the top?
While the issues have become mired with the unpalatable side effects of xenophobia, the real concerns are more about rising inequality and much less about a dislike of foreigners. However, given the emotions tied up with fears of a loss in livelihood, it is easy to get distracted. More sinister however, is the potential use of these emotions by the powers be to divide and distract the population from the real issues at hand.
The trust between the average Singaporean and the Government is being eroded and no less because of its seeming refusal to provide clear answers to the questions. An example of this would be Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo’s seemingly illogical explanation for not releasing the names of the companies on the FCF watch list. Unwittingly perhaps, but this only serves to create suspicion that there is some conspiracy to bring in foreigners to replace locals.
Added to that is the seeming lack of strategy on the part of the current leadership when it comes to job creation and foreigners leading some to question if simply bringing in foreigners to plug the gaps is a lazy policy with no strategic merit. Added to that are concerns that our old policies are tired and no longer relevant for the current world. Yet, there seems to be inertia in relation to policy overhaul.
Most recently, controversy abounded when Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Leong Mun Wai bemoaned the lack of a home grown Chief Executive Officer at DBS. While CEO Piyush Gupta is Singaporean, the fact that he only became Singaporean in 2009 became a bone of contention.
Looking at the issue in isolation, one could accuse Leong of being xenophobic. But if you look deeper, the issue is far less about Piyush’s nationality and far more about why there seems to be a dearth of local talent?
Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat have both said that foreigners are needed to plug the gap in our economy. But this argument only works for certain industries such as FinTech which is relatively new. What about all the other more traditional industries such as banking?
Even if Singapore did not have enough qualified talent in its hay day, its had more than 40 years to groom local talent.
The Government has long prided itself on its world class education system. Yet, why is it not producing enough qualified people to meet the demands of the Singaporean economy? Given the academic excellence of our students, it is manifestly clear that there is nothing wrong with the aptitude of our students or the quality of our teachers. The issue therefore is policy. Is there a disconnect between the Ministry of Education and the rest of the Government?
Perhaps, it is the years and years of the paternalistic Government telling people the selective truth and leaving the less palatable information out. Bouyed by single party rule and the perennial local catch phrase of “ownself check ownself”, the PAP continued its own narrative at the expense of the Singaporean perspective.
As said by by Emanuel Daniel:
“Singapore is a very small country. A leadership that speaks truthfully and plainly to its people can easily win the energy of the people against insurmountable odds. Generating public relations defensively just to justify doing their over-paid jobs delays the real conversations that need to be had. It is also selfish.”
Foreigners have become the convenient bogeyman in a problem that may well be of the PAP’s own making.