On racism and xenophobia in Singapore

singapore_flag

“Do you think that the hatred Singaporeans feel towards foreigners is because of an identity crisis, as you suggested, or because the government has failed to provide sufficient basic services, like housing and transportation?” a young Filipino journalist asked at last week’s book launch (see here).

The crowd released a collective gasp when they heard the word “hatred”. I was shocked. I mentioned in my reply that it was too strong a word to use. Regardless, the fact that she said it bothers me, and has prompted me to share some thoughts.

These are casual observations and musings that build on the one serious analytical piece I’ve written on race, Chapter 8: Colour Matters, in Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore.

As such, please treat each of my main statements below as postulations, to which I invite discussion and debate. Any thoughts and responses are much appreciated.

Note: Though racism and xenophobia are somewhat distinct, they often get conflated in contemporary Singaporean discourse. I will therefore sometimes discuss them collectively.

1) In Singapore, the moderate voices far outweigh the racists and xenophobes

In the immediate wake of the Little India Riots, there were some anti-South Asian racist and xenophobe rants. However, there was an instant backlash from voices of moderation. Same thing with the furore over the mooted celebration of the Philippines Independence Day in June this year. In both instances, I was heartened by Singapore society’s collective rejection of racist and xenophobic strands.

I think the big problem here is perception. People think racists and xenophobes do not exist in Singapore and then are shocked to find them. Others probably think that racism and xenophobia can be fixed—as ever in technocratic Singapore—with a simple combination of brainwashing, carrots and sticks.

For decades the government has painted a picture of Singapore as some multi-ethnic utopia devoid of bigotry. One of the PAP’s great successes, so the story goes, was saving Singapore from the cauldron of 1960s inter-ethnic conflict and creating a completely tolerant society. There is some truth to this, of course, and it’s all the more impressive given the race-conscious road that Malaysia, our socio-economic twin, was embarking on.

However, racism has always existed in Singapore. I have felt it occasionally throughout my life, even to this day. By preventing Singaporeans from ever having open, honest dialogues about race—partly through media controls—the PAP has effectively prevented a deep, genuine inter-ethnic harmony from crystallising. We are conditioned extrinsically to be tolerant; but have not found the intrinsic desire to be.1

A recent survey on race and religion by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) suggests as much. Only 70% of Singaporeans believe that it is good for Singapore to be made up of different races. Only 55% expressed interest in meeting and getting to know people of other races. Only 50% are interested in understanding other people’s customs. 2

It is easy for me to play with statistics. An optimist could remove “Only” from the above three statements and paint a glass-half-full picture. But given Singapore’s ambitions to be a multicultural, global city, I believe that these numbers are depressingly low.

2) Racism and xenophobia are less intense than in many other countries…

Despite there not being a genuine atmosphere of inter-cultural tolerance and understanding, one of Singapore’s great strengths is minimal institutionalised discrimination.The IPS survey attests to this, with less than 10% of minorities saying they feel discriminated against in the use of public services. (More than 10% do, however, when applying for jobs.) 3

All things considered, based on anecdotal experience, I therefore want to hazard that racism and xenophobia are not as big problems in Singapore as they are in many other parts of the world.

Moreover, when one thinks of xenophobia, it is important to look at immigrant numbers.

Between 2000 and 2010, every year the average net inflow of foreigners (non-citizens) was about 80,000 people, or 2% of Singapore’s population in Year 2000 (4m).

Let’s compare this to the UK. Over the past few years, the UK’s net annual migration has averaged around 200,000 people, or about 0.3% of the UK’s population in Year 2000 (58m).

Treat this simply as a rough, back-of-the-envelope type comparison. But it allows us to appreciate the scale of the issue. In relation to citizens, the UK’s foreign population has increased at less than one-sixth the rate of Singapore’s over the past few years.

And yet the UK has seen a whole panoply of xenophobic elements emerging, including the rise of the far-right British National Party. Partly as a result of all this pressure, the UK’s current government has promised to halve net migration to 100,000 by 2015.

Can you imagine what the ground might be like in the UK—never mind countries such as Austria and Switzerland—had it been subjected to the same foreign inflows that Singapore has? Anarchy. (A point Donald Low, my co-author, made at the talk.)

There are many take-aways from this, including on authoritarianism versus democracy. A Singapore sycophant might argue that this is precisely why democracy is bad, because it allows far-right elements to emerge and organise.

But that kind of thinking is myopic and out-dated. By suppressing racial and religious discussion all these years, Singapore has simply encouraged it to fester in silos.

The Internet has allowed people to express themselves freely. It provides a window into society. Yet the PAP’s simplistic, stock response is to blame the Internet and certain online commentators rather than seeking to understand the roots of their discrimination.

Every time there is an ethnically or religiously inflammatory incident, the government chooses to focus on the noisy minority spewing xenophobic comments; and conveniently ignores the majority who respond with moderation. Perhaps this is a calculated red herring, an easy way of deflecting attention from the PAP’s own culpability, something I explore below.

All said and done, it seems to me that racism and xenophobia are not as big problems in Singapore as they are in many other parts of the world. However, acknowledging their continued presence must never imply that they should be accepted or ignored.

3) …and yet Singaporeans do not always sufficiently fight racism and xenophobia

Even though they may not be eradicated in our lifetime, racist and xenophobic strands of thought must always be called out.

I have been a little surprised in recent weeks by some apparent tolerance of anti-Filipino vitriol. I think it is right to be critical of government policies one disagrees with, such as the Population White Paper. But discrimination against other individuals or groups is never OK.

One person who seems to confuse the two is Gilbert Goh, an activist. Last year he organised Singapore’s largest protest against the 6.9m target, which was attended by a broad spectrum of people, including me. But his recent posts on Facebook are downright shocking. This is one slogan he reposted:

“Dear Filipinos, If you insist on celebrating your national day at Orchard, we will take this as an act of WAR and will defend ourselves with our lives as this is our country, our land! Be warned!”

(Emphasis theirs. Gilbert has since removed the post from his wall, in the face of much criticism.)

These sorts of comments are vile, disgusting and have no place in our society. Gilbert should be ashamed of himself.

4) Government policies, attitudes and statements are partly to blame for racism and xenophobia

During the pre-Internet era, 1960s-1990s, when racism and xenophobia had nowhere to rear their heads publicly, the PAP claimed credit for building a multi-ethnic paradise. Now that bigotry—which always existed—is more visible, the PAP blames the online community.

This is disingenuous. In fact, when it comes to race, religion and immigrant integration, the PAP has done both good and bad.

Let’s look firstly at Lee Kuan Yew’s statements over the years.

“Three women were brought to the Singapore General Hospital, each in the same condition and each needing a blood transfusion. The first, a Southeast Asian was given the transfusion but died a few hours later. The second, a South Asian was also given a transfusion but died a few days later. The third, an East Asian, was given a transfusion and survived. That is the X factor in development.”

– Lee Kuan Yew, in a meeting at the University of Singapore on 27 December 1967, as recorded by Chandra Muzaffar, a Malaysian political scientist

Meanwhile, in a speech to parliament in 1985, he said,

“We have a practical people whose culture tells them that contention for the sake of contention leads to disaster. I have said this on many a previous occasion; that had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75 per cent Indians, 15 per cent Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked. Because they believe in the politics of contention, of opposition. But because the culture was such that the populace sought a practical way out of their difficulties, therefore it has worked.”

One might connect his first statement to the disgruntlement over the 1965 breakup with Malaysia and his second to his inability to handle the energetic, persistent JB Jeyaretnam, who was elected in 1981. In any case, Mr Lee’s statements suggest that he has long believed in the superiority of Chinese people and culture.

He backed up this ideology with firm action. First, his skepticism about the loyalties of Singapore’s Malay Muslims meant that they are excluded from many high security branches of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). This leads to some bizarre outcomes. For instance, today new Chinese migrants are afforded higher security clearances in the SAF than Malays whose families have lived in Singapore for generations.

Second, he argued in 1989 that Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, an idea that continues to hold sway among some leaders today.

Third, Singapore has been actively importing relatively more Chinese in order to maintain the ethnic balance in society. In 1989, Mr Lee said that the lower Chinese birth rate justified the government’s programme of encouraging Chinese immigration from Hong Kong. According to him, the Chinese majority must be maintained, “or there will be a shift in the economy, both the economic performance and the political backdrop which makes that economic performance possible.”

Minorities: Racially inferior. Disruptive. Can’t be trusted.

To his eternal credit, Lee Kuan Yew, modern Singapore’s founding father, built a meritocracy that strives to be race-neutral. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to sugar-coat his legacy by ignoring his racially-divisive words and policies.

—————————

When it comes to xenophobia, I would like to discuss two facets of the government’s approach that I believe have coloured Singaporeans’ views of foreigners.

The first is worker’s rights. Singapore has consistently failed to guarantee the rights of foreign workers, from construction workers to maids. For a supposed first-world country, our treatment of them borders on deplorable. I am no expert here, and there are many more insightful analyses by the likes of Alex Au that can shed light on the salient issues around this (see here).

The second is around the material values and life goals that the government has consistently advocated. One thinks of the remark by Lim Wee Kiak, a PAP MP, that a person’s dignity is tied to his/her salary. Or ministerial pay packets and the justification for them. Or Lee Kuan Yew’s comment, in response to high ministerial salaries, that

“You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you’ll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again… my asset values will disappear, my apartments will be worth a fraction of what they were, my ministers’ jobs will be in peril, their security will be at risk and their women will become maids in other people’s countries, foreign workers. I cannot have that!” [Emphasis mine]

The implicit messaging of all this is clear. To work as a maid or a foreign worker means you are a failure. Certain jobs have dignity while others do not. In Singapore, a country with extreme income inequality, the people who earn pittance are, well, not worth very much.

Is it any surprise that they are discriminated against?

This also suggests that a lot of the discrimination one might find in Singapore is not simply racism or xenophobia but rather classism. Indian banker OK; Indian construction worker NO.

—————————

Finally, I would like to just speak very briefly about the issue of identity, which is what prompted the question from the Filipino journalist in the first place. I believe the tension in Singapore between those who would have a global city identity and those keen on a more local identity is expressed every week, from the Philippines Independence Day celebrations to the Songkran Water Festival that was scheduled to take place here.

I have written about this before in The End of Identity? (see here). In the context of this piece on race and xenophobia, I want to make two critiques of government policy. First, the government has consistently failed to engage the public in an ongoing discussion about the kind of country Singaporeans want.

In the tension between global-local, it seems as if politicians have been motivated more by GDP growth and the interests of multinational corporations than by the ideals and preferences of ordinary Singaporeans.

Do we want a global city or do we want a more regional, local one with closer ties to South-east Asia? It is interesting to note that in the same IPS survey Singaporeans say they are more comfortable with a local-born Malay OR foreign-born Malay as their boss than they are with a mainland Chinese.

Second, having embarked on this global city path, the government has failed to ensure that its fruits are distributed fairly. How did the PAP think that a huge swathe of Singaporeans would accept a complete overhaul of the country with incredibly high immigration and rising cost-of-living, without any concomitant rise in their real incomes? It seems almost foolish now on hindsight. But that’s exactly what happened and partly why we have seen an uptick in xenophobia.

To surmise, I do not want to suggest that the PAP has consciously tried to foment discrimination (something that political parties elsewhere occasionally do). Rather, I am certain that government policies, attitudes and statements have had the unintended effect of worsening integration here.

I think what frustrates a lot of people is the government’s trigger-happy willingness to fire down racist and xenophobic commentary without ever acknowledging its own possible biases and ever seriously attempting to mitigate the negative externalities of its own policies.

5) The Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others (CMIO) model has outlived its usefulness

Why does Singapore still insist on categorising people by race into these four buckets?

Some have suggested that the most important reason is for HDB ethnic quotas. But in a global city it makes little sense to maintain ethnic quotas in HDB housing estates, when little ethnic enclaves have formed all over the country, for instance with rich North Indians in Tanjong Rhu and the East Coast.

Others suggest that social welfare and self-help groups, like Mendaki and Sinda, were founded on ethnic lines and must continue this way. Without ethnic classifications, so the argument goes, who would help the poor Malays and Indians?

I have two critiques of this argument. First, there are many more civil society organisations operating in Singapore today without an ethnic mandate. Why doesn’t Singapore, as a global city, start to channel charity money towards them rather than race-based groups?

Second, immigration has dented the analytical underpinnings of these groupings. In particular, let’s consider “Indians”. A little-known fact in Singapore is that Indians are now the richest ethnic group here in terms of resident household incomes. Many people assume the Chinese are. But from 2000 to 2010 the Indians’ average monthly household income recorded nominal average annual growth of 5.2% to reach $7,664, overtaking the Chinese (3.4% and S$7,326 respectively). 4

Using a traditional CMIO lens, one might conclude that the Indians in Singapore have been developing very rapidly. However, although the data is not readily available, I suspect that much of this growth is due to high-income Indian immigrants who have taken Singapore citizenship, rather than any marked organic improvement in the fortunes of Singaporean Indians.

These two groups—new Indian immigrants and older Singaporean Indians—are infinitely different. The fact that they are clobbered together and analysed is a reductionist move that can only lead to poor policy-formulation.

The CMIO model then has become a drag on Singapore’s efforts to create a global city. It immediately limits the identities of locals while occasionally enforcing parochial notions of what a Singaporean should be. Perhaps it is better then to dispense with the CMIO model for one that acknowledges the demographics of a global city, with all its cultural and linguistic diversity.

—————————

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


—————————

1 The establishment viewpoint is that inter-ethnic tensions can be kept at bay only by suppressing open, public discussion. At the heart of this is the vulnerability ethos that guides the Singapore Consensus. When it comes to race this vulnerability ethos, in my opinion, may have been pertinent in the 1960s but is today horribly anachronistic.

2 Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony, IPS. See here

3 By contrast, Malaysia has institutionalised discrimination in many spheres of life; but some have suggested to me that in places such as Penang and KL, they have sometimes felt, at a very personal, social level, a more genuine form of cross-cultural interaction.

4 Census of population 2010. Statistical Release 2: Households and Housing. See here

Advertisements

31 responses

  1. from Li Li in London: good writeup, Sudhir….I look forward to receiving your book…don’t forget to send it!

    Racism and xenophobia and all associated terms are so interesting and complicated to dissect. You’re right about the majority who isn’t speaking or is only at their own dining table, i.e. preferring to just shrug it off; I hadn’t ever heard the Singlish “what to do?” until I moved to Singapore.

    You’re right too that all the issues and perceptions have been around a long time; but the rhetoric from all quarters kills me esp the internet blogs … sometimes I wonder if it’s because we don’t understand English or learned the fanciful version from TV or some self-help book.

    Another is the sledge-hammer reaction — or what UK’s Theresa May calls a “blunt instrument” in the “Illegals, Go Home vans” http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/oct/22/go-home-vans-scrapped-failure; I’m sure you know about them; the general public regardless of color was appalled. Maybe there is, after all, wisdom in “let ’em fall on their own swords”.

    I don’t have a sweet solution but I do believe in giving people an opportunity to speak; it’s better to get it all out there so everyone can have/hear a debate.

    My mother, bless her heart, once said “eventually the turtle legs come out” or as Warren Buffet so famously said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”.

  2. Interesting article, in many ways. Thanks.

    I want to disagree with your #4: “Government policies, attitudes and statements are partly to blame for racism and xenophobia”. Even accepting all the points that follow, it’s a mistake to blame government policy for the bigotry of individuals.

    You write that you “have been a little surprised in recent weeks by some apparent tolerance of anti-Filipino vitriol.” Really? You seem sharper than that, so I’m surprised you were surprised. I wasn’t, nor was any foreigner I know. Disgusted, yes; surprised, no. Government policy can exacerbate racism, it can hide it, or it can heal it, but government policy is not to blame for racism’s existence. As you point out, there’s plenty of racism in Singapore, as there is everywhere. The issue is not the existence of racism, but the consistency of our response to it. Sadly, the response has been inconsistent. Some of the inconsistency has been to see racism and respond by making apologies for it and blaming government policy, as if the bigotry would vanish were government policy to change. But it won’t: that genie doesn’t go back in the bottle.

    Experience matters. Your own experience of racism is one that Gilbert Goh has not (could not have) experienced in Singapore. Similarly, doesn’t all the hand-wringing about xenophobia in Singapore *discussed among Singaporeans* seem a bit problematic given their likelihood of actually experiences xenophobia in Singapore? Conversely, the Filipino journalist used the word “hatred” for a reason, quite possibly because she experienced it. Who are you to say it is too strong a word to use, when you aren’t the one on the receiving end? But I don’t mean to be overly critical; your thoughtful discussion of this is a welcome break from the usual fare. Sadly, the big alt-news web sites in Singapore remain glibly unaware of their own privilege even as they regularly normalise coded racist and xenophobic language in their articles.

    • Thanks for your feedback. Does government policy reflect popular sentiment or guide it? Probably a bit of both, depending on the country and context. In Singapore, with the heavy-handed authoritarianism that has existed for most of our history, the balance is tilted towards the latter.

      To ignore the effects of policy and blame individual agency alone is a bit superficial. There are countless examples in history–from Germany and Japan to Rwanda–where one can point to national (or local) policy affecting mindsets.

      That said, it is wrong to blame policy alone–I don’t think anybody sane in Singapore is doing that–because changing policy, as you say, is not going to solve all problems.

      And you’re right, we should develop a consistent response. Criticise racist and xenophobic commentary; while seeking to understand and address the roots of the dissatisfaction.

      The government tends to only do the former. Some anti-government critics tend to only do the latter.

      We need both.

      S

      • I would suggest however, something a little in between, in that I felt that the leaders’ voices probably either echoed the sentiments of masses (if you are inclined to believe that policies are not to be blamed) or it may have the effect of influencing the mindset of many. I, too, would not think policy necessarily have a direct impact as a source of racism and xenophobia, perhaps more of attitude.

      • In large measure, I agree, and I certainly don’t want to single out individual agency as solely responsible; institutions play their part as well. But individual agency is the one thing we as individuals can do something about at any given moment, which is why I think we need to keep hammering at it.

      • Sudhir

        This is an insightful read, thanks.

        However, I will have to disagree with you on point 4 too.

        You back your claim up with mainly examples of PAP rhetoric on race – specifically, former PM Lee’s assertion of Chinese superiority. I think you vastly over-estimate the role that his words had played in stoking ethnic divisions. In any case, I don’t think there is a good measure of the impact of his words (although I suspect its limited) and I don’t think it provides a good case of how government has inflammed public sentiments on race.

        Furthermore, you claimed previously that xenophobia and racism always have been latent in Singapore, surfacing due to the widespread use of social media. If so, how can government policies “cause” such sentiments?

        Finally, and most importantly, I have serious doubts about the notion that one could, or should, distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic racial tolerance. In my opinion, and based on my experience as a student in the United States, what matters at the end of the day is institutionalised rejection of racism. In other words, in the public realm, minority ethnic groups are accorded equal opportunities in housing, education and professional opportunities. The matter of intrinsic racial tolerance is not the business of government to promote nor is it possible to do so under any circumstances.
        Even in a progressive country like the United States, racism remains well and alive today. However, in terms of extrinsic racism, the country as made incredible strides, and the recent Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy debacles make this clear. This means a zero-tolerance policy in the public realm.

        However, I remain convinced that it is impossible to untangle the strands of extrinsic from the intrinsic when it comes to notions of racial tolerance and sensitivities. What matters at the end of the day is that we continue to work to ensure that our public realm is free from any form of racial discrimination.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I also found the issue of race very interesting in the US, from its impact on affirmative action, language, social relations etc.

        I agree, the government is not the sole cause for racism. I don’t believe I ever once say that.

        I pull out LKY’s quotes to place them in the larger context of Singapore’s attitudes and policies. Alone, of course they might not amount to much vis-a-vis public and individual racism.

        So, just to reiterate, here are two racist policies that I believe conditions people’s views on the different ethnic groups:

        a) Barring Malays from high-security positions in the SAF. (technically it’s Muslims, but for all intents and purposes, the Malays are the main group here.)

        b) Importing more Chinese to Singapore in order to ensure that the Indian and Malay populations never grow too big. (Or, likewise, that the Chinese supermajority is maintained.)

        Singaporeans are too eager to either ignore these policies or become apologists for them at the altar of pragmatism.

        Thus, we have a long way to go before our “public realm is free from any form of racial discrimination”.

        On whether mitigating intrinsic racism should fall under the realm of public policy, well, that’s a long debate with good points on either side. Singapore certainly seems to think so.

      • I would list the SAP/ non-SAP school distinction as another institutional factor that has exacerbated the lack of understanding between races.

  3. Exactamundo! “How did the PAP think that a huge swathe of Singaporeans would accept a complete overhaul of the country with incredibly high immigration and rising cost-of-living, without any concomitant rise in their real incomes? It seems almost foolish now on hindsight. But that’s exactly what happened and partly why we have seen an uptick in xenophobia.”

  4. Interesting views….

    “The implicit messaging of all this is clear. To work as a maid or a foreign worker means you are a failure. Certain jobs have dignity while others do not. In Singapore, a country with extreme income inequality, the people who earn pittance are, well, not worth very much.”

    I think we can agree that mr lky’s statements imply that being a maid or foreign worker is not desirable. But I do not agree that they immediately mean that those jobs have no dignity or people who earn pittance are not worthed very much. I am realistic. I do not think these jobs are desirable and I will not want my wife or children to do these jobs. Neither do I think tt if people have a choice they will want to. But I do not think that they have no dignity or are not worthed very much. I think there is a difference.

    Therefore I also cannot agree with the conclusion that because of the man’s view it is no surprise that discrimination and classism exists in Singapore.

    For the record I do not disagree that classism and discrimination exists in Singapore but rather the way that conclusion was drawn. Because given that logic, countries without a leader with views like lky should not see discrimination or classism. But we all can agree that the phenomenon is hardly unique to Singapore. I think it’s more of a lack of understanding and a lack of opportunity to empathize. Bt tts just my view.

  5. Hard Choices and Hard Truths. Which is harder to face, choose and decide?

    If Govt policies do not widen the differentiation between the locals and the FWs including the FTs, we can expect the dissatisfaction and displeasure with foreigners to remain.

    The Workfare Income Supplement policy has helped to lessen the tension. I also agree with “Singapore’s social security system provides hardly any protection against the risks of involuntary unemployment.” [see page 121 “Hard Choices”, launched on 22 April].

    Unless addressed effectively by the Govt, the displacement of Singaporeans at the workplace by the FWs/FTs will be unbearable on those who lost their jobs. It could translate into lost votes to the PAP.

    In April 2011 before the GE, I wrote and raised four key issues in the BT [see item 4 in my letter below on “Counter Unemployment Fund].

    I believe some of these issues would re-surface at the coming GE 2016, if not earlier.

    I hope the Govt will address and provide for all these hot political issues in the 2015 Budget. Time is the essence to get this fixed before going to the polls to seek a new mandate.

    But does the PAP Govt have the political will to put them in place?

    ==========

    Business Times – 19 Apr 2011
    LETTER TO THE EDITOR

    Policy proposals on four key issues in GE

    I REFER to the article, ‘Into the hustings with pledge to secure Singapore’s future’ (BT, April 18).
    Political parties will soon engage in robust adversarial debates on four hotly contested issues in the coming general election (GE) rallies to win the hearts and minds of voters: minimum wage and Workfare; zero-rating of GST; cost of living; and foreign workers.

    I would like to make the following proposals on the four issues:

    1]• If we compare the minimum wage (MW) versus the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS), the effects are different. An MW applied across the board will benefit foreign workers too. Higher wages for all will increase the cost of goods and services for everyone. In contrast, the WIS paid for by the government indirectly will not have a direct impact on employers’ wage bills and would not jack up the cost of goods and services. Let us make WIS a permanent annual feature to top up the lower-income group’s income at least 30 per cent. It will be a superior system to having an MW policy.

    2]• Zero-rating GST will benefit tourists too. If 20 million visitors spend on average $100 on food and drink, etc, it will mean a GST collection of $140 million. I would like to suggest that the $140 million be placed in a GST-Rebate Fund (GRF) to be given as GST rebates to lower-income families to help meet their GST burden on basic necessities. Let us make the GRF a permanent and transparent feature to end the repeated calls by many to tinker with the GST system. Having zero-rated GST items might not necessarily bring greater benefit to the lower-income group.

    3]• To counter the higher cost of living, let us set up a permanent and transparent Counter-Inflation Fund (CIF) rather than call it a ‘Growth and Share’ package. Short memories and rebates that are disbursed but not for a specific reason will be easily forgotten. Many will continue to ask the government what they plan to do to help the poor to counter rising inflation.

    4]• To help control the inflow of foreign workers, the government should be transparent in releasing immigration statistics publicly twice a year. Let us set up a permanent and transparent Counter-Unemployment Fund (CUF) with funds from the additional foreign worker levies, which should not be kept in the government’s Consolidated Fund. The Ministry of Finance should transfer these funds for disbursement to lower-income Singaporeans once a year. This will help mitigate people’s concerns about there being too many foreign workers here.

    Tan Kok Tim

    Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

    ========

    Notes:

    The Govt listened:

    On point 2], Parliament passed a bill in Nov 2012 providing for the establishment and administration of the Good and Services Tax (GST) Voucher Fund in the 2012 Budget.

    The government has set aside S$3.6 billion to finance the first five years of the GST voucher scheme, which helps low income Singaporeans offset the GST they pay on their daily expenses.

    Setting up of the GST Voucher Fund will provide greater certainty of payments, which will otherwise be subjected to budget availability depending on economic conditions and other competing priorities in any year.

    The government has said that it intends to continue making appropriate injections into the fund to carry on financing the GST voucher scheme.

    On point 3], the Govt has appointed Dr Amy Khor to administer the Pioneer Generations Package to ensure it is felt and appreciated when received by the recipients.

    The Govt does not want to give rebates to Singaporeans unappreciated, and let it become a lost cause.

    On points 1] and 4], I hope the Govt will set up a permanent scheme for the WIS and a Counter Unemployment Fund in the 2015 Budget.

    • It’s awfully easy to raise incomes of Ministers and MPs to any desired level by pegging their salaries to directors of GIC- and Temasek-linked companies — who are, depressingly often, Ministers and MPs. What’s to prevent, say, the Boards of the fifty largest companies in Singapore from voting themselves a 30% raise, and then Parliament voting itself a “modest” 25% increase because, after all, “the largest companies pay 30% more now”. Corruption in the guise of transparent due process; Mussolini and Ponzi would have approved.

      One of the (many) reforms the imminent post-PAP Government must undertake is to put teeth into an ethical wall between Government and business, as does almost every legitimately First World country. Another would be, after reducing salaries to something less inherently corrupting, to peg adjustments in those salaries to the rise and fall of the wealth of the bottom third of Singaporeans. You want more pay, Mr Minister? Work with your colleagues to improve the standard of living of ordinary Singaporeans.

      The only people who I can imagine being that are the kleptocrats currently running PAP Pte Ltd, doing business as the Government of Singapore.

  6. Meanwhile, in a speech to parliament in 1985, he said,

    “We have a practical people whose culture tells them that contention for the sake of contention leads to disaster. I have said this on many a previous occasion; that had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75 per cent Indians, 15 per cent Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked. Because they believe in the politics of contention, of opposition. But because the culture was such that the populace sought a practical way out of their difficulties, therefore it has worked.”

    He basically said what most East Asians(Chinese/Japanese/Koreans/Vietnamese) view/think about Indians/Indianized societies(disorderly/unrulely etc etc) unfortunately.

  7. 1. Thank you for your insightful and provocative article.

    2. You may wish to refer to a little known scholarly book, rarely publicized, written by an Israeli.
    Alon Peled’s – “A Question of Loyalty”. Published by Cornell University Press in 1998.

    3. It is not available in any local bookstores. It is only 200 pages long and yet cost more than $200 bucks from AMAZON!

    4. One copy exists in SAFTI MI Library and another at NLB’s Reference section.

    5. This book details for the first time exclusive evidence that shows how the Singapore Govt systematically excluded Malay Muslims from from military service in the SAF after 1967.

    6. The author had exclusive access to the (late) former Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee as well as other senior SAF officers and civil servants who carried out the policy at the behest of the PAP government.

    7. The methods used are deeply disturbing to read. It smacks of institutionalized discrimination and racism.

    8. By extension, one has to ask, after reading the book, if the methods used in the SAF were also ‘deployed’ in the civil service sector to exclude Malays and other minorities and champion a Chinese dominated civil service with token representation of minorities.

  8. > I mentioned in my reply that it was too strong a word to use.
    Hatred is not a strong work when Singaporeans use terms like “Cockroaches” and “vermins” to refer to filipinos.

  9. Great read. And I agree with most of the points you’ve raised. I think, to easily label some Singaporeans as xenophobes against immigrants, foreign workers and even western expats these days, one have to understand the seed in which it was planted from. You’re right, most of it, is a reaction to government policies that have been shoved down the throats of its local citizens for the past decade or so. The fact that the government did nothing to prepare its citizens for the sudden influx of foreigners is partly to be blamed. Coupled with the fact that the cost of living has gone up substantially – making Singapore the most expensive city to live in, a fact, the government tries to dilute, does not help the foreign immigration cause, that are blamed for rising costs, depressed wages, huge income gaps and overcrowding. At the end of the day, Singaporeans are just like any other citizen in any country. They worry about their future and, more importantly, the future of their children. The trend of immigration policies by the government strikes the very heart of this worry. Everything else that they complain about are simply just add ons to their growing frustrations.

    • – Singapore does not take in refugees, yet has plans to grow its population.
      – Singapore has a biased immigration strongly policy in favor of ethnic Chinese. An ‘Chinese first’, ‘Select Asians second’, ‘the rest last’ policy if you will.

      These two facts demonstrate the state sponsored racism and xenophobia. When the government acts this way it may set the scene for its citizens to also act in such a manner.

  10. Pingback: On Racism and Xenophobia in Singapore | Critical Thinking and Inquiry @ NYGH

  11. Another critical factor which breeds the seeds of xenophobia and racism is that despite claiming to be a first world country, there are no transparent written guidelines to ensure that their is no inequality in pay and bonuses.

    All managements in all workplaces are totally dominated by political party grandchildren and relatives who run a legacy of dictating monetary payouts with no transparent generic written guidelines. So people of different races get differing pay, bonuses and promotions for same designation.

    Compare this occult dictatorship to the UK, where every advertised job has a minimum to maximum payscale advertised on every job website or newspaper and increment scales are on years of experience.

    Anyone who questions this in Singapore will get into unpopular books.

  12. Ethic cleansing against the Indians was conducted from the 70’s to current day in glorious Singapore. How sad the along with the British, the early Indians laid the foundation of Singapore. There have been always two races – Donor and Plague. I am no racist but endured injustice in Singapore because I am Indian. I suppose the chickens are now coming home to roost. Finally an excellent article in highlighting core problems of Singapore. Thank you.

  13. Pingback: What I Like And Don’t Like About The Workers’ Party Manifesto | Rilek1Corner.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: