As two more heavyweight ministers Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam spoke against rising xenophobic sentiments in Singapore, one is left wondering why no minister has came out to speak on behalf of Singaporeans.
It shows how disconnected the government has being from the ground.
Singaporeans are by nature peace-loving and has all along shown much welcome to at least half a million Malaysians who have came down south to seek a greener pasture for themselves for the past few decades.
In fact, many Singaporeans have married Malaysians and we have always treat them like one of our own.
We are also used to work for true-blue foreign talents from the US, Europe, Australia, Canada among others and have never being impolite towards any of them.
There is mutual respect and we co-exist almost seamlessly with one another.
So why are we suddenly becoming xenophobic and became suspicious of anything foreign now?
Many Singaporeans have struggled with the high cost of living and their meagre wages for a while and are visibly frustrated when they saw how well treated their newly-arrived foreign colleagues have been.
The frustration turned to hatred when they realised that the foreigners are there to replace their jobs as well.
Nevertheless, I am glad that the government is aware that xenophobic sentiments are unhealthy and if left unchecked for too long can lead to dangerous consequences.
More seriously, such anti-foreign sentiments will lead to a divisive society which will benefit no one.
I have listed seven reasons why Singaporeans are increasingly turning xenophobic and discontented with the foreign influx instigated by a insensitive government.
1. Lack of consultation and transparency on blueprint of foreign influx
So far, there is no minister – not even the Prime Minister who has spoke about the immigration blueprint proper to the population.
No one has explained to us thoroughly why we need 1.8 million foreigners in our midst, why we need half a million PRs and why 30, 000 new citizens will be converted each year.
We were told all along to accept and welcome the foreigners into our country without any reservation - when 1.8 million of them are already living here.
Suddenly, within a short five-year period, our MRT trains and buses were all jammed up with foreign workers – both blue and white collared.
Our notion of a foreign worker all along is someone who will sweat under the sun in construction buildings or stand for eight hours in their kitchen apron at a restaurant – jobs that Singaporeans shun and won’t do because of the meagre wages or horrible working condition.
Now, they occupy office jobs as receptionist and some have even become middle managers shouting orders at us.
The feeling of being invaded has become the norm among local Singaporeans now when one speaks of the foreign influx.
Moreover, there was no consultation whatsoever with the people on this massive influx as if the population does not exist at all.
It’s like your father has brought in total strangers into your home and they take over your room, dining table and fight for the tiolet with you in the morning and all you have to do is just to welcome them with open arms.
If you open your mouth to protest, you are slam down by both your parents.
That’s probably how the average Singaporeans have felt all along regarding this issue of foreign influx.
Lack of open communication and transparency by the government on this important decision to bring in foreigners by the millions are probably the biggest bugbears they have made all this while.
It is my belief that the government does not want to engage the population deliberately as they know that no Singaporeans will welcome such a unpopular decision however loyal they are to the ruling party.
Worse, the issue if debated in Parliament may even split the ruling party causing them untold discomfort especially when the government is used to ramming things down the people throats.
Faced with a serious down turn immediately after the 2008 global financial crisis, the government has no choice but to bring in low-cost cheap labour by the hundreds of thousands to attract MNCs back into the island state.
They are now paying the political cost and face the ugly backlash from local Singaporeans.
2. Lack of legislation to protect the jobs of Singaporeans
We have heard many stories of how foreigners came in and start to replace the jobs of our local Singaporeans.
More signficantly, MOM seems to have turned a deaf ear to such discriminating happenings.
Being cheaper, younger and fitter, easily-hired foreign workers start to flood our companies in recent years and now it is difficult to spot our local workers as the majority work force especially in MNCs.
Small and medium enterprises (SME) have also suddenly found a life line in foreign workers as they are cheaper and easier to exploit.
Many work beyond the stipulated 44-hours per week and some even have to work on weekends without any extra benefits.
In fact, if not for foreigners, many SMEs may have to close shop as they are not competitive enough and the exorbitant rental also robs many small-time employers of a decent profit margin out of their businesses.
Transitioning.org has received numerous emails on how jobs of local Singaporeans were taken away by foreigners and some of these stories were posted on the blog.
There is a apparent lack of legislation to protect the rice bowl of the average Singaporeans and when disenchanted locals went to MOM to complaint about their unfair dismissal, many were told that the sacking was done within the labour law or worse, they were told to seek their own personal legal recourse as they are not covered by the labour law!
To curb the rising sentiments of xenophobia among Singaporeans, MOM should come up with stricter rules to protect the jobs of our own people.
If not, even those who are peace loving in nature all along towards foreigners will turn xenophobic as the massive foreign influx has affected their survival or that of their loved ones.
3. Lack of transparency on selection of foreign talents
Many Singaporeans are also unhappy that the foreigners currently residing among us are not true talents of their own rights.
There are even rumours of tiolet cleaners and stall assistants becoming permanent residents (PR) after residing here for a while.
There is no clear transparency on how PRs are being selected and what criterions are used to bring them.
Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada have clear transparent guidelines and criterions for migrants to meet or else they will be disqualified.
We only know that there are a host of easily-attainable work permts for employers to bring them in and after working here for a year or two, many of them will receive their PRs and subseqently asked to convert to citizens.
Many foreigners have also married local Singaporeans in the hope that they will easily receive their PRs.
Nowadays, I heard that its tougher to become PRs or even citizens due to the tighter legislation and also because there are many foreigners to choose from.
There are also speculation that the government has given more priority to mainland Chinese to become citizens to boost up the Chinese majority population here as they have the lowest fertility rate for the past decade.
Singaporeans, by and large, are not really resisting immigration but the people brought in have to be really talented and not here to replace our own jobs.
The government should make the selection of PRs open and transparent so that we know they are really trying to bring in people of good quality.
The current opaque system does not provide assurance to the population that we are doing just that.
4. Ban permanent residents from buying HDB resale flats
Our resale HDB market has being sky-rocketting all this while and shows no signs of abating.
Though sellers will enjoy the huge premium in price, buyers will lament that resale HDB flats will be forever out of their reach.
Many Singaporeans have pinned the blame of the ever-rising resale HDB property market directly to the foreigners – many who are armed with cash to splash.
Though the government has asked young Singaporeans to apply for new BTO flats instead, the resale HDB properties are usually more popular with newly-weds as the locations are better and more importantly, many want to stay near their parents for ease of baby sitting arrangement.
BTO flats tend to be located further away in Punggol and the far west and if you don’t have a car, it will be tough to travel to work in the town area.
Many Singaporeans are thus unhappy that foreigners came and snatch away resale HDB flats even without bargaining down the price.
The government should take a serious look at banning PRs from buying up resale HDB flats as it has caused the property market to spiral out of control and reach of local Singaporeans.
Who will want to buy a $400, 000 3-room resale flat other than a foreigner flushed with hard cash?
Thus, PRs should either rent a room or buy private properties if they want to own a house.
They should not be able to purchase HDB resale properties and such homes ought to be reserved for Singaporeans only.
Many PRs intend to buy a resale flat and sell it out in the open market again – in the hope of reaping some profit.
If PRs want to buy our HDB resale flats, they should convert to citizens first.
Why should they have the cake and still be able to eat it so generously?
5. Government seen as too protective of foreigners over native citizens
The government is also seen as too protective of the rights of foreigners.
It is as if the government owes our foreign friends a living and has to openly defend their rights to stay in our country.
I have never heard of any government in the world who speaks so well of foreigners in their own country – not in Australia, Canada, NZ or the US.
These countries have a large immigrant population and so far none has spoken up for the foreigners so vigoriously as our own government.
Perhaps, this over-protective stance has invariably turned the population against the foreign citizens who are now uncomfortably put in the spotlight.
So far, on the other hand, I have not heard of one minister who has spoken up for the native citizens and have always felt that our government is very disconnected from the ground.
Has any minister empathsized with the extreme over crowdedness felt in our transportation system?
Has anyone tried to understand why the population has gradually turned so xenophobic over time?
Besides constantly been talked down and chastised like small kids for being xenophbic, has anyone from the top tried to understand the feelings of the general population towards migrants?
6. Foreign citizens woo for their votes
There are also speculation that the government has generously woo foreigners to become citizens because of their all-important loyal votes.
If the government could throw money at them to become citizens, they would.
They are allowed to work freely in our country – replacing many local Singaporeans in the process.
Many foreigners are also allowed to study in our country free of charge with allowances to boot so that they will be enticed to become PRs and later convert to citizens for their loyal votes.
I have also heard that many of these foreign scholars could not even attain a second upper honours degree while studying with us using our tax payer money whereas local Singaporeans have to pay 6-figure sums to study abroad as there is a quota on local graduate intake.
More than 15% of our universities’ places are given to foreign scholars – many from PRC China.
Many Generation Y Singaporeans have turn xenophobic when they saw so many foreign scholars occupying universities’ slots that are denied to their Singaporean friends.
More than 130, 000 new citizens cast their votes for the first time during last year general election and it is no surprise that many would have voted for the ruling party out of gratitude and loyalty – at least for the first time.
If someone welcomes me into their home with open arms, provide me with good paying jobs and a place where it is much better than my own home, I will even die for that person.
If not for the loyal votes of foreign citizens, I am sure that the majority votes for the ruling party would be much lower during last year GE.
Sensing that this is one workable desperate tactic to shore up the diminishing popularity votes for the ruling party, the government has decided to convert up to 30, 000 new citizens per year in the pretext of shoring up the declining popuation figure.
So far, despite the rising speculation, the government has not come up to defend any of such accusations and many Singaporeans are quite sure that there is some truth to the matter.
7. Lack of proper integration programmes
There is obviously a lack of integration programmes for local and foreign citizens to mix around.
It also shows, for the first time, a serious lack of preparation from the ruling party at tackling something that is very crucial and this lack may even have serious future repercussions on the survivability of the party if it is not handled properly.
Many analysts have predicted that the foreign influx will be the key issue that will plague the election in 2016 and all signs point to another ugly bloodshed for the ruling party.
To make matters worse, companies on the ground also do not bother about encouraging foreigners and local Singaporeans to work together amicably and camps developed as they group together by nationality.
As I have mentioned before, Singaporeans are by nature peace loving and law abiding.
We will not initiate any violent reprisals even though we are bullied on the ground.
However, as the situation turns acutely adverse, many Singaporeans now have seized the advantage by developing a seige mentality together – against the foreigners.
It is really a miracle that so far there are no anti-foreigner violence occurring on the ground.
If the same situation persists abroad, I am sure that proper law and order enforcement will have to be called in.
For this, I salute our Singaporean friends for not using violence to resolve a very serious matter.
The government has to really develop initiatives to allow foreigenrs to mix amicably with our local Singaporeans.
Many foreigners are pretty much on their own and amazingly, some do not even bothered to respect our local culture.
The infamous curry incident and third world behaviour of many foreigners in our MRT trains have put off many Singaporeans – further hampering the complicating integration process on the ground.
There is also this uncomfortable feeling that many foreigners from different nationalities are trying to impose their own cultures on us.
While jogging in the Punggol Park frequently, I witnessed large groups of Indians enjoying a picnic on their own – oblivious to the stares of many local Singaporeans nearby.
There is no attempt to make any contact with the locals and I guess we are also not keen to establish any rapport with them.
If integration is allowed to deteriorate further, we may see a very fragmented society here divided by different migrant groups.
Over time, sensitive hostile anti-foreign sentiments may develop which will severely hamper social cohesion and national unity.
All is not well in our country now…
Written by: Gilbert Goh