The following is Mr. Leong Mun Wai’s full speech at the 14th Parliamentary Sitting as one of 2 NCMPs who were elected into Parliament in GE2020.
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1. Mr Speaker Sir, I am glad for this opportunity to thank the President for her Speech which was “a breath of fresh air”, and I would like to join this debate on two pressing issues: immigration and jobs – which many honourable members have already spoken on.
2. The President’s Speech has highlighted many of the concerns of Singaporeans who generally feel that the current socio-economic policies are not in their favor and are looking for change.
3. In particular, they wish to know,
· Why there are seemingly fewer good jobs for Singaporeans while the immigrant workforce has grown rapidly over the last two decades? Does it mean there is discrimination against Singaporeans?
• Why are there not enough skilled Singaporeans to take up the good jobs in the new industries as claimed, despite having our “world-ranked” universities? Are there no corrective actions taken to increase the number of suitably qualified Singaporeans in areas where we are lacking?
• Why are Singaporeans paying higher and higher taxes when there are 40% of immigrants in our workforce whose taxes should have helped to reduce the tax burden? Do we have a net gain in tax revenue after deducting all the infrastructural and social costs incurred in supporting these foreigners?
4. Unable to get satisfactory answers to the above, many Singaporeans have chosen to believe that the current immigration policy is a bad deal for them and for Singapore.
5. Now I credit the Government for responding promptly to the Singaporeans’ message. Acknowledging the people’s wish for this Parliament to work together for better solutions, the Prime Minister has installed my esteemed colleague, Mr Pritam Singh, as the Leader of Opposition.
6. Over the course of the next few years, we look forward to more information and resources provided to the Opposition to function as an effective voice and idea-generator.
The Concerns and Objections
7. Mr. Speaker Sir, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) is a pro-Singaporean, pro-Singapore party. Noting the widespread resentment and objections of our countrymen, we recommend immediate actions be taken to restore the balance of interests between Singaporeans and the foreigners in our country.
8. We think that our Government might have overlooked the fact that our country is a global city-state and not a global city within a larger state. New Yorkers, for example, can choose to sell their properties, pocket the gains and move to another city in the US but Singaporeans have nowhere to go without leaving the country.
9. It is disconcerting to have many of our countrymen live outside Singapore in Johore and Batam while we are housing more than two million foreigners on our island at the same time. Surely, more consideration can be given to Singaporeans who are citizens of our sovereign city-state.
10. We are not being xenophobic or nativist because we have a long tradition of accepting foreigners into our society. In fact, many of us have fond memories of the old foreign talents who have trained and helped us to “eat other people’s lunch” and “not to allow other people to take away our lunch”.
11. Many of them have contributed significantly to our nation-building. From Dr Albert Winsemius, the Dutch economic consultant who worked closely with Dr Goh Keng Swee to develop our economy, to the many unsung heroes like Mr Peter John Bowyer, a British citizen who set up the computer centre at the Singapore Polytechnic, transferred his skills to the locals and then left quietly after the job was done; and Mr John Kovac, my General Paper teacher from New Zealand who planted the idea “the citizen of the world” in my head and coached my school’s rugby team. We are very grateful to those foreign talents from the good old days.
12. The Government however had introduced a different brand of foreign talent to us from the turn of the millennium. As a high-profile manifestation of that policy, Mr. John Olds was appointed the CEO of DBS Bank in August 1998.
13. At that time, I remembered a senior Japanese banker had called me and commented, “Leong-san, it’s like having a foreigner run Mitsubishi Bank in Japan. It’s unthinkable!”.
14. Mr Speaker Sir, in my heart, I had supported the appointment of John Olds in 1998. However, I am deeply disappointed now because twenty-two years later after his appointment, DBS is still without a home-grown CEO.
15. The current financial industry is very different from the time I started my career at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation in 1986 when “localization” was strongly advocated and supported by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. During those times, common conversations among my senior colleagues were “so and so has taken over or is slated to take over the top job at such and such global bank”. Today, my fellow countrymen are not seeing localization and have to guard their current positions zealously.
16. We all agree that to protect jobs is the top priority. Personally I regard jobs as the foundation of human dignity. If a breadwinner is unemployed over a prolonged period of time, a multitude of undesirable social outcomes will follow. So many social problems can be solved by organizing ourselves differently in our economic relationships.
17. Dr. Ang Yong Guan, the former President of the Singapore Psychiatric Association, has said that “economic problems contribute to much of the mental menace we see in our society today”.
18. After two decades of rapid immigration growth, the immigrant share of our population stands at more than 40% today. As a result, one can expect the group dynamics at the workplace to have changed drastically, and we must take the rumblings from the ground about Singaporeans being discriminated against seriously.
19. So many social problems can be solved by organizing ourselves differently in our economic relationships with one another and in relation to foreigners.
20. The recent announcement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) that there are now over 1200 companies on the watch-list of the Fair Consideration Framework is one more confirmation of discrimination taking place at the workplace. This phenomenon is hard to swallow because Singaporeans are being discriminated against in our own country.
21. Without stricter regulation, this situation is unlikely to improve as the foreigners increase further as a share of our total population. Currently there is about 4 foreigners to 6 Singaporeans in the workforce but if the population were to reach 10m, there will be 6 foreigners to 4 Singaporeans. While the 10 million population is not the Government’s target, it may still be reached eventually unless Immigration is slowed down substantially.
22. As we are entering unchartered territory, we should give ourselves more time to assess and ascertain the full impact of an outsized foreigner population. We have just been made to pay very dearly by a black swan event, the Covid-19 pandemic, as we try to stop the widespread infection at the dormitories for foreign workers.
23. In the planning of our country’s future, it would be wise not to assume that Covid-19 is the worst possible scenario. There may be other risks related to immigration that we cannot foresee.
Tweaking the Foreign Talent Model
24. Mr Speaker Sir, the PSP is a strong supporter of an open economy and society and we believe that the Government must have good reasons to push for the foreign talent model.
25. However, the Government can perform better in its communication. Our foreign talent model is a “free flow of people” model just like the exporter model, which is based on the “free flow of goods” and the financial centre model, which is based on the “free flow of capital”, which we have successfully implemented in the past.
26. These models can help us attain competitive advantages but there is always a need to balance the conflicts of the foreign and domestic interests in each of them. The foreign talent model which involves the competition for jobs in our own territory is especially sensitive.
27. The Government should provide more timely data to obtain the buy-in for the strategy. For example, regular disclosure on PME statistics broken down into Citizen and Permanent Resident categories and details of the intra-company transfers under the various free-trade agreements would be very useful. Without clearer data, Singaporeans cannot have an informed discussion on whether the existing foreign talent model is benefiting us.
28. Mr Speaker Sir, in the immediate future, we recommend decisive actions to reduce new work pass approvals and renewals in order to channel more existing jobs to Singaporeans. Despite the Government’s good effort, it is difficult to create good jobs in a short period of time and existing jobs are still the best opportunities for employing our people.
29. Going forward, we need to tweak the foreign talent model so that the welfare of Singaporeans is not compromised while we build a new competitive advantage for Singapore.
30. Borrowing from the experience of the Offshore and Onshore Banks in the early 1980s, we propose the designation of a group of Offshore Companies which have products and services that are sold predominantly overseas and Singaporeans do not yet have the skills to produce. They should also satisfy minimum capital and business spending requirements.
31. We can allow Offshore Companies a freer hand in attracting talents from all over the world provided they uphold the non-discrimination principle towards Singaporeans and follow the increased minimum salary requirements for Employment and S-Pass Holders.
32. For all the other companies which we shall categorize as Onshore Companies, we recommend tightening our MOM regulations and procedures to achieve better outcomes for Singaporeans. First and foremost, we stipulate that Singaporeans must be well-represented in the top management and human resource function to ensure that the procedures are followed properly.
33. Second, we apply a foreigner-to-citizen ratio cap to all Onshore companies and their business and functional departments. This allows us to strengthen the Singaporean Core in our economy and in all the important professions.
34. An over-presence of foreign PMETs in a particular profession, for example Infotech, may lead to the hollowing out of our locals from that profession in the long run and we will end up lacking crucial skills to run our country and economy in the future.
35. Third, we reinstate localisation as an important key performance indicator. We should stipulate that there is a succession plan to replace each foreign manager at the end of his visa period. Further visa extension can only be granted if that manager is due for promotion and his previous position is taken up by a Singaporean.
36. Fourth, we should protect entry-level jobs for our new graduates and give them the opportunities to learn and to acquire the necessary skills. We should require foreign PMETs to have a longer working experience before they are allowed to join our workforce.
37. Last but not least, we would like to stress that citizenship is sacrosanct to Singaporeans who are justifiably concerned about the erosion of national identity and the dilution of our citizenship. Since we are talking about economic relationships, there is no need to put citizenship into the equation. Citizenships should only be awarded to Permanent Residents who have stayed here for a long time and have passed a stricter set of naturalization criteria. We also recommend that a Citizens’ Commission be set up to oversee the award of citizenships.
38. Mr Speaker Sir, in conclusion, all our recommendations above are to support what the President has said, “As masters of our own land, Singaporeans must have confidence in the rights and privileges of citizenship”.
39. The PSP believes that this Parliament must serve the interests and protect the sovereign rights of our people. We will stand by the Government if it decides to take any decisive action needed to achieve that.
40. We assure you that PSP will uphold this Parliament as a Singaporean Parliament and not a Partisan Parliament.
41. Sir, I support the motion, thank you.