Wong Wee Nam
Singapore should not be a marketplace where sojourners come when the times are good to ply their trades and make their money. It should be a home for our citizens to live and a place for our children to grow up.
Once it becomes a place where sojourners, birds of passage and citizens of convenience out-number the true-blooded Singaporeans who are willing to defend it against external threats, then it is no longer a country but purely a business centre.
In ensuring that Singapore continues to remain a home and a country for its citizens, there are a few questions that need to be asked.
What is the purpose of Singapore?
What is the function of Singapore to its citizens?
What benefits do we have living together?
What are our obligations to our society?
The answers have been derived from years of the nation-building process and any new additions need to share these answers if they are going to be part of society. However, if new immigrants are added in great numbers and with great speed, they will form their own distinct answers and, as a result, generate conflicting interests.
Thus the first factor needed for a strong society is the spirit of community and the desire of its members to be part of the community. Generally, Singaporeans who have lived and grown up in this country and performed national service duties have no problem identifying with the community. We have been conditioned since young to queue, to live with other races, not to litter, etc. We speak Singlish and enjoy curry, durian, teh tarik and rojak.
New immigrants should have no problem adopting these traits over time. However, when new immigrants flock into Singapore in large numbers, they find security in their own community. This makes it harder for them to assimilate and become part of the larger Singapore community. It is even more difficult when, with modern technology and communications, they are still connected by easy travel, internet, cable TV to their countries of birth.
The second factor that makes a society strong is economic well-being. Economic well-being does not mean increased GDP through the import of foreign labour. Similarly increased productivity does not mean working longer hours.
In fact, the benefits of increased productivity should be reduced working hours and more time for leisure. A full and rich material life must also include the joy of starting and raising a family. The import of foreign labour must add to this economic function of society. They must be employed in areas where there is a shortage of Singaporean workers and in areas where their specialised skills and talents are needed. They should not be brought in to lower the wages of Singaporeans or displace them from jobs that locals are capable of doing.
The third factor that a society needs is security – both internal and external. In a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Singapore, peace and justice can only be attained through tolerance and sensitivity amongst the various groups.
With the rapid influx of new immigrants, new adjustments will have to be made. It is hard to say how long it will take to forge a new understanding giving the size of the new wave of immigrants and their continued ties with their former motherlands.
Without this new understanding, it will be hard to build a cohesive society with the unity that would make this a strong country. One area that would help to protect the security of the country and to forge commitment and unity is national defence and no citizen, including new ones, should shirk his duty to do national service.
Dr Wong Wee Nam is a medical doctor and a member of the SDP’s Healthcare Advisory Panel.