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In his customary Lunar New Year speech to his Tanjong Pagar constituents last week, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called for Singaporeans to embrace the PAP’s immigration policy and accept the continued inflow of foreign workers into Singapore.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because he’s done this many times before, for example, here, here, and here. The question is why. Why is this policy meeting with so much pushback from the people that Mr Lee has had to repeat his message so often?
It is obvious that Singaporeans are skeptical about the claims that Mr Lee and his colleagues in the Government are making. The people don’t seem to trust the PAP on this matter.
And it has only itself to blame. Singaporeans have been told so many versions of the same story that we don’t know what to believe anymore. For example, it was drummed into us in the early years that our small island could fit only so many people and therefore each couple should have no more than two children. We were told that we had enough space for not much more than 3 million inhabitants.
Then the Government suddenly reversed course and said that without more people, our economy would suffer. To survive we now needed to expand our population – and quickly. We miraculously found space for 6.5 million people. There is even talk that we may need to increase the number to 10 million.
It is such policy reversals without adequate accountability that has caused deep suspicion, if not outright resentment, of the PAP’s agenda.
Then in 2010, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam warned that “there are social and physical limits to how many more [foreign workers] we can absorb” and took steps to reduce the number coming into the country.
But last week Minister of State for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin shocked us all by revealing that the number of foreign workers had increased by an astounding 85,000 in 2011. Now Mr Lee tries to convince us – yet again – that we have no choice but to continue “taking in immigrants”. It was as if what Mr Tharman said two years ago meant absolutely nothing.
Can you blame the people for being suspicious of the Government when it says one thing and does the complete opposite?
Another contradiction is with the education system. The Government claims that our school system is top-drawer. How is it then, the people ask, that such a world-beating system cannot produce talent to keep Singapore going without our depending on foreigners?
Over and beyond these conflicting claims, the Government has also failed to come clean with the people over the alarming rate at whcih Singaporeans are leaving the country. Mr Lee himself admitted that the number of emigres is a “pretty serious problem”.
But why are so many Singaporeans quitting the jurisdiction in the first place? It is, perhaps, a question that the PAP is not asking because it doesn’t want to hear the answer.
One of the major factors contributing to the brain drain is the stifling political and economic climate in this country. Those with means and opportunity, and who find the autocracy intolerable, choose to live and work elsewhere. But instead of addressing this problem, the PAP embarks on the reckless gambit of replacing these Singaporeans with foreigners.
Do you blame the people for resisting such a policy?
The Government also chooses to ignore the high cost of living in Singapore which is the single biggest deterrent of young couples having babies. We all agree that Singapore has the lowest birthrate in the world. But while the SDP says that we need pro-family policies including lowering the living costs to encourage bigger families, the PAP tries to fix the problem by bringing in foreign workers.
In the final analysis, it is the PAP’s refusal to address the people’s concerns and answer the SDP’s questions that foment the deep misgivings that Singaporeans have towards its immigration policy.
And as long as this is the case, it won’t matter how many times Mr Lee tells us that we must embrace this policy. The people just won’t listen to him.