Singapore opposition leader calls on government to release more information to dispel misinformation about FTA with India

Singapore must remain open and welcoming to foreigners, the prime minister said, adding that this “bodes well” for Singapore’s future. (Representative image: IE)

Strongly criticizing what he described as a “reactive” communications policy, Singaporean opposition leader Pritam Singh called on the government to release more details to dispel the swirling disinformation about the free agreement. -exchange with India, amid allegations that the pact helped Indians accept well -paid jobs in that country.

The government’s refusal to release data and answer questions of national importance earlier had allowed misunderstandings to fester and lies to proliferate, Singh said citing the Straits Times. Singh, who is the leader of the opposition Workers’ Party (WP), was speaking during the debate on two motions concerning Singapore’s professionals, executives, managers and technicians and the competition they face with foreigners. One of the motions was tabled by Progress Party Singapore (PSP) constituency MP Leong Mun Wai, and the other by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

“Emotions were boiling on the ground long before the Progress Singapore Party tackled the issue of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with India (CECA) and overseas employment,” said the opposition leader of Indian origin. The PSP, which is also in opposition, has repeatedly highlighted the CECA with India as an example of how Singaporeans have lost to foreigners.

Calling for a culture change in communication, Singh, who has advocated for freedom of information laws in the past, urged the government to release more information to better inform public debate on the issue. “The government needs to think about its own omissions and resistances when it comes to providing data and information, and how it should take some responsibility for the wave of disinformation about the ECSC,” he said. .

In a 30-minute speech, Singh outlined his party’s position on FTAs ​​and the ECSC. “There is no denying that FTAs ​​have encouraged investment and created jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans and foreigners,” he said. He also noted that there have been elements here and abroad who have used the ECSC as “a dog whistle, masking racism for genuine economic concerns”.

“The PM abhors and denounces racism and xenophobia,” Singh said. But Singh said it was fair to ask if the Ministry of Manpower has regulated work passes in the best possible way, adding that the PM does not take pro-trade policies for granted. of Singapore will guarantee good jobs for all Singaporeans.

In fact, some groups have found themselves in a worse position, he said, pointing to the sandwiched class, workers who lack skills and Singaporeans with low incomes. For these groups, there was a perception that the playing field was uneven, and some directed their anger at foreigners of Indian descent who became more visible and took on well-paying jobs here, he said. .

“Ordinary Singaporeans don’t delve into the intricacies of free trade agreements. Instead, they look around and draw conclusions based on what they perceive and experience, ”Singh added. “If Singaporeans hadn’t seen foreigners in well-paying jobs for years while skilled Singaporeans were unemployed or underemployed, we wouldn’t be talking about it today. Singh noted that this influx of foreign workers and permanent residents in the mid-2000s upset former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who then stepped down as prime minister.

In the second volume of Goh’s biography, Standing Tall, he said he was “surprised and annoyed” and told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong so. Quoting this, Singh said: “If a former prime minister whose post has not been directly threatened or taken away by a foreigner can say he was ‘surprised and annoyed’, how much more for a Singaporean who has experienced such a afraid of, or even the actual loss of, their livelihood? ”He warned that these feelings of insecurity and dislocation can undermine Singapore’s national cohesion.

Giving suggestions on how to respond to those sentiments, Singh said the government should communicate more and much better about overseas employment. the overseas offices of multinational companies – authorized to enter Singapore through the CECA. But the government had “simply refused to answer a question of national importance for which data was readily available.” “Is this acceptable? Can Singaporeans be blamed for assuming that the numbers must have been so huge that the government saw fit not to reveal them? “, did he declare.

He added that releasing the figure earlier this year, during a parliamentary debate on FTAs ​​and the ECSC, had had the opposite effect. Although more information has been provided during the resolution of the issue in recent months, “the release of information by the government on such matters would likely continue to be reactive and when convenient for the government, rather than proactive and when it suits the people, ”Singh added.

He warned that this could leave the door open for external parties to exploit the foreign-local issue to undermine and destroy Singapore’s psychological defenses, especially in the face of the ongoing Cold War between the United States and China. “Especially for an issue as sensitive as this, the government’s default position should be to release more information and explain the situation,” he said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday he was pleased that MPs have taken a “firm and unequivocal” stance against racism and xenophobia in parliament, saying the city-state must remain open and welcoming to people. foreigners. His remarks came after the Parliament of Singapore, where the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has an absolute majority, passed a motion on securing jobs and livelihoods for Singaporeans. Lee, in a social media post, said Members of Parliament “have strongly rejected attempts to use Singaporeans’ fears and anxieties to divide and weaken us.”

Singapore must remain open and welcoming to foreigners, the prime minister said, adding that this “bodes well” for Singapore’s future. Meanwhile, Singh also made four other suggestions, including tracking the extent of skills transfer from foreigners to locals and reporting it as a key performance indicator for each sector; introduce fixed-term employment cards which can only be renewed if a company can prove that its Singaporean workers have benefited from a skills upgrade; skills-related underemployment monitoring.

The Leader of the Opposition also suggested the establishment of a standing parliamentary standing committee dedicated to examining the issue of jobs and employment abroad.

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