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Foreign influx – Government “caught by surprise”, says SM Goh

In the September 7 issue of the Straits Times, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that “the surge of immigrants in 2007 and 2008” had “caught the Government by surprise”.

Is this true – or is SM Goh just trying to make excuses for the Government?

Lets go back to the period between 2006 and 2009 and look at some of the statements made by the the most senior members of the Government.

From these statements, it is clear that the Government was not “caught by surprise”. On the contrary, the Government was quite explicit in its aim to attract immigrants and foreign talent. Prime Minister Lee, in 2006, addressed this issue in his National Day Rally speech. The PM even said: “The more we can get our talent… I think the better off we will be.”

So, what does SM Goh mean when he says the Government was ‘caught by surprise” over the foreign influx?

If indeed the Government was "caught by surprise", one then would have to question how this happened, given that senior ministers had highlighted it as a major issue even prior to 2007 and 2008.

Did the Government take its eyes off the radar? How else could it have been "caught by surprise" by the surge in the number of immigrants?

Or is SM Goh just trying to deflect criticisms of the Government - and in the process contradicting not only his own ministers but himself as well? Didn't SM Goh say, in 2009, that "PAP MPs have raised these concerns in Parliament over the years"?

In the end, the real question is this: Does the Government know what it is doing at all? And does SM Goh know what he is talking about?

You judge for yourself.

Here are some quotes from senior members of the Government between 2006 to 2009:

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, 2008:

Overall, our flexible foreign workforce policies have enabled us to maintain a critical competitive edge over competing economies by allowing companies to expand their workforce quickly to capitalise on opportunities, at the same time creating more and better jobs for our citizens… Encouraging immigration is therefore a key strategy which we must continue to pursue. … At the same time, we recognize that some Singaporeans may feel threatened by the number of immigrants that Singapore is absorbing.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, 2009:

PAP MPs have raised these concerns in Parliament over the years. (Indeed, as far back as 1998 as we highlighted recently here.)

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, 2006:

We must continue to explore ways to make Singapore an attractive choice for those seeking to eventually relocate their homes… If we can keep up with that - 13,000, 14,000, 15,000, 16,000 (a year) and over time slowly increase it, I think that will be good for us.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally Speech, 2006:

We must continue to promote immigration into Singapore because just as we accept that Singaporeans have the world as their oyster, so too we must promote immigration here and let this be one of the options which talent from around the world will look for when they are considering where to go and live.

We have to promote our immigration programme overseas.  Countries know, people know Singapore.  They no longer think that Singapore is somewhere in China.  They know Singapore is special, they even have heard of the little red dot but they don’t know that Singapore is out looking for talent.  If you go to Channel News Asia website or the Straits Times Interactive website, you will find the banner ad on top, click on this, check out your eligibility for Australian PR, or Green Card, give it a try.  That should be the Singapore advertisement down there.  Our CPU, our Citizenship and Population Unit, click here, application form for Singapore PR will go to you by email.  That’s what we need to do, get our message, get people to be interested.  Then we can choose and have good ones, capable, able to make a contribution, join Singapore.

Because we are open and cosmopolitan, so the foreigners come here and they are comfortable here.  But we want to be open and cosmopolitan, and that is why we need the foreigners to come to add to our colour, to make this a special exciting, diverse, cosmopolitan place.

So, there are things which we can do as a government in order to open our doors and bring immigrants in.  But more importantly, as a society, we as Singaporeans, each one of us, we have to welcome immigrants. Welcome new immigrants.

We have to take a big-hearted approach.  Our forefathers were immigrants too.

What we are short of is talent and the more we can get our talent, as Phillip Yeo says “kidnap them”, I think the better off we will be.