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Yes, Singapore must remain open to global investments and talent

by: Ravi Philemon/

I agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's views that "society has changed, economy has changed, politics has evolved", but still the Government must continue to take a long-term, rationale perspective and remain open to global investments and talent.

Singapore has got no choice but to remain connected to the world for its own survival, because  Singapore has got no other resources besides its strategic location and the skills of its people.

If Singapore was to take a myopic view and be overly selective about the type of businesses and  talent it will accept, these people and businesses, who are so very vital to the continued prosperity of the nation will go elsewhere where they are more welcomed.  If this happens, the loss will be Singapore's and Singaporeans'.

Of course there's a need to re-invent the word 'talent'. In the past, just about anybody can be labelled a 'talent' and he can be brought into Singapore to compete with a Singaporean, even if the Singaporean had comparable skills.

I remember attending a Budget Forum hosted by Dr Amy Khor in 2009, where one businessman lamented that he could not bring in a chef from China because he had used up his quota of foreign labour.  When asked why he could not hire a Singaporean instead, the businessman said that even though there were Singaporeans who had similar skills to the chef from China, they had to pay way much more for the Singaporean.

This is the kind of 'foreign talent' that Singapore and Singaporeans do not need.  'Foreign talents' who compete unfairly with Singaporeans; who place themselves at an advantage by being cheaper, but not necessarily better or faster.

But having said that, there are foreign talents that Singapore absolutely needs. For example, there is a shortage of allied healthcare professionals like Occupational Therapists in Singapore.  Nanyang Polytechnic is the only tertiary institution which has an occupational therapy course offered at the Diploma level, and the graduates of this course go on to countries like Australia to complete their degree  - often never to return.

Can you imagine the impact of not having enough Occupational Therapists (even if they are from India or Philippines) would have on the aging population of Singapore? Countries like Australia, USA, UK and New Zealand, will welcome these talents with their arms wide open.

We must always remain open to genuine foreign talent even if they are 'here only for short-term benefits' - even if 'they take and they go' (A recent Yahoo Poll says that this is netizens' biggest beef with foreign talent in Singapore).

And in a globalised world, it is even easier for a foreign-owned company with big money to uproot itself from a country it deems more hostile to its business, and go elsewhere. Maersk Sealand did just that in the year 2000.

Whose loss would it be if the 'big boys' start to move out of Singapore, because they find themselves unwelcome over time, or if Singapore's business environment gradually becomes less favourable?