By Jackson Tan –

Does meritocracy really exist in Singapore?

A common perception among Singaporeans, the government constantly champions the need for meritocracy, especially in the area of employment. When Singapore enjoyed economic growth, the government rewarded themselves through pay raises. However, when ministers make mistakes, the concept of meritocracy suddenly ‘disappears’. 

While it is not my intention to highlight such cases (I believe all Singaporeans should know, otherwise you’ve been reading the wrong news), they are worth debating. The government, on one hand, encourages companies to hire based on merits and, on the other hand, brings in cheap foreign labour who are more easily hired than most Singaporeans. 

While I do admit that some foreigners are talented, I believe the same is true for Singaporeans. In fact, Singaporeans are one of the few people in the world to be truly multilingual (2 languages and 2 dialects for me). Is Singapore (or the Government) true and fair about merits? I do not know if earning low wages is considered a ‘merit’ here in Singapore.

National vs official languages

Recently, an article caught my attention deeply. This controversial article of its perceived intention as being disrespectful towards Singapore’s national sovereignty. Ms Grace Zhang questioned why Singapore’s national anthem is in a language with 4/5 of the population does not understand. While most netizens condemned her article, I felt pleased in a sense that I feel the article actually raised an important issue which is worth everyone’s deliberation.

Malay is Singapore’s national language while others such as English, Mandarin and Tamil are official languages. Ms Grace Zhang’s article raised an important question which, in my honest opinion, should be viewed with objectivity. While agreeing with her doesn’t mean I’m a foreigner (ka ki lang hor / ji kei yan / I'm a fellow countryman), as her question is practical in nature. 

If Malay is the national language, shouldn’t the Government start educating its people in Malay from young? If not, whose responsibility is it to ensure that Singaporeans continue to identify themselves as Singaporeans even though most do not speak Malay? I agree that since the national anthem is already in Malay, it should not be changed, but that does not mean people continue to remain as they are and after so many years still do not identify themselves with it. The Government should be responsible if this trend continues to worry us.

Too many overlapping cultures

This is actually my most important point I wish to highlight to all readers. Singapore’s journey to the present state has not been easy, especially when we’re a small red dot and managing both economic growth and racial harmony at the same time. For this, I must give credit to the government. However, it is to be noted that economic growth should never be achieved at the expense of Singaporeans’ interests through relentless introduction of more foreigners just to ‘make up the economic numbers’. 

Travelling mostly on public transport, I observe fear and suspicion among Singaporeans towards foreigners who are of different languages and cultures (hard truth). As such, the term ‘xenophobic’ suddenly becomes a trendy term to describe Singaporeans who are simply over-sensitive of their new environment. I totally disagree with this description of Singaporeans as a simplistic answer to a question of depth.

When the Government brings in foreigners, especially from China, India and the Philippines, it must have believed that ‘everything is going to be alright’ as long as these people speak the same language. However, reality is different from theory when many foreigners end up in the news for the wrong reasons (PRC bus drivers cause commuters to go ‘hollan’, Pinoys discriminate Singaporeans etc). 

Although the Chinese in China and Singapore speak a common language, both have distinct cultures which are poles apart. I disagree that Singaporean Chinese are racist against PRC Chinese, but I can say the former are merely nationalist, which is encouraging as a sign of common identity.

The main problem with bringing too many foreigners is a major misfit between the population and the country’s vision towards a true and fair society. I do not know if the Government is trying to copy what the US did in the 1920s through mass immigration, but certainly Singapore is too small to cope with such huge numbers. 

It is this mixture of too many different cultures which leads to people distinguishing themselves according to your country of origin, languages spoken and cultures. I believe many will agree with me that Singaporeans see themselves independent of those from China and India and that they see themselves as Singaporeans first.

Is Singapore at the end of the line? Maybe not if the Government can ‘wake up’ at the last moment. Or maybe we already are?


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