By Lina Chiam –
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Ms Sim Ann has spoken of online comments which ‘spew hate and prejudice against individuals or groups’. She urged that we ‘must take a clear stand against hate speech. Abuse of foreigners, or any human being, is not acceptable, whether it is verbal or physical, online or offline’. MP Mr Baey Yam Keng has also asked Singaporeans to reflect on our own actions.
The SPP agrees with Ms Sim that we must disavow hate speech. But there are two major problems with her argument.
Firstly, if she wants to frame her call in moral terms, she should have told us what she thought of foreigners who use hate speech against Singaporeans. But she did not. Earlier this year, the NUS student Sun Xu from China called Singaporeans ‘dogs’, which upsetted many of us. Singaporeans feel that our government is ever ready to lecture us, and yet the government is silent on the same actions from non-Singaporeans. This only fuels the belief that our government offers no sense of protection to Singaporeans.
Secondly, the tenor of online voices is not all hate speech. There are some truths that the government urgently needs to stop sweeping under the carpet. It is undeniable that the influx of foreigners created unrest in the social fabric of Singapore. Yet since last year’s general election, the government has taken every opportunity they have to reinforce their old idea that foreign workers are absolutely indispensible to the development of our economy.
The SPP prefers to address the larger issue with sound policy ideas, not by reprimanding Singaporeans misguidedly.
The crux of the matter is that we desperately need to grow our economy without over-reliance on cheap foreign labour. The distinguished former civil service chief Mr Ngiam Tong Dow has recently recommended that the government administer a $100 million fund to aid local entrepreneurs. This is an example of a fresh idea to grow our economy. Perhaps is it time to do a stock take on how much incentives were given to create jobs over the last 10 years – more specifically, how many local jobs were created among the reported job creation figures.
We fear that by playing up the xenophobia card, the government is inadvertently painting a worse image of Singapore and Singaporeans to the outside world than is in fact the case.
The government should change their style of rhetoric, if they are serious about having a national conversation with Singaporeans.