By Chua Suntong –
On Sunday 7 October 2012, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Director for Membership Ms Amy Cheong publicly expressed unhappiness on the actions of a certain communal group. The following day, on Monday 8 October 2012 the NTUC leadership decided her expressions were unacceptable & she was terminated from her position.
The immediate reason for this decision was the nature of her position. NTUC was a collection of trade unions set up by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). NTUC had an official symbiotic relationship with the PAP. NTUC wanted to distance itself from Ms Cheong’s position.
On Wednesday 10 October 2012, the New Paper (TNP) published parts of a short interview with Ms Cheong on her background. Although TNP did not give exact years, the chronological order could be approximately deduced.
Ms Cheong was born in Malaysia, likely in 1978. At the age of 8 which would be around 1986, she immigrated to Perth in Australia. She was likely to have started schooling in Perth in 1987 academic year & probably completed a 15 year education period in 2002.
Sometime about 2001, about 10 years ago from the present, she became an Australian citizen. Within a year & after completing her education, she started working in Singapore in 2002 at the calendar age of 24. In August 2011 she joined NTUC.
Ms Cheong was almost certainly a significant beneficiary of the immigration policy of Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong. At the Singapore National Day Rally Speech on 24 August 1997, the future ESM announced a change in population policy from immigration-supplemented to immigration-centric.
The ESM’s biggest aim was to attract large numbers of young foreigners with some educational or related background to take up Professional, Managerial, Executive & Technical (PMET) positions at all functions & sectors. He described these foreign PMETs as “foreign talents”.
Within 6 months of this speech on 19 Feb 1998, Mr Ong Ah Heng, a PAP party backbencher legislator, questioned about the value of the FT policy. (Parliamentary Debates Official Report Call Number RSING 328.5957 SIN Volume 68, 14 Jan 1998 to 12 March 1998, Columns 185).For the next 14 years, there would be increasing criticism that this ESM FT policy was displacing local PMETs.
On 3 November 2001, after the PAP won a massive election victory, the ESM said at a media conference that his immediate priority was to help unemployed Singaporeans find jobs. Some local unemployed PMETs hoped the ESM would reduce the inflow of foreign PMETs so as to help locals.
However, these displaced local PMETs gradually realized the ESM had a totally different set of thinking. The official policy was that only low-end unskilled local workers had problems finding jobs. As far as the ESM was concerned, PMET displacement was a non-issue.
The ESM belief was that more foreign PMETs would somehow generate more economic value & eventually safeguard local PMET jobs. Therefore his theoretical solution to a possible future PMET unemployment situation was to bring in more, not less foreign PMETs.
Ms Cheong was one of those who were brought in under such a situation. When she first arrived in Singapore, it was unlikely she had any impressive track record at work. The main decision factor was the employing organization; at the encouragement of the ESM, felt she could contribute a global outlook to the organization.
Meanwhile, there was the increased reliance on low-end foreign workers to maintain economic growth. As more of such workers flowed in, Singapore‘s optimum population became an increasing source of concern.
The PAP Government always maintained an official long-term objective to reduce general foreign workers. It hoped the bringing in of foreign PMETs at all functions & sectors would create economic value which would in turn lead to this long term objective.
The inability to control general foreign worker numbers was an indirect indication that the ESM FT policy was a repeated failure. More critics were calling for a more judicious intake of foreign PMETs with emphasis on specific functions & sectors where there was a clear shortage of existing locals.
As Ms Cheong’s last position was that of a conventional administrative nature, there was the uncomfortable question of whether she took up positions which could have gone to existing locals in the past decade.
An additional controversy was the aging resident population. Based on an understanding of the immigration situation, Ms Cheong was likely to be granted resident status relatively quickly.
The PAP Government probably hoped she would integrate into local society, get married & have children. The TNP report did not mention the presence of children & Ms Cheong stated she never married.
While young adult immigration could slow down aging, this process would accelerate in the long run unless these immigrants started to reproduce significantly. Increasing numbers of biological unproductive foreign-born resident female PMETs was a source of great disappointment to the PAP.
The critics were arguing that large numbers of foreign PMETs were not generating the expected demographic & economic value. Another point was that these PMETs had little interest in social integration.
Therefore when Ms Cheong’s racial controversy broke out, the NTUC leadership decided to get rid of her. The wider background linked to her termination was that she became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the ESM FT policy.