By Howard Lee
The case of Mr Yang Yin has brought out several issues core to our national narrative. Many are viewing his alleged crimes with as much disbelief as anger, some even with an anti-foreigner slant. But such sentiments should not blind-side us from taking a cold hard look at the implications it has on another matter – that of national security.
No doubt, Yang is under investigation for criminal breach of trust, theft, misrepresentation for insurance claims, falsely associating with the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and who knows what else could arise from the various suits filed and police reports made against him. Yet amidst all these lawsuits, what should really concern all Singaporeans is the seeming ease with which he obtained his permanent resident (PR) status.
PRs in Singapore are accorded near parallel rights to citizens, and grants foreigners the right to stay in Singapore regardless of their employment status. But what does it take to become a PR? The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority has scant details about the evaluation criteria for PRs, but the application form indicates employment to be a factor for consideration. Nevertheless, even Employment Pass and S Pass holders, investors and entrepreneurs can apply, which broadens the employment criteria significantly.
The fact that Yang managed to obtain his PR status using presumably false information opens up a massive can of worms. Did Yang find a loophole in the system that can be exploited? If so, he cannot possibly be the only one.
For sure, we can safely assume that the majority of PRs among us have nothing but good intentions for wanting that status. But if Yang’s key motive for staying in Singapore is to perpetuate his relationship with Mdm Chung Khin Chun, might there also not be those who have done similarly to infiltrate our shores on similar pretence, but for more devious purposes?
Yang has been actively involved in the People’s Association’s grassroot activities, to the extent of being appointed an Integration and Naturalisation Champion (INC). The ICA forms also include a section that queries an applicant’s association with “professional societies, associations, clubs and other organisations”. Does Yang’s association with PA and the INC programme fall into this category? While his other affiliations are now suspect, this is possibly the one true aspect of Yang’s public identity, which has also been verified by his Member of Parliament, Dr Intan Azura Bte Mokhtar.
Indeed, online users have already started to cast aspersions that Dr Intan might have supported Yang in his PR application, and if so demanded to know if she verified his credentials. These accusations are not without basis. MPs writing letters to government agencies to help their constituents do a myriad of things – void parking fines, defer utility bills, expedite licensing, approve applications for social benefits, obtain grants – is a common practice. Dr Intan’s continued silence on the issue, to either her Facebook fans’ queries or questions sent by TOC, really does not help clarify the issue and re-instate confidence in her as an MP.
No less critical is the role that PA played in Yang’s community progress. INCs are essentially grassroot leaders who are appointed by PA, something which has been done since 2007. Does PA have a screening process with which they use to evaluate the suitability of such champions, and if so does it include a background check? Is the legitimacy of their credentials verified? If so, how is it verified? In the wake of Yang’s case, does PA have plans to re-screen all their current INCs who used to be foreigners?
Or has PA been simply roping in anyone who is willing and able since 2007?
Picking this bone goes beyond questioning PA’s due processes. If there is a likelihood that a foreigner’s association with PA and the INC programme lends them greater weight in obtaining PR and citizenship status, then PA also needs to be extra vigilant in who they appoint as INC members.
That, however, does not absolve ICA from its responsibility as the final gatekeeper. Even if PA’s initiatives have put in place a system that allows foreigners with ill intent to exploit the system and “fast track” their PR and citizenship applications, be it for personal greed or other more clandestine intent, ICA’s ability to effectively screen such applications would have been a sufficient fail-safe measure.
The case of Yang, however, provided very little confidence that this has been done. Yang has clearly lied about his affiliation with SCCCI, and there is thus reason to suspect that his other professional affiliations, such as education qualifications and business ownerships, might also be false. As indicated before, all this information is required by ICA in the PR application form.
No doubt, ICA has indicated that false declarations would lead to the person’s PR status being revoked. Unfortunately, that is too much after-thought to be of any reassurance for a matter of national security.
Has the ICA received PR and citizenship applications from MPs, and have these been blindly approved assuming the integrity of MPs? How many of such applications indicated an association with PA grassroot membership? What is ICA's screening process on the legitimacy of claims on, say, qualifications and employment status, made by applicants? Is there any screening at all?
Or perhaps to get back to the most fundamental issue, what is ICA's criteria for granting PR and citizenship? Those who are so inclined will find loopholes in every process we dream up, but only if we are clear in our minds who we want and don’t want can we filter effectively.
Again, this seems like picking bones with ICA’s due processes. But as Yang has shown, it seems almost too easy for a foreigner to enter our shores and obtain PR status using unverified and untrue information. ICA needs to better assure the public, beyond threatening the revocation of PR statuses for false applications, that a proper screening process is in place, and we do not simply let in all and sundry to our shores.
So far, the two government agencies involved in this issue have hardly been forthcoming, and Singaporeans deserve some answers.
Queries have been sent to the People’s Association and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in relation to the issues raised in this article. At time of publishing, we have not received their replies.