Enhanced CECA between S’pore and India officially recognizes Indian nursing degrees

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) released a public statement yesterday (1 Jun) announcing that Singapore and India have “successfully” concluded the second review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

“Today, in the presence of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Loh Khum Yean, Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore, and Mr Jawed Ashraf, Indian High Commissioner to Singapore, exchanged the Joint Statement on the conclusion of the CECA second review,” MTI announced.

The new CECA enhancements include expanding tariff concessions for an additional 30 products and improving rules of origin to provide more flexibility for Singapore exports into India, so as to qualify for preferential tariffs under the agreement, MTI noted.

Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran said, “The upgraded agreement will enable more Singapore companies to qualify for lower tariffs. This improves local exporters’ access to the Indian market. I encourage our companies to make full use of the upgraded agreement and explore more opportunities for collaboration in India.”

In 2017, total bilateral trade between Singapore and India amounted to S$25.2 billion. Singapore is now the second-largest investor in India with cumulative investments worth S$36.3 billion. Many of the investments involve GLCs under the Temasek umbrella.

However, CECA became controversial over the last few years as more Singaporeans become aware of its ramification, thanks to social media. The chief complaint against CECA is over the clause governing the movement of people between Singapore and India.

Certainly, fewer Singaporeans want to work in India compared to the number of Indian nationals wanting to work here, since S$1 easily converts to 50 rupees. More Indian nationals working in Singapore would mean more job competitions here, as they can easily undercut Singaporeans in terms of salaries.

Mutual recognition agreement in nursing

However, MTI avoided mentioning the mutual recognition of nursing degrees and diplomas under the new enhanced CECA in the main section of its media release. Hidden in Annex A is the clause:

Media in India immediately recognize its significance. The Business Standard of India reported (‘India signs mutual recognition agreement in nursing with Singapore‘, 1 Jun) that it will be “easier for domestic nurses to explore employment opportunities in Singapore now, as India has signed mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the south east Asian nation in this sector”.

“India has signed the MRA in nursing with Singapore. This is the first MRA being signed by India with any of our FTA partners,” the Indian commerce ministry also said.

It was reported that Singapore would now recognize “seven nursing institutions” from India under the agreement.

The Hindu also reported (‘India, Singapore formalise mutual recognition agreement in nursing‘, 1 Jun) that India has formalized a MRA in nursing with Singapore which would allow “nurses trained in seven nursing institutions across India to gain employment in the South-East Asian country”.

Concerns with fake nursing degrees and bogus documents

However, in recent years, incidents of nurses from India caught with fake nursing degrees and documents keep coming up.

Last Dec, some of the Indian nurses together with those from the Philippines were caught with fake nursing degrees and jailed by the Saudi authorities.

The forgery was uncovered by a team of experts from the Ministry of Health in Saudi during screening of nurses recruited through leading manpower agencies in Manila and New Delhi planning to work in Saudi.

Apparently, the applicants did possess genuine academic qualifications. However, they furnished fabricated experience certificates with longer than actual work duration to boost their hiring prospects.

Some of the nurses had obtained bank loans to complete their education and placement, and are now unable to repay the loans after losing their much-coveted jobs in the Kingdom. A few of the nurses who had allegedly submitted fake certificates left the Kingdom prior to the beginning of the probe to avoid legal consequences.

Those nurses who have served in Saudi for a long time with proven track records were also facing problems after the authorities made it mandatory on them to produce their certificates for the renewal of licenses. These nurses say some of the institutions they graduated from or worked at were either closed or relocated.

Inside job?

Just 3 months ago in March, Times of India reported that fake marks cards and degree certificates of Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences are in circulation in Bengaluru and other places.

A whistle-blower had forwarded photocopies of seven BSc (Nursing) marks cards and four provisional degree certificates to the Indian media, exposing the scam.

In fact, the university later confirmed that the marks card numbers and scores matched the original entries in the ledger, but their register numbers were different. “These marks were allotted to another student. Someone appears to have gained access to his marks card and changed the registration number,” the university said.

The racketeers seemed to have reproduced the cards matching all the features — affixing signature of the registrar who is also acting as the vice-chancellor — and used different registration numbers and names.

The whistle-blower told the media that he had suspected that it could be an inside job with the marks cards printed at the very centre where the varsity gets such documents printed. But the vice-chancellor of the university denied this.

The vice-chancellor also conceded that fake provisional degree certificates, too, were in circulation. “It has been brought to my notice that one such certificate was produced by a person applying abroad. We received a copy for verification through the embassy and found it bogus. There may be cases we aren’t aware of, as not everyone bothers to crosscheck,” he said.

If some of these bogus nurses from India end up working in Singapore’s hospitals and polyclinics, the quality of Singapore’s healthcare might be at stake.

In any case, Temasek should be happy since CECA would enable its GLCs to invest and expand more in India.