In a media interview on Friday (28 Aug), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing defended the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed between both countries back in 2005.
Since CECA was signed then, Singapore’s trade with India has grown by $7.6 billion and investments, by 34 times, Chan defended CECA.
Chan said CECA not only protects Singapore companies that invest in India, but also attracts foreign investors who invest in India, and employ Singaporeans to manage their investments. In Singapore, these companies employ nearly 100,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents, he said.
“Besides having better access to a huge market and all the savings that come with tariff reductions, it also allows us to grow our capabilities,” said Chan.
Chan also took the opportunity to debunk the myth that CECA has caused an over-concentration of Indian nationals in some companies here.
He said that presence of certain nationalities is shaped by the choice of sectors Singapore wants to grow, which include fast-growing sectors like IT, professional services and financial services.
It is not that Singaporeans are not good enough for the jobs in these sectors, but that Singapore does not have enough people for these jobs, he said. “We do not have enough numbers to get to the critical mass.”
In other words, Chan is implying that “certain nationality” has the critical mass and its people excel in fast-growing sectors like IT, professional services and financial services, which explains why these sectors are dominated by people of this “certain nationality”.
Hire own kind
However, Chan may have forgotten about another reason mentioned by then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin in Parliament in 2013 (‘Labour chief now suggests to tighten EP policies after being voted out as MP in GE2020‘).
In the government’s interests to “welcome talents” into Singapore over the past many years in order to expand the economy and “supplement” Singaporean workers, some companies began to take advantage of the Singapore government’s naivety to hire large number of staff from the “same nationality”.
In 2013, then Deputy Prime Minister and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Chairman Tharman Shanmugaratnam told the media that the government had already noticed in the different “hiring mixes” among the banks in Singapore. Singaporeans were found to be sidelined in favour of hiring foreigners from the “same nationality”.
Things became so bad that then DPM Tharman and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin had to call up the banks to ask them stop the practice of “hiring their own kinds”. This was revealed in Parliament by Minister Tan in Parliament.
Minister Tan did not name the financial institutions nor the nationality of the hiring managers but many netizens knew they were Indian nationals.
In fact, prior to 2013, complaints and concerns about high numbers of foreigners in the financial sector have already been raised by Singaporeans. The high numbers were gradually built-up after the signing of CECA in 2005.
In any case, 7 years after 2013, Singaporeans continue to share the same concerns and MAS continues to talk about developing a “Singaporean core” in the financial industry after the Manpower Ministry (MOM) announced this month that 30 of the 47 companies put on watchlist for suspected discriminatory hiring practices came from the financial and professional services sectors. The 30 were found to have a “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities”.
In one financial institution, almost three-quarters of their PMETs are of the “same nationality” and in another bank, almost two-thirds of the PMETs are also of the “same nationality”, MOM revealed.
Not long after Minister Tan revealed the “hiring their own kinds” incidents in Parliament, he was replaced by Lim Swee Say. After his retirement, Josephine Teo then took over Lim as the current Manpower Minister.
Furthermore, going back to Chan’s argument that Singapore does not have enough people for these jobs. It has been highlighted in a 2017 study by US-based software developer mentorship company, Codementor that Singapore is a city to avoid for software developers due to its low pay.
According to the study on the top countries for software developers, it was found that Singapore developers are paid $440.74 on average, leading it to be ranked at the bottom of the top cities list at number 20. Codementor also found that an average Singapore developer earns $47,748 annually after taxes.
Besides income, the cost of living, rent and job openings were factors in ranking the top countries.
If CECA is not to be blamed for “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” in companies, then perhaps MOM should be questioned why it has allowed this to build up angering Singaporeans especially in the recent GE, since MOM was the one who decided to issue the many work passes to these foreigners of the same nationality in the first place.