In Parliament yesterday (11 May), Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai accepted the challenge from Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to file a motion to debate the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in Parliament (‘PSP’s Leong Mun Wai accepts challenge by Law Minister K Shanmugam to file a motion on CECA to debate in Parliament‘).
In the back of an alleged racist incident which happened last week, Minister Shanmugam commented that justifying racist behaviour due to grievances over government schemes or policies like CECA was not acceptable.
In recent times, CECA has been heavily criticised as it is supposedly said to have provided Indian nationals advantages over Singaporeans in securing jobs in Singapore. However, the government has denied that CECA automatically grants work passes to Indian nationals.
Minister Shanmugam then invited NCMP Leong to file a motion about CECA so that the House can debate if Singaporeans are benefiting or losing from the signed free trade agreement between Singapore and India.
“There have been several canards about CECA promoted by whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a motion, debate it openly, and let’s hear if Singaporeans benefit or lose from it,” he said. “I’m looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.”
He went on to note that racism comments targeting Indians are “getting into the ground and being repeated”, adding that if Singapore is not careful, such a thing will soon become normalise. “I hope responsible opposition parties would take a stand on this, notwithstanding that many of these sites that promote xenophobia support you.”
In response, Mr Leong said that PSP is interested in taking up the issue of CECA, “We are very interested to take up the CECA issue at some point in time. I think we still need to understand the situation more.”
Mr Leong also went on to carefully emphasise that he and his party are not xenophobic, and their interest in CECA issue is purely on the economic grounds. “However, I must state at the outset that PSP and myself are not being xenophobic. We are just stating the economic effects of some of these free trade agreements have had on the economy.”
“We are definitely not xenophobic and definitely racism has no place in our overall thinking. It is all about economics and livelihoods,” he concluded.
Character assassination of NCMP Leong?
After Mr Leong said PSP would be “very interested to take up the CECA issue” yesterday, Straits Times (ST) immediately starts to focus on him today (12 May).
In an opinion piece, ST accused Mr Leong of playing the race and nationality card in the House over the CECA issue (‘Racism, discrimination, and the race card have no place in S’pore‘).
ST noted that Mr Leong had previously raised a question in Parliament on whether there were plans to negotiate better terms in the CECA review, given DBS Bank India’s merger with Lakshmi Vilas Bank. ST also noted that Mr Leong had lamented that DBS had no homegrown chief executive officer.
“Its current chief, Mr Piyush Gupta, was born in India and became a Singapore citizen in 2009,” ST asserted.
However, it has been noted that officially when Gupta accepted DBS’ appointment on 1 Sep 2009, he was only a PR and not a Singapore citizen yet, according to a Reuters’ report (‘Piyush Gupta was still a foreigner when he received CEO appointment letter from DBS‘, 5 Sep 2020).
Reuters reported, “A permanent resident of Singapore, with his wife and two teenage children, Gupta takes a keen interest in promoting education and advised the Singapore government on revamping primary education.”
“The Straits Times newspaper said Gupta is in the process of applying for Singapore citizenship,” Reuters added.
Subsequently, as reported by ST, Gupta became a Singapore citizen in the same year 2009, probably right about the time he officially took over DBS with MAS’ approval in Nov 2009. In other words, Gupta wasn’t a Singapore citizen at the time when he received his appointment letter from DBS and Mr Leong is not wrong to say that DBS had no homegrown CEO.
In any case, in the ST opinion piece, it further wrote that Mr Leong’s comments about the influx of foreigners have extended to even beyond those from India.
“He (Mr Leong) has spoken about Singaporean workers facing a wage disadvantage because employers do not contribute to foreign workers’ Central Provident Fund; and about hawker centres eventually no longer serving local food, but more and more foreign food,” ST wrote.
Defending the government, ST said, “It has to be acknowledged that government policies are not perfect. Have there been gaps in planning and execution, not just on the issue of foreigners? Yes. Do certain anti-government websites and politicians tap a vein of unhappiness among Singaporeans who feel disenfranchised? Absolutely.”
Referring to Mr Leong, ST added, “But do the ends justify the means – specifically by playing the race or nationality card? No, especially for politicians who are keenly aware that their words carry weight not just in the House but on the streets.”