Saying that Singapore cannot attract investments without foreign labour is a “damning indictment” of the present economic model, says Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Dr Chee Soon Juan.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (9 June), Dr Chee said that the current surge of infections in Singapore—which has led to a second COVID-19 restriction period—is mostly centred around the issue of incoming foreigners.
Quoting Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s remarks in defence of the government’s decision to keep entry into Singapore lax as it is “very hard” to close the country’s borders permanently, Dr Chee said: “No one is calling for the complete closure of our borders, let alone doing it permanently.”
“What Singaporeans are upset about is the PAP taking unnecessary risks by admitting visitors from countries with severe outbreaks in Covid-19 infections,” he continued.
He emphasised that the crux of the discussion is the dependence of the Singapore economy on foreigners.
Harking back to March 2020 when Malaysia closed its borders due to the pandemic, Dr Chee noted how Singapore “enticed” Malaysian workers to head over to Singapore. The MOM had then said that without them, the country’s economy would come to a standstill.
It said: “In providing assistance [for these Malaysian workers], we will prioritise the needs of firms that provide essential services such as healthcare, security, cleaning, waste management, facilities management, logistics and transport.”
Dr Chee asked, “We can’t even rely on our own Singaporean workers to provide essential services?”
He went on to stress, “The SDP has always taken the stance that we stand to gain more than lose if we encourage overseas talent to relocate here,” explaining that Singapore must accept and assimilate foreign talent in order to remain competitive.
“The question is how do we balance society’s need for foreigners with the welfare and wellbeing of our people,” he asked.
“In this consideration, one thing must be absolutely clear. Foreigners must complement the local workforce, not vice versa,” added Dr Chee.
However, he notes that this balance is “hopelessly off-kilter”, quoting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who said: ““Without the foreign workers, we would not have attracted [investments].”
Dr Chee asked, “Why? Why can’t Singaporeans be talented enough that MNCs would want to tap on our skills to further their ambitions?
“In fact, why can’t our people be talented enough that we produce our own companies who can go global? Along the way, we bring in foreign talent to plug in the gaps.”
The veteran politician went on to say that the pandemic has highlighted the weakness of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP)’s approach.
“Years of chasing GDP growth at all cost; suppressing local wages and turning our economy into a doormat for MNCs; dominating domestic businesses and keeping rent high; refusing to allow the people freedom to speak and think thereby stifling creativity and innovation have all but killed local enterprise,” lamented Dr Chee.
“Is it any wonder then that foreigners find such a gaping void and have flocked to this island to take advantage of Singaporeans’ inability to power our own economy?”
The “double whammy” he says, is that present policies have “conspired to keep productivity growth in a bedraggled state resulting in the government then making the circular argument that we need more foreigners, this time in the form of cheap labour.”
Dr Chee pointed out that without citizens to take up jobs at non-living wage levels, the country has little choice but to recruit millions from abroad instead, describing it as an economic cul-de-sac.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the same, he said.
“And when a catastrophe like Covid pandemic hits, we endanger public health – and ironically mutilate the economy that we endeavour to protect – by having to allow in foreigners, even from places with high infection rates,” he explained.
Questioning why people have to choose between their health and economic survival, Dr Chee stressed the importance of self-reliance instead.
“Our ability to rough out the worst should be robust and this can only happen if we become less, a lot less, dependent on foreigners,” he stated, adding that this is not a difficult goal to achieve.
“t is only through years of our thinking being knee-capped and fear baked into our psyche that prevents our people from rejecting the current approach and going the way that many experts have cautioned that we must go,” he chided.
“The longer we pretend that things are going okay, the more we have to pretend that our future is all bright and sunny.”